Opinion: Marketing Society - Testing is worth every penny

Everyone has had to come to terms with tighter, more accountable budgets. As a result, we've had to do without some of life's little luxuries - expensive photography maybe, possibly a narrower media schedule, and maybe even fewer creative treatments than we would previously have settled for. But one thing we can't do without, and should never be considered a luxury, is testing. No matter what else happens to the budget, testing is a non-negotiable.

Sadly, the advertising industry doesn't seem to realise this. The direct marketing industry, particularly, is in danger of killing the very techniques that gave it life. But agencies do what their clients tell them to - even the best ones - so the responsibility for this lack of testing lies with clients.

This dearth of testing is apparent across all sectors, but there are a couple that are particularly vulnerable to throwing testing out of the window: credit cards and telecoms. Companies in those sectors are judged principally by how many people they have on their books. In a mad dash to reach as many prospects as possible, marketers have adopted a scattergun approach to the detriment of their existing customers. They have fallen into the trap of focusing all their energy on pulling in new punters, while neglecting those consumers with whom they already have a relationship.

While, superficially, customer numbers go up, these new customers have no real value or long-term commitment to the brand. They are easily bought and just as easily lost. There will be a two-fold backlash to this lack of rigour and commitment. The first is that valuable customers will go, and the second is that the promiscuous customers will go too - following the next good deal.

The easiest explanation for this lack of testing is the increasing pressure these corporations feel from the City that evaluates companies purely on how many new recruits they have. Never mind whether existing clients are being kept happy or even defecting, as long as there are a healthy number of new customers to report.

Apart from encouraging customers to be promiscuous, the foundations of the direct marketing industry, in particular, are being undermined. The direct marketing process is where it is today because it builds businesses.

Once you start moving away from the fundamentals - such as testing and measurability - you call into question the basis on which the industry has thrived for so long. But if direct marketers don't start paying attention to the linchpin that got it where it was, then the industry won't just be staying still, it will be going backwards.

The old adage about being nice to people who help you on the way up because you might meet them on the way down holds true for testing too. If the direct marketing industry continues to take its eye off the accountability ball, it could find itself falling from grace and being ignored on the way down. As for clients, let's put testing back at the centre of everything we do.

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