"Be Stupid".... It's all about ROI

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Walking down Fifth Avenue last week, gazing at the passing retail store displays, I came across one that stopped me in my tracks. There, in the center of the window in nearly five foot letters, bellowed the words: “BE STUPID.” Two towering smiley faces flanked the proclamation. This provocative marquee called attention to a collection of mannequins in varying poses sporting the latest in tight-fitted Diesel jeans. The irony of the advertising sold the point. Instead of trying to look “smart” in your clothing like everyone else, it beckoned viewers to break the rules, set their own style, and just “be stupid.”

On some strange level that I suppose appeals to the inner rebel in all of us, the display worked.   After all, it certainly caught my attention enough to write about it here.  The question remains, however, on whether the advertising accomplished its ultimate objective, namely to persuade buyers to be stupid enough to actually purchase a $290 pair of jeans.  On that, the jury is still out.

I can only imagine the deliberations that went on behind the scenes of this campaign.  Immediately, my mind jumps to images of creative directors arguing with brand managers and clients about the shock value of a slogan so potentially insulting, debating whether such a strategy would help or hurt the brand, arouse or alienate audiences, and, ultimately accomplish the desired goal of actually selling more jeans.   It occurs to me that through all the years I have spent in media, I have waged similar battles.   While we all strive to be smart in our marketing strategies and execution, we too often get caught in the mire of creative grandiosity and over- intellectualizing.  The result is we end up missing the forest for the trees. 

The fact is, in the most basic and pedestrian of views, the stupid truth is that advertising is all about moving the needle, selling more stuff…making more money.  How did we fall off track? How can we become more stupid?

The need for marketing professionals to be more (stupidly) focused on ROI carries over to the e-mail arena.  So many smart marketers today still remain caught in the e-mail-is-cheap-so-let's-spray-and-pray school of thought. What they are too often forgetting is that consumers are tiring of the growing amounts of inbox clutter and increasingly quick to hit the SPAM button.  Their reaction to such a blasting strategy is to send the message off to the junk heap without even opening, or worse, report it as abuse. These blasters tend to be in denial about the lack of open and click thru rates, insisting that those who do open are generating positive ROI. Those in this class never really take a deeper look at the value of customers who haven't opened over the past 6-12 months. They choose to turn their car radio up a couple of notches to mask the sound of a bad muffler.

On the other extreme, are the analysis paralysis marketers who spend an inordinate amount of time and investment collecting data about their customers through multiple channels and platforms, but then fail to take action on it. Many digest information from their back-end ecommerce engines about the types of products that their customers prefer and buy. They stock all of this information in gargantuan warehouses and spend endless hours digesting and manipulating the data. Such efforts are to be applauded… if the data is then effectively leveraged to drive more sales.    However, the marketers on this end of the extreme too often spend hours constructing customer clusters and segments, but then opine how difficult the task is to build dynamic templates and messaging to leverage this data in a meaningful way.  Their focus on data itself, rather than on data-driven campaign strategy and execution, results in wasted time and dollars…. And customers who refuse to purchase products that have no relevance to them.

Then there are the e-mail-in-a -silo marketers. These are folks who build e-mail campaigns with a lack of Web site integration.  You've seen the e-mails that I am talking about; one that highlights a product or service in the copy with a link that transports you to a page that doesn't match.  The result is buyer abandonment.  Is it too much to ask to check the links and navigation path between e-mail and Web site to make sure that a transaction can be closed if the customer wants to buy a product? When we make it difficult for customers to buy from us, ROI suffers.  Pretty stupid, huh?

Finally, there is the missed opportunity on order confirmation and shipping notice e-mails. We all know that these e-mails get incredibly high open rates. You would think that the stupid thing to do would be to leverage this opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell of a related product and/or service. However, I can count on one hand the number of companies that leverage these messages to try to grow their share of wallet from their customers.

The fact is, it really doesn't take rocket science or advanced degrees to generate ROI in today's world. The e-mail technology has been around for years.  The data is available. We certainly don't need a lot more smart people weighing in on strategy and execution. What we need is a new class of stupid. Professionals who understand that every strategy and program needs to drive return on investment.  Folks who dare to challenge their organizations by asking simple questions like… Is this campaign working? Is this strategy making us money? And perhaps the most telling question of all:  if we aren't making money….why not? 

Here's to those brave stupid souls in your company who obsess about revenue and profitability. My advice is that the smartest move you can make today… is to listen to them.

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