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The truth behind the stats

The misunderstanding of data is in danger of giving the industry a bad name.

Mark Blaylock: creative director at Monk

Mark Blaylock: creative director at Monk

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You know how it goes – an agency creates some content for a client that achieves a ginormous number of hits, and is therefore deemed an overwhelming success. But let’s think slightly deeper for once – how does this exactly deem the campaign a success? 

There is a plethora of marketing people out there who judge the success of a digital campaign, be it on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, by the number of hits, likes and retweets that it achieves. 

They see success in the figures they’re presented with and the data only confirms what they’re doing is right. After all, the hits say it’s good – everyone has seen it, someone in Guatemala even downloaded it, therefore the campaign must be working. 

This is a perfectly understandable reaction. If your film is watched by over a million people, it’s a success. Right? Well, no, actually it could still have been a huge failure. 

To clarify, far too many marketers, both client and agency-side have become removed from their business objectives. More than that, they’ve become detached from why marketing exists.  

If you are in marketing, then you are in sales. We are here to sell a thought, a product, a brand – and to convince the masses that ours is the best one. Anything else is pure waffle and is someone trying to justify their salary. 

Earlier this year, Dove claimed the title of the most-viewed online ad of 2013, for 'The Real Beauty Sketches', which they inform us, has been watched over 114 million times and viewed in over 110 countries. 

However, for all this, did it deliver a tangible ROI? IRI data shows Dove's US sales up 1% in the four weeks ending 19 May, right after the 14 April Sketches release. That compares with a 3% rise to $1.5 billion for the full year. 

Impressive, sure, but Dove’s global senior vice-president Steve Miles has some interesting observations. He said: "On something like this that's about long-term Dove love, I would be much more interested in brand-health measures than short-term sales." 

For most of us, though, we’re short on time, we’re under pressure to deliver and while business results can be harder to attribute to a particular campaign (harder, but not impossible), online data can appear like a bright light shining down from above, as our saviour. 

As Benjamin Disraeli said in the 19th Century: "There are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics."

The point being that all data can be twisted and re-presented to say what we want it to. And make no mistake about it. This is happening. 

It takes human intelligence to realise that a click or a hit isn’t real engagement, it’s just a hit or a click and that the person behind this interaction may not even like what they’ve seen.  

But agencies don’t seem to be pointing this out to their clients. And they’re certainly not stressing the importance of genuine brand engagement. You know, where someone is actually interested in what you’re saying. Interested enough to find out more about and to buy, yes, actually buy the product, not simply watch a funny film about it.

Take the latest Paul Smith viral (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8q9O9r4GTNA) which shows two climbers tightrope-walking between mountain peaks in their underwear. While over 300,000 people have seen this stupefying stunt, how does it fit with the brand? 

Do these partially naked funambulists reinforce Paul Smith’s positioning with their target demographic? Does it drive sales? What does it do beyond simple, old-school brand exposure?

I suspect the agency behind this film is frantically looking for the data to say that it was amazing, but in the end it will be the silence, or ringing of the tills that will truly define this campaign’s success.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge advocate of data. It is an essential tool in any marketer’s arsenal and can help you find the right people and can ensure you achieve as many sales as possible. It’s just being regularly used by the idle to justify bad decisions and lazy thinking.

The trick is learning how to spot when data is being misused. Simple.

So when you’re next sitting in front of an agency, ask them, "What did this campaign do for sales?" If they come back with hits and clicks, then you know you’re sitting in front of those who are too focused on the stats and not concerned enough about your business.

Mark Blaylock is creative director at Monk

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