The Al Ries Challenge

Mark and I have a friendly, long-standing disagreement about marketing pundit Al Ries. He thinks the guy is brilliant. I think he’s a big blowhard. But given Ries’s recent math bashing, I’m hoping Mark may be coming over to my side.

In the May 4, 2009 edition of Advertising Age Ries claimed that “determining the ROI of a marketing program is an expensive exercise with little or no value.” He went on to decry measurement and claim that “an experienced marketing executive instinctively knows whether a marketing program is working or not”.

Believe it or not, Ries is not alone

Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion, of course. But nonsense like this, appearing in Advertising Age, is symbolic, I think, of just how behind the curve the publication, and the people who read it, actually are. The Internet still seems beyond their grasp (a recent study by McCann Erickson UK reports that 67% of marketing execs confess they don’t know enough about social media while 87% ‘admit’ it’s here to stay).

Not surprisingly, Ries’s article has set a cat among the pigeons. A month after it first appeared it’s still reverberating in the new media community – the most innovative (and measurement-driven) segment of the advertising business at the moment.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”*

Ries is wrong. Marketing ROI is an excellent measure of a campaign’s success. But measuring the future – how customers will behave when you run a campaign – is even better. For the past 10 years we’ve been using customer transaction data to predict the ROI of campaigns before they’re launched. There is no longer an iota of doubt that these techniques lift returns, boost profits and make campaigns more efficient. Being able to predict, with accuracy, who’ll do what and when, is not expensive, either. And far from being the drag on creativity as Ries suggests, measurement can spur innovation and stimulate creativity while it feeds the bottom line.

So here it is, Al Ries. We challenge you to come down from your ivory tower and come to our office in beautiful downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire so we can show you how inexpensive and profitable calculating ROI can be. Drop by any time.

* Peter Drucker said it. We agree.

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