The Defense Rests: Why Marketing Measurement Is What It Is & Why We're Different

We’ve picked apart modern marketing measurement in prior blogs. In fairness, let us take a moment to defend the state of this industry. While we don’t find typical modern marketing measurement accurate or productive, the fault lies not with measurement firms, but the conditions from which they were created. 

Finance leaders did not invent marketing measurement – marketers did.

Why were marketers asked to “grade their own homework”? Chief among the reasons is this:  business and finance leaders came from an explicitly biased place, one in which the value of a marketer was absolutely none whatsoever. Marketing measurement – from it’s very inception – optimized it’s function as a specific response to this misguided perception. The focus on “statistical proof” of marketing impact became the standard, not because it has any particular practical utility on future returns, but because this was the demanded burden of proof, to generate unassailable data forcing biased business skeptics to abandon the null hypothesis that marketing doesn’t work.

This also explains why marketing measurement firms frame completed work as “showing the ROI” of the marketing programs they are measuring – whether it be causal inference or through an inundation of correlative statistics (i.e. cascading ‘click attribution’ datasets). Marketing leaders faced with existential crises aren’t particularly interested in learning how they could allocate resources better — they want support for their right to allocate resources at all!

This is also why marketing measurement firms sell their services chiefly to marketers. An otherwise uninformed observer would assume that business impact measurement services would target a business operating leader, or financial leader, or strategic leader. By and large, most marketing measurement services make no attempt to cater to this audience, because there is no working assumption of good faith. Does this undermine the validity of marketing measurement services in the eyes of financial or operations executives? Absolutely. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? That is correct as well.

What Came First? Bad Measurement or Bad Faith Intentions?

And so this is the self-defeating cycle of marketing measurement and attribution that remains the state of affairs in 2021. It is why organizations with respected and resourced marketers that we speak to at Bonsai have had universally poor experiences with prior marketing measurement firms – whether they be media mix modelers, multi-touch attribution services, or other flavors in between. The work received has been solving the question: “Prove that your marketing organization is valuable.” That’s not the question a respected, data-driven marketer needs answered! Instead, “Help me improve the return of my future allocations, and do so frequently” would make the business stronger and the marketing org more impactful.

This is also why we get confusion from business stakeholders who come to us looking for justification of their current marketing organization. “Why would we want to know what’s not working? Can’t you help prove that what we are doing is having a strong ROI?”

This disconnect is a challenging one, because at Bonsai, we aren’t hunting for marketing ROI. We are trying to help you understand and improve your organization’s overall ROI. 

Some of you might be thinking, “Surely there cannot be business executives left who do not believe in marketing.” We have enough conversations with companies on a weekly basis that I can assure you, unfortunately this is still just as much the case as it ever was. At least half – maybe most – of the people we talk to about our marketing measurement services need existential justification to an actively hostile internal audience. Why a business would successfully grow without marketing is a bit beyond those of us who are exposed to actual business performance data on a regular basis, but it’s important to acknowledge what perceptions really are before trying to help a company better understand the truths within their customer data.

At Bonsai we believe in a model that simply acknowledges the truth:

  • Some marketing works, and some marketing could be improved.
  • That pricing, products and sales all contribute to customer success alongside marketing.
  • Customer outcomes can improve by evaluating strategies across every function and input.

This means our model differs in one fundamental way from most modern marketing measurement – we aren’t catering our insights and results towards defending a marketing investment to an audience who’s decidedly against it to begin with. Our model won’t work well for companies that implicitly don’t believe in sales, or pricing, or products, or marketing. If “proof” of something decidedly unprovable is what your organization demands as the standard to change it’s current behavior, you shouldn’t waste your time or money on us (or anyone else) and you should just get on operating however you want – data be damned. Paying for specialists to simply “prove that marketing works” is a waste of resources that gives legitimacy to a flawed line of thinking.

If your organization is open to improving it’s overall performance, and is open to the idea that more could be understood about how your initiatives collectively contribute to grow your business, our service might be just the thing for you. We can promise you’ll learn something about how your customers behave, and that we will increase successful client outcomes with strategies you can validate for yourself.

About the Author

Matt Butler
Ex-Googler of 12 years, Matt was a founding member of Google’s analytical consulting team, developing analytics, statistical forecasting, auction modeling, and machine learning for companies such as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Kohl’s, Best Buy, and many more. He went on to lead global technical partnerships before leaving to found Bonsai in February, 2020.