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On Results Guarantees and Break Pads

I was speaking to a potential client this month who, in not so many words, asked me if I can charge them based on guaranteed results from the paid digital media strategy and tactical media plan we put together and just presented.

"No", I said.

The potential client was surprised at my answer.

"Why not?" they asked.

At that moment, in my head, I recalled a funny line actor Chris Farley once said in the movie "Tommy Boy"...

I can appreciate the question and the motive behind it. After all, you can't get what you don't ask for. However, this question told me three things.

  1. The marketer is afraid. He's/She’s not confident their marketing plans will work to drive the desired result and is (at least unconsciously) already looking for potential scapegoats if results are not there.

  2. The marketer is under pressure to perform and drive the business outcomes demanded from the C-suite and/or Board. Desperation is a terrible cologne.

  3. Sadly, we are not likely to work together at this time.

I understand that you as the reader could be saying to yourself something like this; "maybe another option was the marketer felt you put together a crappy strategy and media plan that they don't think is great and they are protecting their downside". That could be true, but it's highly unlikely.

In my 23+ years working in digital marketing, I haven't met a senior marketing professional who had an issue telling me directly when I, or the company I worked, put forth a digital marketing strategy and/or media plan that missed the mark or was too expensive. It's happened and words are usually not minced. It's not fun. I'd suggest that a marketer's answer to a high-cost media plan or poor strategy and execution recommendation is not to ask for a performance guarantee from that subpar plan, rather they would ask for a revision that better aligns with the goals and budget constraints. Either that or they find another partner. Additionally, time is one of a marketer's most precious assets (along with a healthy budget, good customer data and creative/messaging, but we'll discuss these things in future posts). I don't believe a marketer will waste their time with a potential partner if they already feel the plan was a dud.

As we come out of this terrible pandemic, many companies have a bullish outlook on their business, banking on consumer spending habits bouncing back in a big way in the next 12-24 months. This is putting even more (perhaps unrealistic) pressure on CMOs to produce strong results in the near term. We're all rooting for this big boost of consumer demand to come to fruition.

But media results are not set of brake pads. When a partner puts together a digital media strategy and execution plan, it is (should be) absolutely focused on driving your desired business outcome(s), using all learned experience and available tools for research, media buying, data management, and brand safety. It's an informed and educated guess that you test, learn and optimize for best results. There are too many outside forces - creative, copy, world events, product/service performance, legacy brand reputation, etc - that could influence consumer behavior that is out of the media executor's control.

In my experience, the best practitioners of digital media execution do not guarantee results. There are companies out there that do. I'd suggest that those companies are less interested in helping you or your company better understand your customer or care about your brand's safety or consumer privacy. Since they are paid to drive a specific conversion metric (or two) they will use every tool and trick available to do just that...brand and consumer be dammed. There is little incentive to share audience insights, privacy or worry about where your ads show up on the web. Your relationship with them will be short.

Instead of asking your digital media partner for a results guarantee, I'd propose asking if they guarantee the following items that will prove to be more valuable and profitable for you and your business:

  1. Transparency - In pricing, channel selection, data, and supply chain

  2. Honesty - In all things, but in particular as it relates to campaign results, potential mistakes if they occur, strategy/opto decisions and professionally communicating when they disagree with a decision or direction given

  3. Innovation/New ideas - Bring new ideas and technology that can help solve business challenges

  4. Support and Education - Not just around campaign insights and learnings but also by offering industry-related POVs and sharing knowledge

I could be wrong. What do you think? I'd love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below.

-Sean Sweeney

Founder and CEO

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