Friday, August 5, 2011

More on "Moneyball:" Count Outs Not Made

In a recent post, I disucssed how the book (soon major motion picturing starring BRAD PITT [there, that should help my page rank]) “Moneyball” teaches marketers to think about creating metrics that make sense rather than relying on old, outdated ones.

I vividly recall reading that book in a Marriott in West Hartford, Conn. in between some focus groups.  One concept jumped right out at me and begged me to apply it to marketing, the concept of not making outs.

In that previous column, I mentioned a pivotal point in the book, in which statisticians explained to Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane that it mattered less whether a player got a hit and more whether he did not make an out.  The number of hits in an inning can vary from zero to infinity, but the number of outs remains constant at three.  Avoiding making outs prolongs the inning and thus promotes scoring.

After reading that passage, I believe I put the book down on the nightstand and said something along the lines of “holy cats.”  (Disclosure: I most certainly did NOT say “holy cats.”)

Previously, as a brand marketer, a direct marketer and as an Internet marketer, I had envisioned each communication as designed to create a “hit,” meaning either a sale, request for information or even something as ephemeral as a pop culture reference.  The “thou shalt not make outs” credo, on the other hand, created another possibility.  What if an ad or direct mail piece or website existed not necessarily to close the deal, but rather to keep the consumer from turning off?

Imagine this scenario: a direct-response TV for a new widget offers the item for one low, low price (but wait, there’s still more, etc.).  The consumer watching at home either decides to buy or, much more likely, to ignore it.  In well over 99% of the instances of actual humans watching this commercial, nothing will happen.

But what if the marketer tries instead merely to keep the consumer interested?  Sure, he or she can always decide to buy if the product seems irresistible.  Search engines and Amazon make it child’s play to find a product for sale.  However, the vast majority of consumers watching--even the vast majority of consumers in the widget market--will not have it on their minds to purchase right then and there.  They might, though, want to learn more.  So the marketer might employ a more effective call-to-action of “learn more” rather than “buy now.” In short, more consumers might respond to "learn more" than to "buy now." Make fewer outs.

What then?

Let’s say the consumer does take up the option to learn more.  Let’s say that “learn more” call-to-action drives the consumer to a website.  Should that website go from soft-sell to hard-sell?  

Naturally, no marketer in his or her right mind will ever stand in the way of a sale.  So that landing page should include some clear “buy now” buttons.  But it should also include plenty of information about the product and, more importantly, a way to keep the consumer engaged throughout the purchase cycle.  

Just as a baseball inning could extend until the end of time if no player makes an out, the cycle of “learn more” could, in theory, go on forever.  A reasonable, if exceptionally erudite, reader might ask “what’s to stop this chain from becoming Zeno’s Paradox?”

(For those of you not versed in Greek logic, the philosopher Zeno envisaged a runner who could never complete a race, because before he could cross the finish line, he would have to cross a line halfway between the start and the finish.  Then he would have to cross a line halfway between the halfway line and the finish.  Then he would have to get the picture.)

Excellent, and exceptionally erudite, question!

In reality, the runner does reach the finish line (although Zeno referred to Achilles as his runner, someone who could very easily pull his eponymous tendon) and, one hopes, the consumer does complete the key action, presumably a sale.  Of course, the consumer does not have the same incentive as the runner to complete his or her course.  He or she may, in fact, get bored, find a better product or even take up running races that never seem to end.

However, if I were a betting man (disclosure: I am most certainly NOT a betting man), I’d wager that the longer the marketer engages the consumer, the greater the chance that the marketer will make the sale.  Granted, a scenario involving ongoing interest past three or four touches probably indicates a consumer at least marginally pre-disposed to purchase.  However, it stands to reason that no one will initiate a second touch (e.g. TV to Internet = touch one, Internet to Twitter following = touch two) without being amenable to conversion.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve kept the scenarios simple: DRTV, Internet and Twitter.  In reality, a marketer would have to think about multiple channels that allow consumers to bounce from one to the other.  More to the point, this approach would require sophisticated metrics to enable a meaningful answer to the question “how well is it working?”

In coming posts, I’ll address how multitudes of channels can work together and how marketers can measure success.  Frankly, I haven’t gotten it all figured out.  I’m planning on using the posts to sound out ideas.  So, if I may, I’d like to make a request to you, dear reader:
  • Ask for clarification; it helps me clarify things to myself
  • Suggest future topics for discussion; I’d like to see how complete I can make this vision
  • Argue, argue, argue with me; it brings out my best


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