Don’t Become An ROI Measurement ‘Victim’

As sports property holders and their agencies face louder and more incessant demands from sponsors/partners to demonstrate return on their marketing investment, it becomes all too easy to fall into the commoditization trap that has become so prevalent in ROI research today.

Today’s cluttered marketing environment makes it virtually impossible to gauge the direct impact of a single marketing execution. Much as we’d like to think that there is an easy way to directly attribute consumer behavior with exposure to a single marketing tactic, recognize that consumers don’t think like media planners. The purchase process is often too multi-tiered across multiple touch points. To paraphrase John Wanamaker’s quote, we know that 50% of advertising works, it’s just not that easy to figure out which 50%.

Yet, there remain many who eschew this reality and insist on trying to force feed ostensibly simple black boxes that rely on marketing research that measures the wrong things in the wrong ways. Simply said, you can’t expect a consumer to be able to honestly answer a direct question on whether a specific advertisement or sponsorship made them “take a purchase action”. Consumers’ brains aren’t wired that way. It confounds me that so much of what passes for ROI research today, actually poses these types of questions in an attempt to measure ROI.

This fatal flaw is exacerbated by other pitfalls of poorly constructed ROI research, including:

* Leading questions No one wants to call the baby ugly. Leading questions beget perceptual parity across competitive brands, creating doubt and confusion in the mind of skeptical sponsors.

* Poorly recruited respondents As the immediate past president of the national Marketing Research Association, I’ve had more than a fair share of exposure to industry discussions on researchers over reliance upon “convenience samples,” “professional respondents” and other potential pitfalls made more prevalent with the proliferation of online studies. Thankfully, there have been great strides made and methodological checks and balances developed in the online research space. But, unfortunately, these practices seem all too often remiss in a lot of the ROI currency that I have seen.

Towards a ‘Reasonable Approach’

Rex Briggs and Gregg Stuart, in their book, What Sticks, focus on what researchers call “experimental design,” which is consistent with our point of view at Sports and Leisure Research Group. Simply said, the best and most practical way to measure ROI in the present environment is to blindly test consumer perceptions of a wide competitive set of brands within a sponsor’s category over multiple waves of research conducted before, during and after deployment of a sports marketing campaign or sponsorship.

Each of these research waves is ideally fielded against two parallel samples of target consumers, one that can be verified to have been reasonably exposed to the sports marketing initiatives in question (and that is NOT by asking them directly if they have been!), while the other is an unexposed control group.

Done properly, the benefits of such an approach provide both property holders and their partners with a rich set of insights that serve as a means of revealing which aspects of the brand’s desired essence is resonating with the exposed target audience, and which require amplification.

The added benefit here is that this takes the evaluative focus off of the often unfair, elusive and commoditizing scorekeeping that makes so many property holders shudder at the risk inherent in today’s ROI research, and moves the dialogue to a more productive discussion about how to optimize the benefit derived from a sports marketing relationship.