Beyond The Bottom Line – Why There’s More To Life Than ROI

Money. It’s a gas, or so they say. It certainly helps keep the lights on, and we tend to struggle without it. So it makes sense that when you’re investing money, you want to be sure you’ll get something back for it. In fact, you want the best deal possible, right? After all, a company’s raison d’etre is to generate profits – if you don’t, common sense says you’re not doing your job. Which is why in recent years we’ve seen the gradual invasion of the bottom line into the realm of marketing, which many consider to be an art form (sound familiar?). And the name of this gatecrasher? You guessed it, ROI.

Now let’s be clear – when it comes to marketing, the emergence of big data is a blessing. Never before have marketers had access to so much feedback about the effectiveness of their campaigns. Data allows us to make comparisons between different platforms and formats, to establish best practices, to understand where in the process our successes and failures are occurring. And yes, data can help us measure the immediate financial impact of our endeavours. There’s no doubt that ROI is an invaluable tool for any business. But, and, to the delight of Sir Mix-A-Lot, it is a big but, it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Or at least it shouldn’t be…

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Money’s Too Tight To Mention

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The problem with data is actually a problem with people, and the problem with people is one of stories. People thrive on stories. They’re how we interpret the world, how we relate to one another, and how we make sense of ourselves. Ideally, ROI should be a welcome guest at the marketing party, but there’s one reason he’ll always struggle to be accepted – he’s an attention-seeker. If you’re not careful when you open the door to him, he’ll roll in and throw his weight around until he’s at the centre of it all, and everyone knows it. From that point on, if you let him take control, nothing in the party happens without going through him.

black-and-white, people, bar

Fair enough, you might say. After all, he’s only trying to make sure the party’s a success, so you can keep throwing more of them in the future, right? But if immediate financial ROI becomes the metric by which you measure all things, you’ll risk missing out on plenty of other equally valuable business goals. In the words of Walgreen Marketing Lead Adam Kmiec, “ROI can be so many different things – the download of an app, the leaving of a review, getting someone to provide feedback. All those different things have to be taken into account,” Kmiec said, suggesting that ROI is rather more complex than a simple formula of “spending x and receiving y”.

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Money For Nothing

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When we’re calculating Return On Investment, we can’t limit ourselves to thinking in purely financial terms, or we risk getting caught in what Kmiec calls a “prison cell” for marketers. Investment isn’t just the money spent on a campaign, it’s the time put into planning and executing; return is more than the money that comes back to you, it’s the development of brand identity and consumer trust, and other long term goals, like information. The value of marketing is in its effectiveness, not just ROI. But don’t take my word for it – here’s Gordon Wyner, EVP for North American Strategy at market research leader Millward Brown:


“Consider fundamental marketing tasks like creating brand awareness and presence in the market, achieving a place in the customer’s consideration set, and positioning the brand with specific benefits relative to the competition. All of these require significant investment before the dollars of return can start pouring in. Several marketing processes have to unfold, on various timeframes, in order for these intermediate outcomes to lead to customer choice, revenue, and profit.”


So when we talk about ROI and marketing effectiveness, it’s important to keep short-term financial gain in the context of a broader, long-term plan. These processes aren’t just for companies starting out – they’re fundamentals, ongoing requirements to stay in the game. In fact, in place of or in addition to ROI, we might be better off using the phrase ROO, or Return On Objectives. This allows businesses to invest towards their goals without the necessary expectation of immediate financial return, which frees marketers to get back to doing what they love: telling stories.

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Can’t Buy Me Love

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One of the best examples of stories marketers can tell that doesn’t provide an immediate, obvious monetary ROI is Corporate Social Responsibility (or CSR for short). There are a lot of cynics in the CSR game, and undoubtedly many companies simply build their credentials for publicity, rather than a genuine desire to make the world a better place. But plenty of businesses recognise their obligations and take them seriously, and with good reason beyond morality: “Fifty percent of global consumers surveyed are willing to pay more for goods and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society”.

In 2015, Unilever ran a CSR campaign (watch it below) to promote their green credentials to engaged fans on the UK leg of the last ever One Direction tour (full disclosure: Rapture brokered this deal). If they were beholden only to the classic notion of ROI, they might have missed out on educating tens of thousands of potential consumers about their commitment to sustainability. Unilever may be one of the world’s most dominant FMCG companies, but they haven’t forgotten those marketing fundamentals, and they know that a calculated risk towards a Sigmoid leap is worth its weight in gold. Now, doesn’t that make dollars and sense?

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