As the industry pushes for stronger packaging ROI, the former CMO of McDonald’s offers his thoughts on the role of metrics in marketing and design

In our turbulent marketing world, we experience a multitude of paradoxes. Are consumers more interested in luxury or frugality? Is the future retail or digital?

Should we focus on short-term consumer shifts or long-term trends? It’s much the same with marketing effectiveness. Is measurement an evil villain stifling creativity? Or is it the only way to provide certainty in decision-making in an uncertain, volatile world?

Measurement does play a valuable role. Unfortunately, in a world where marketing activities and budgets are being squeezed by limited resources, there is a trend to over-rely on metrics to substitute for a lack of experience and justify the value of marketing (though, if the value of marketing and creativity need validation within the organization, the organization has a bigger problem than can be solved through measurement). In fact, we constrain creativity by conforming to measures, throwing out truly good ideas too soon and too fast.

Measurement should be a learning tool, not a rationalization tool. We cannot allow ourselves to become mystified by the math of metrics. Of course, the beauty is that, with metrics, things are cut-and-dry-not conceptual. But, somehow, it ends up working out that the more complex the methodology, the more credible the result. And, instead of simplifying the complicated, the metricians complicate the simple.

We need to understand the proper role of measurement so we can manage the measurements, instead of letting the measurements manage us. The challenges are great:

Measurement helps provide direction for decision-making.Yet now, measurement is becoming the decision-maker.

Measurement helps to guide creativity by providing an informed framework. Yet now,measurement compels creativity to conform.

We end up sacrificing accountability for measurement. Why? We fear failure. When decisions fail it is easy to say, “It is not my fault. The measurement process indicated that it was the right thing to do.”

Disciplined research is an important contributor to effective business management. But, research alone cannot be creative, cannot be innovative. Creative ideas require creative insight. Real, actionable insight will not come from superior data analysis. Such analysis provides understanding of where we are and how we got there. It does not provide insight into what kind of future we can create.

There is a pervasive fear of taking a leap of faith based on informed judgment, but marketers must use their expertise, judgment and creativity to make reasoned, informed and insightful decisions.

So, what is the role of measurement within our marketing world?

There are many ways to use metrics to provide the fodder for business success. Here is one example of how we can use metrics to the advantage of creativity.

For new product development, we must turn key consumer insights into possible products or service concepts. We must be able to identify the most promising concepts and then identify the one(s) that are fit to bring into product development. A continuous feedback loop plays a critical role. The concepts are creatively developed using consumer understanding and synthesis of trends, as well as insightful analysis.

Unfortunately, most quantitative concept research is merely about determining the winners and the losers. We know what scored best. But, we do not really know “why” the concepts were rated as they did.

Understanding “why” helps us to improve our thinking and our ideas. Understanding “why” can make a loser into a winner, and a winner even more appealing. Understanding “why” helps the truly creative, breakthrough ideas make it through the screening filter. In other words, measurement should be an input into a marketing learning system-one that is always looking for insight-based opportunities to improve ideas.

Effective marketing requires discipline. The problem is that we often seem to believe that truths will appear out of a process or be revealed by a measurement system. We allow ourselves to believe that if we follow the steps, we will discover the truth. This is nonsense. Effective brand management is not about selecting the safest option. It is about identifying and implementing the best option. Processes do not make decisions. Metrics do not make decisions. People make decisions. We must get the balance correct.  BP

Larry Light is chief executive officer of Arcature, a marketing consulting company founded in 1990, which consults on how to create, build and manage brands. Along with Joan Kiddon, Larry Light authored, Six Rules for Brand Revitalization, describing Arcature’s blueprint for rebuilding brands. McDonald’s, a long-time Arcature client, asked Larry to join as global chief marketing officer from 2002 to 2005 to revitalize the McDonald’s brand. In 2004, Larry was selected by BrandWeek as one of the top 10 marketers of the year. In the same year, McDonald’s won the “Marketer of the Year” award from Advertising Age. Most recently, in its report on the best marketers of the decade, AdWeek reported that “Larry Light, who turned around McDonald’s as CMO from 2002 to 2005, finished second to Steve Jobs.” Advertising Age, in its review of the top 10 ideas of the decade, observed that Larry Light’s updated views are “arguably the most realistic description of marketing today-perhaps ever.”