Marketing ROI: Prove It! (or Lie About It!)

I admit it: I’m a skeptic when it comes to proving marketing ROI using “hard data.” Maybe it’s because I’ve read How to Lie with Statistics one too many times, or perhaps it’s because I’ve spent too many valuable hours in corporate meetings being presented with Powerpoint slides that were intended to “prove” a campaign was working—or not.

Yesterday’s Forbes article “Tweet This: Social Media Important To Company Performance But Difficult To Prove,” quotes results from The CMO Survey in which “only 15% of marketers report their companies can show the impact of social media using quantitative approaches.” My reaction: Of course it’s difficult to prove! Marketing results have always been difficult to prove! After nearly three decades in the field, I’ve never—not once—seen real, solid evidence to the contrary.

But that’s only from a data perspective. What I have experienced can’t be illustrated in a pie chart or demonstrated with a perfect hockey stick graph. But I do know that coordinated marketing backed with carefully created (not simply curated) content can—and does—drive results. Just as marketing itself is more of an art than a science (yes, I do believe that), the actual results are relatively subjective. How can brand perception, thought leadership, or corporate reputation be quantified?

Yet, when they all come together—through coordinated campaigns and targeted marketing outreach—leads start flowing in the door and, if the sales team and the product are strong as well, sales happen. Revenues grow. And companies emerge as market leaders.

Ultimately, the fact that it’s difficult to prove the value of marketing (social media or otherwise) shouldn’t steer companies away from the task at hand. Examples abound of companies who brought incredibly innovative products to market—without marketing—and failed. In a world in which we are all inundated with brands, products, information, and opportunities, the concept of “If you build it, they will come” no longer applies. It takes marketing to get the buyers to your door.

CaroleAnne Hardy is an independent marketing consultant dedicated to helping financial advisors and technology companies create a consistent online voice, and leverage the power of online marketing and social media to drive new business.