Want Results? Get Objective.

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It was 1995 when the phone rang at Van Melle USA, manufacturer of Airheads and Mentos candies. A reporter from a major advertising industry publication was calling Liam Killeen, Van Melle’s vice president of marketing.

The reason?  To inform him that a panel of big-agency creative directors had just voted the Mentos ads the worst of the year. So, the reporter asked, did Liam have any plans to kill the campaign?

“Yes, we absolutely do,” said Liam.

The reporter began to make some noises about what a smart decision that was, but Liam interrupted him.

“We will kill the ads the moment they stop working,” he said. “But for now, I have a campaign that is growing my business at a rate of nearly 40% a year. Have you any other questions for me today?”

The reporter was guilty of asking a stupid question. But the real culprits were the creative directors on that panel. These were ostensibly the cream of the advertising crop, right? Yet all of them judged the ads based on their own personal preferences. None bothered to check the sales needle.

Not “Does It Look Good?”, But “Does It Work?”

In the ten-plus years that I’ve been a branding consultant, one of the questions I’ve been asked most often is some version of, “Hey, what do you think of my logo (or website, or ad)?” My reply is always the same: What I think doesn’t matter. What matters is what it’s doing for your business.

I hate the ad campaign for Axe body spray. I find it sophomoric, contrived, trite and silly. But check the results: Axe holds a dominant share of the body spray category and has grown impressively in its few years in this market. So much for my subjective point of view.

Your marketing programs should be evaluated based on the results they generate. So don’t launch your next campaign without doing the following two things:

Define a clear objective.

What do you want your marketing to achieve for you? And “raising awareness” doesn’t cut it. Britney Spears has great awareness, but you wouldn’t want to be confused with her.

The only reason to engage in a branding program is to achieve a desired business result – usually, to convince people to try, buy or use more of your stuff instead of the next guy’s. You need to change behavior in some way. So your objective needs to reflect that.

At the very least, your objective needs to be specific and time-driven: For example, “increase total brand sales by 5% in the next 3 months” or “become the category rate-of-sale leader by December 2007.” If you can’t define a specific numeric outcome (either in the absolute or relative to your competition) and a time frame, you need to keep working on your objective.

And note that we’re recommending a single primary objective. If you have more than one objective, you need to be absolutely clear on which one is most critical. So, if you want to increase sales by 5%, while also aligning your brand with the concept of “convenience” or some other perception (which can also be measured), you’ll need to make a choice about which one is trump.

Defining a clear objective may not be easy. It may force you to learn more about your market, your competitors, and your consumers. (This cannot possibly be a bad thing.) But now, when you sit down to work on your next marketing campaign, you can do so with a clear picture of what it is you’re working toward. And if you use an agency, that discussion begins with a common understanding of success.

Measure that objective.

You should never find yourself in the position of not knowing whether your branding efforts are working. The adage is old but true: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

When you define your objective, you should also define exactly how it will be measured. And, when necessary, you need to put the systems in place to do that. Any less means you’re not learning from your efforts, and if you’re not learning, you’re not improving.

Avoid the trap of judging your branding (or anyone else’s) based on aesthetics, your own tastes, or anything else. If you want better results, get objective.

A version of this post appeared in the Cincinnati Business Courier on November 16, 2007, in the column “That Branding Thing.” Originally co-written with David Wecker.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2007 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.