In John Wanamaker was an entrepreneur and a pioneer. He grew his clothing store into the first department store. In the Who Made America series on PBS, his stores are called “palaces of consumption.” In 1876 he opened a restaurant inside his store. Two years later, he installed electric lights. He is the father of modern day retailing.
His outside the box thinking extended to marketing his business. In 1874, he printed the first-ever, copyrighted store advertisement. In his ads, he promised quality goods and offered a money-back-guarantee. When people discovered the promises he made in his advertisements were true, business boomed.
He is widely credited with saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” I’m sure Wanamaker would be amazed at how precisely experts can measure the performance of their advertising dollar.
I was once called in by a business owner whose business was on the verge of closing. He needed help and he needed it fast. During our initial meeting, I asked him to describe a time when his business was successful. His face light up as he told me of a time when his business was thriving. I then asked about the advertising he was doing at that time. He told me that he had decided to measure the effectiveness of his advertising. Like John Wanamaker, he was pretty sure more than half of his advertising dollars were being wasted. So he began “measuring” his advertising’s effectiveness.
He did his “analysis” by simply asking new customers how they heard about his business. When new customers didn’t mention his recent television advertising campaign, he canceled his TV advertising. When new customers didn’t mention his radio ads, he canceled his radio advertising. One by one, he described how and why he had canceled his advertising contracts with various media outlets. By the time he finished telling me of his analysis, he realized what he had done. The decline in his business had happened gradually. Unfortunately, his business didn’t drop precipitously a few weeks after cancelling his television ads. Instead, his business began trickling away slowly. The decline was so gradual that he hadn’t recognized the cause and effect until he was recounting the decline of his business to me.
He’s not the first business owner who’s tried to measure his advertising performance by polling his customers. However, his tale was one of the most extreme I’ve heard. He contacted me because I had developed a reputation in the area for helping business owners operating on a shoestring marketing budget to get great results. However, I couldn’t help someone who had no money for advertising. By the time he contacted me, there was no saving his business. I had offered to help him for six months on a pro-bono basis, but it was too little too late. He didn’t have the funds to advertise.
I’m reminded of another client I worked with years later who also decided to measure his advertising by polling his customers. At the time, we were running a carefully crafted television campaign. The campaign was designed with the call to action as “Visit our website.” I had to fight with the media rep and the production company over the call to action. They were still in the habit of using “call” as a call to action, but I wanted to use the site’s log files to measure the campaign’s effectiveness. I was using television as a way to male sure our message was effective before branching out into other media. I was using the website’s log files to confirm whether or not people were responding.
My client didn’t know his web site traffic had spiked considerably as a result of the campaign. What he did know was he was seeing new customers. He was understandably excited. It was the first time he had ever seen results from his advertising. I cringed when he told me of the grilling he had put one of his new customer through.
He first asked, “Did you see our ad on TV?” The customer replied, “No.” My client wasn’t one to give up. “Did you find us on the web?” Again, the customer said she hadn’t visited the website. My client told me he kept pressing for an answer. I imagine about that time the customer was regretting the decision to visit his store. In an effort to end the line of questioning, the customer finally blurted out, “I saw a sign when I was on the way over here.” My client was crushed. We weren’t running billboards or using any other signage. There was no sign on road she had traveled. (Yes – he kept pressing to find out WHERE she had seen the sign. SIGH!)
Fortunately he decided to begin polling his customers while he was actively working with me. I was able to explain to him that even though the new customer had wanted to help, she couldn’t. She didn’t know WHY she had chosen his store. That’s why polling your customers is a really bad idea. That’s why the television campaign’s call to action was not “call or visit.” Instead it was “visit the website.” I was able to measure the effectiveness of the campaign by the increase in visitors to his website. However, the real measure of effectiveness was the new faces he saw as a result.
Most consumer buying decisions are too complex to track by a single metric. let alone by random customer polling.