The Internet Vs. Al Ries

In a trade publication last month, marketing guru Al Ries proudly declared that “determining the ROI of a marketing program is an expensive exercise with little or no value — an experienced marketing executive instinctively knows whether a marketing program is working or not.” He countered one CMO’s perspective on the value of analytics, by concluding that the practice of marketing “is not even 1% mathematics.”

With math-bashing marketing hand grenades like this, it’s not surprising that the column sparked a healthy response; readers are still submitting comments that wrestle with Ries’ assertions.

What is surprising, frankly, is that “quantifiable marketing” is a topic that is up for debate. Are people really confused about whether marketing should be a primarily creative versus data-driven craft? More important, why does one have to occur at the expense of the other?

Effective marketers know better, and here’s a good example from earlier this year. Eager to penetrate the consumer market, RIM conceived an integrated marketing campaign to support the launch of its new BlackBerry handsets. RIM had access to the right data in advance of the launches — from research that pinpointed consumers’ mobile shopping behavior to competitive data on the iPhone, T-Mobile G1 and Samsung Instinct — to help plan its efforts. The resulting BlackBerry campaign was a well-coordinated palette of marketing activities that used: 1) TV to drive consumer awareness; 2) search marketing and landing pages to capitalize on this interest; and 3) an online purchase funnel that linked shoppers directly to retail partner sites to complete the sale.

The result: fast and sustained growth in BlackBerry interest and sales among consumers. According to Compete’s data, more people shopped online for BlackBerry devices than any other smartphone in the first three months of the year. And, market share data from The NPD Group shows that BlackBerry claimed three of the top five sales slots for smartphones, with the Curve vaulting ahead of the iPhone as the best-selling consumer smartphone in Q1.

Rather than banking on intuition, RIM grounded its campaign planning in really good data. Rather than relying on conventional wisdom about online purchase funnels, RIM encouraged shoppers to complete their purchase on retail partner sites. And rather than waiting until the end of the quarter to measure its effectiveness, RIM could use consumers’ search activities as a leading indicator of sales performance — and adjust tactics throughout the quarter to optimize awareness, intent and conversion. All in all, a superb demonstration of intertwining mathematics and marketing.

To see the four main points we can learn from this, check out Compete’s monthly post on MediaPost.