to metrics with intuition
June 1, 2007
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Duboff went to Harvard Law School and became a great marketer.
Now he’s using his legal training and his marketing acumen
to argue that the craze toward precision marketing might be sending
us in the wrong direction.
“Anybody who grows up as an argumentative, logical thinker
ought to go to law school,” says Duboff, the author of ROI
for Marketing: Balancing Accountability with Long-Term Needs
recently published by the Association of National Advertisers.
“I always felt law school was better preparation for a career
in business than attending business school.”
Duboff has taken on a challenging task in his new book. Today,
more than ever before, CMOs face intense pressure to manage costs
and justify the return on marketing investments. Duboff thinks
we need a careful approach that balances the new reliance on metrics
with the traditional reliance on intuition when it comes to fine-tuning
our marketing investments.
Duboff’s just the right person for the task. He spent his
career as a market researcher, management consultant and marketing
educator. While still in school at Harvard, he launched a political
polling firm that backed Eugene McCarthy’s 1972 presidential
campaign. As a young analyst wearing blue jeans, he convinced
the white-shoe founders of management consultancy Temple, Barker
& Sloan Inc. to make him general manager of Lexington, Mass.-based
Decision Research Corp. His early research for Arthur Andersen
guided the formation of what would later become Hamilton, Bermuda-based
He became the global chief marketing officer of Mercer Consulting
and later Ernst & Young. He has taught on the faculty of Boston
College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., MIT’s Sloan School of Management
in Cambridge and, currently, Northeastern University in Boston.
Duboff served two terms as chairman of the board of the Advertising
Research Foundation. Today, he’s founder and CEO of HawkPartners
LLC, a Cambridge, Mass.-based marketing consultancy.
been a successful entrepreneur and corporate executive, but his
passion has always been in solving thorny problems. That’s
why he’s turned his focus to the debate over the proper
way to approach ROI techniques in marketing. “The issues
and the work is what motivates me,” Duboff says.
book is not a wholesale defense of the softer side of marketing.
He’s not an advertising junkie who urges clients to trust
in the power of creativity and believe in unending investments
in brand equity. Duboff is a data geek who likes to roll up his
sleeves and crunch the numbers. He knows all about the impact
of technology and the precision measurements today’s online
worries that our fascination with online measurement approaches
and the promise of technology that provides metrics may send us
down the wrong path. He thinks marketers can be “precisely
wrong” and should strive to be “generally correct.”
What he means is this: If we rely too much on the elements of
the marketing mix, we can overtly measure and shy away from using
the tools of marketing that require intuition—such as advertising,
public relations and sponsorships—and thus we’ll make
bad marketing investment decisions.
“The quickest way to make a sale is to lower your prices,”
says Duboff, who remembers the days when marketers pushed heavily
into coupons and purchase incentives because they were measurable
at the expense of advertising budgets. “If you do too many
price promotions on Michelob, pretty soon you don’t have
a premium brand,” he says.
Duboff points to BMW’s investment in online videos featuring
Madonna as yet another example. “Those videos created considerable
awareness,” Duboff says. “Can you imagine anyone quantifying
that investment in advance?”
“We have to carefully apply the discipline and techniques
of ROI,” says Duboff, who cautions that human behavior is
highly variable. He fears we will build marketing investment models
based solely on historic results; those models may not predict
“I do not believe the prospective tools exist,” Duboff
says. “That’s why I argue with precision marketing
Duboff believes there is a middle ground: “I think there
is a pendulum. Marketers should be in the middle.”
Duboff believes marketers should operate between two ideas. At
one pole is the concept of complete reliance on the power of technology-based
measurement techniques to guide future investments. “We
can measure everything precisely today, and therefore do it prospectively
(fine-tune future marketing investments with certainty),”
is what one school argues, according to Duboff.
“On the other side of the pendulum are the apologists for
advertising, sponsorships, public relations and other tactics
where the benefits are hard to measure,” he says. “(It’s)
anything you do in marketing that has ‘Trust me, this is
good for the brand,’ in the equation,” he adds.
“I want us to be in the middle between those two schools
of thought,” Duboff says. “I want us to be generally
right and not oversell the precision of the tools we have. I also
don’t want us to blindly say, ‘Believe me.’
Duboff argues that CEOs should pay attention to the marketing
ROI debate. “CEOs should be demanding,” he says. “They
should require better information on what’s working in their
advertising. That should happen. They should be thinking about
ROI. Let’s just measure it the right way.”
Duboff’s book is worth a read, and his arguments are a reminder
that great marketing blends science with art and intuition with
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com