As data about customers and their markets become plentiful and more easily available, Marketing ROI is becoming an increasingly popular tool for assessing the ability of companies to connect with their customers through advertising and brand-building. While Marketing ROI is not the perfect solution to the ever present problem of accurately measuring the impact of advertising campaigns on future sales, it gives marketers and advertisers a certain level of rigor in their evaluation of advertisements.
To most people, ROI – return on investment – is a concept commonly associated with financial analysis. In its most basic definition, ROI is a tool for measuring the payback on an investment. You invest $100 to build a lemonade stand, and hope to sell enough cups of lemonade over time to turn a profit and pay back the investment, and then some. In marketing, ROI is applied to the measurement of sales generated by a marketing campaign, against the expenditures of executing this campaign. Comparing various marketing campaigns on the basis of ROI can inform future marketing strategy.
One of the nagging issues with marketing to people with disabilities is the disconnect between what businesses are marketing and how disabled consumers perceive these marketing efforts. While there are companies that are successful at reaching out to their target market effectively – Cochlear Corporation (cochlear implant manufacturer) and Braunability (wheelchair-accessible vans) come to mind – there are plenty of other companies that fall short in meeting the standards that disabled consumers expect. For every Oscar Pistorius in a Nike advertisement, there is an advertisement that fails to connect with people with disabilities. It is particularly common among companies that do not specialize in the disability market.
It is no surprise that an AT Kearney survey of the mature consumer market (those over 60 years old, and the most likely to have disabilities among any age group) showed persistently negative views of advertising efforts. It’s not the medium, it’s the message: a message that says “I can help you” rather than addresses what excites and inspires people with disabilities, which are prevalent among older consumers.
It goes back to how businesses arrived at the most common perception – or misperception, for that matter – of people with disabilities: people that need help, and demand help. The disability market, as a whole, is a diverse, vibrant community of people whose lives are shaped in varying degrees by their disability. Some embrace it, some mitigate it, some undertake procedures to eliminate it. But all of them have one thing in common: it is not “seeking help.” They desire dignity, a sense of control, and a quality of life just like their non-disabled peers. The companies that recognize this are more successful at reaching out to a market that can represent up to 20% of their customer base.
Marketing ROI is one of various tools in marketing to assess whether consumers with disabilities are reacting positively to marketing campaigns. Businesses typically have multiple marketing campaigns covering different channels such as TV, radio, billboard, print, Internet, and mobile. Consumer responses to each campaign – in the form of increased sales, stronger brand perception, or type of direct feedback – differ across channels, and across campaigns within each channel.
Campaigns with the highest ROI are continued, while those with the lowest ROI are killed off or, at best, modified. Even for those with strong ROIs, it is essential to analyze why they perform so well. Is it because of the content in the advertisement? Wide reach? Positive perceptions about the product? It helps to conduct a survey of consumers in the targeted market to assess their reactions to the marketing campaign. Isolating the factors that positively drive ROI can be immensely helpful in designing more effective campaigns in the future.
Keep in mind that ROI is not the perfect tool. Even in the realm of finance – where the ROI concept originated – it is an inexact science. For all the information financial analysts have about a company’s balance sheet, inventory, revenues, costs, competitors, suppliers, products, and industry, it is difficult to accurately forecast the company’s future earnings. It depends on customer behavior, economic trends, political calculations, future interest rates, and estimated cost of capital, among other things. To be able to have any modicum of rigor in a ROI analysis, analysts use sets of assumptions to address incomplete data, test out the assumptions, and if any of them still work, incorporate them into the ROI model.
Marketing is the same thing. How can we measure customer responses to an ad? Do any of these responses convert into sales? How do we know which sales are directly related to the ad, and which sales are organic (in other words, bought for reasons not related to the ad)? Can we find data about our customers – their buying preferences, where they live, their income, how they use the Internet, etc. – that help us develop an advertisement that results in a higher ROI? No matter how much data we collect about our target market, and no matter how rigorous we try to be in measuring the long-term effectiveness of an advertisement, marketing ROI is still an art, not a science. The best way to approach ROI in marketing is as a catalyst for discussion, to generate ideas and opinions on how to increase sales and build brand equity.
With data on customers so easily available today (look up “big data” on Wikipedia), there is one inescapable reality about marketing in the 21st century: the ability to collect, parse, and analyze the results of marketing activities, and quantitatively measuring the benefits of these activities, has never been more important. It does not matter whether your product is digital or not: there is more data on customer buying behaviors than ever before as more users spend more time on the Web with more devices.
So to the extent the data is available, use it. Measure it. Analyze it. You’ll be surprised about what information you can find about your customers with disabilities.