We Want Action

Direct marketers with a broader view of how consumers respond to their campaigns are better able to produce work that results in positive action

One or zero. Yes or no. Response is a binary way of evaluating a campaign. But that isn't how things work.

The decision to contact a company will be the cumulative result of a series of contextual factors, including previous experience of the brand, the sector and the precise individual circumstance.

It's unlikely that a single communication, when considered in isolation, is ever sufficient to raise someone's activation level to the response threshold. But often our methodologies would identify just that - that a response was induced by a specific communication.

We want to look at the changing nature of "response", and suggest that a broader definition that includes actions beyond the standard response mechanics is required. And then, what are the implications of this on measurement and evaluation?

Direct marketers are used to considering response in a very linear manner. Advertiser provides stimulus. Consumer reacts via response mechanic provided. Numbers are counted and strategies refined accordingly.

But consumers aren't consumers. They're people. And they don't do what they're told. They do what they want to do, interact how they want to interact and generally misbehave from the perspective of the misguided direct marketer who sees customer segments as database artefacts rather than as a collection of free-thinking, cynical people.

In addition, people are not bounded by the information that you give them any more. They don't take what you say at face value and simply convert to your cause; they search the internet for further validation and all sorts of unbecoming behaviour. And then, if they want to respond and don't want to call the phone number so kindly emblazoned on your ads, they'll find a way to do so digitally, or even, God forbid, in person.

Consider TV. As we have witnessed in MBA's recent IPA Effectiveness Award entry for Everest, the TV advertising was shown to work in that it increased the number of leads that went online and booked an appointment via the website - although the TV campaign wasn't primarily designed to generate direct response. Without detailed analysis, these leads could easily have been (wrongly) solely accredited to the digital response channels. People are not behaving in a way that engenders ease of measurement and accurate interpretation of where marketing has been successful.

Even search is not straightforward. Basic analytics can tell you how many visitors you received from natural and paid-for search and what the search terms were. That was fine when the sole access to the internet was a desktop or laptop from which Google served as a window to the world. But now approximately 15 per cent of us have smartphones, and the growth in mobile internet access is exponential.

This is changing our behaviour. We are using apps as dedicated search engines. We are by-passing effective and, most importantly, measurable search marketing for something that is much more intangible to direct marketers.

As a consequence of this changing landscape, "response", as traditionally defined in direct marketing, has become too narrow. We now refer to creating an "action", which is anything that has changed for the individual as a result of the communication.

It could be something as vague as a new brand association in someone's brain, but, more prosaically, we hunt for an actual behavioural change as a demonstrable and, therefore, measureable effect of a communication.

This could be a social action such as Tweeting or engaging in a debate (digital or otherwise). It could be a more personal action, such as sticking a calendar of family events to the fridge door (as we've looked at for the National Trust). Action is an acknowledgement that response is, in fact, not binary - it's analogue.

Measuring this is obviously tricky and should, of course, be conducted alongside standard response evaluation. However, you need to become comfortable with the fact that not everything is going to be measurable - at least not in terms of the classic direct marketing analysis tables you have become used to.

As long as the macro measures are shifting in the right direction, then it may be time to stop worrying quite so much about the detail of the "why?". Creating the behaviour change is the important bit.

Here are three ways to get a better understanding of what is going on:

Pre and post non-responder analysis. Preferably qualitative methodology to ascertain whether or not the campaign has shifted any metrics towards response.

Econometrics. Expensive, but valuable to understand how your marketing is working. Naturally, it will need direct activity to be not entirely dwarfed by advertising to get a fair read.

Cumulative campaign analysis. Asking people whether they are more likely to respond after seeing a particular campaign is a futile exercise as human cognition is not able to accurately self-report in such detail. As Rene Descartes observed: "To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say." Direct marketers must study the cumulative effect of campaigns to understand how successive communications build a particular story.

By at least acknowledging that response isn't binary, we believe direct marketers can put themselves into a much more useful frame of reference that will ultimately enhance their campaigns. By taking a broader approach, we will have a better understanding of how we can create a marketing context in which the person (not the anachronistic "consumer") can be moved to action.


- Response, like people, should not be considered a binary 'yes' or 'no' but the cumulative effect of an interaction with a brand that influences

- People don't do as they're told - they get in touch how they want to, when they want to, making a mockery of some overly linear direct marketing thinking

- To address this shift in thinking, MBA has redefined 'response' as the broader term 'action', which takes into consideration any outcome that is triggered by communication.

Paul Munce and James Middlehurst are the managing partners at MBA

(From Campaign's "What Next in Engagement" supplement, October 2010)