Wednesday, 18 March 2009

How to brief a marketing analyst

So you want an analyst to spend some time looking at your marketing? This is all about how you get a piece of work that will do something more than confuse you for a couple of hours (which means it must be very, very clever) and then spend the rest of its life in a filing cabinet.

If you don't brief your analysts this way, then they really should ask questions until you do. They might not though - it depends how good they are. Writing a good brief maximises the chance that your 50-100 grand will be money well spent.

Here are the rules.

1. Why do you want the work done?

If the answer is 'you've heard econometrics is amazing for media ROI' then don't even think about briefing anybody yet. You'll most likely end up with a model that perfectly explains why sales have moved about for the past three years but tells you nothing about what to do next year.

Here are a few possible starters for ten:
  • Finance are trying to take your budget away, so you're hoping to prove that marketing spend makes money.
  • You don't know whether it would be better to run a TV campaign, or switch the money to Press and Radio. You need the answer.
  • You want to know which of your products are most advertising responsive so that you can reallocate your spend.
  • You're launching a new brand next year and want to know how best to do it. Which channels and budgets?
  • Finance have asked you to make a case for how big next year's budget should be and you want to make that case in terms of how much product it will sell, or awareness it will build.
  • You don't know whether to run one big burst of advertising next year, or two smaller ones.
Ask the questions in detail. The best way to answer them may not even be the econometrics project that you thought you wanted.

2. What data have you got that you know of?

This goes beyond sales and promotional plans. What segmentations have you run? Research tracking? Web metrics? Tell the analysts about all of it and let them decide what's useful. You may be surprised.

3. When is the decision deadline that this work informs?

Start from there and work backwards to get your timeline. Assume the useful interpretation of any models will not arrive until two weeks after the debrief date, when you've had the chance to digest it and ask questions.

4. How will the work inform future decisions?

Do your consultants have planning software? Optimisers? Make them demonstrate them to you. I can't stress this enough - you need to see them working. Otherwise, how do you know that you're not looking at a screenshot somebody knocked up in Excel for a piece of software that doesn't actually exist yet? Or a fancy looking piece of utter garbage?

5. Who are your project team?

You need to meet them, not just the guy who's selling the project.

6. Interim meetings.

For a twelve week project, you want:
  • A kick off meeting with the analysts
  • A data review and progress meeting around 5-6 weeks in
  • A marketing team debrief about 10 weeks in, to give you the chance to tailor the full debrief towards any new questions that have come up in the past couple of months. The models might not be quite finished for this one.
  • A full debrief at the end with everybody who's interested, so that you can show off this wonderful piece of work
7. What are your marketing goals?

What, specifically, is your marketing spend supposed to change? You're not sure? Shame on you. And your ad agency.

You're commissioning somebody to measure the effectiveness of your advertising. If you've been running brand building campaigns, then looking for an effect on awareness tracking could well be a better idea than looking for an effect on short-term sales. Model sales and you run the risk of 'proving' that your campaigns are unprofitable, because you're looking for effects in the wrong place.

8. What data has the agency got?

If the analysts are independent, then how are they going to work with your agencies to source data? Or are you going to have to do it?

Which leads to...

9. Who is responsible for data?

You need a project champion who will co-ordinate all the requests for (probably a lot of) data that you're going to get. Who's going to keep track of all this and chase it up at your end? It's much, much better to do it this way than have an external company mailing all sorts of people they've never talked to at your company and hoping to get a timely reply.

10. (This one is less about the brief, but is still incredibly important.)
Get everyone who will use the results involved at the start.

Any and every piece of modelling work can be picked apart. Always. Academics spend years doing it to each other in journal articles and they spend years building the models in the first place. We build models in a couple of months. That doesn't mean they're wrong, but it does mean somebody can definitely argue with the way the work was done and refuse to believe its results.

If you plan to use the results outside the marketing department then get those people in for the kick off meeting. It's much harder to argue with a piece of work that you agreed at the outset was a good idea...

That's it, a handy list to cut out and keep. Anything I've missed?

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