Ritson: How to avoid marketing’s bells and whistles merchants

Mark Ritson dishes up his views about what data marketers really need, and what they don't during ADMA Data Week

“Make the complex simple" is Mark Ritson’s message to marketers of all stripes when it comes to making sense of data to drive sound decisions.

The former professor of marketing with the London and Melbourne Business Schools, who now manages the  online marketing program, Marketing Week Mini MBA, was speaking at this week’s ADMA Data Week 2020 event.

Marketers are still asking fundamental questions like who is the customer, what do they want and how do they compare the brand with alternatives, Ritson said. And new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and other tools, aren’t always necessary to finding the answers to these questions and helping advance the brand, he said.

According to Ritson, many marketers overcomplicate things and avoid commonsense approaches to brand management. He was equally clear marketers were complicating approaches to data, and railed against pseudoscience, trademarked marketing terms and overly complex terminology.

In order to be better at data, Ritson said marketers must first see where it fits in the scheme of things. “Data and the diagnosis of the market and the customer is the first step in the process," he said.

"The data provides us with an understanding of the world and from that understanding, we can then undertake two other magical steps in profit marketing and brand management: Strategy, and making the right choices and making the right decisions; followed by the tactical execution choices that deliver on the strategy.

“Data is a conduit and an input into making a better strategy, which delivers better tactics and which in turn helps companies make money.”

Yet for Ritson, most companies in Australia focus too heavily on tactics and don’t care enough about data and strategy. The marketing thought leader also said marketers need to first embrace market orientation before market research and look at the company from the customer’s point of view, putting aside assumptions and preconceived ideas about the customer and how they see the brand.

To do this, he advised marketers embrace the notion of 'backwards research', an idea advanced 25 years ago by US marketing professor, Alan Andreas.

“The way we should do it is to reverse the causality almost completely with research and conclusion by focusing on the output of the research before focusing on the input to explore the relationships between the variables,” Ritson explained.

It's then essential to have a custom funnel built for that particular brand. “What are the main steps from a customer not knowing you exist to being a loyal customer? List them out,” he said.

Brand salience becomes the next important criteria to manage. Most of the challenge here is coming to the mind of the customer at the right moment. Ritson warned marketers to avoid falling into the trap of measuring brand awareness because salience is key for the moment of purchase.

“It is coming to mind in the buying situation, so the consumer can buy you and then rationalise the purchase later,” Ritson said.

As to the measures available to marketers today, Ritson lauded Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a useful metric to track brand insights, even though it’s not very scientific. “In terms of insight and impact, and connecting companies to customers, it's a legendary invention,” he said.

Yet the idea NPS is the only measure of a brand is “just horse shit used to sell books” Ritson said, “and it doesn’t correlate directly to growth”.

With those caveats out of the way, Ritson said NPS should be part of the funnel stage. “One of the final steps in most custom funnels should use NPS and it should be asking ‘how likely would you be to recommend and what's the reason for that?’," he said.

In addition, Ritson said a brand tracking metric is important but needs to be relatively straightforward, conducted at appropriate intervals and done in-house so it’s relevant to that particular brand and the organisation. “Brand tracking is really a very simple 40-item questionnaire with lots of correlations," he said.

“You want segment ID questions, the customisable questions as hierarchical questions, the brand attribute measures, looking at their relationships to the funnel. Then look at what's moved, what's not moved. What are the challenges this year? Did you achieve your goals? What are the new benchmarks? It can all come from this simple piece of data.”

Ritson urged marketers not to waste their time with new methods and new approaches, but instead go back and get data done right.

“And beware the bells and whistles merchants who are going to sell you on 3D printing, AI or a new spectacular brain scanning machine - a waste of time.”

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