What You Can’t See: 78% of Your Business

eye-chartRecently, I’ve been a little obsessed with ROI as it relates to social marketing, as I seek to put in more tangible terms what I feel intuitively about this new toolset’s value.

To this end, Adam Cohen hit my Reader just right with a nice real-world post on measuring the marketing effectiveness of social media in general (not another post just on how important it is that it be measured, thank goodness). As Powered has done in our 2009 ROI Report he focused on purchase path as the main way to address the value created by social presence. Truly, resultant sales is the most logical way to measure marketing, and Adam rightly calls for social media tools to be linked along the clickstream more directly with end purchase. Powered’s self-reported data is a compelling indicator, as we typically find on the low end that 1 in 5 consumers report a purchase as a result of social engagement within one of Powered’s client communities.

But there is more here than just getting people to consider a purchase. In our ROI report and with our customers we do focus on a number of statistics that address things like loyalty, advocacy, brand affinity, and insight into consumers. All of these words are abstract; they all refer to things that are intangible. But nevertheless, a marketer’s intuition tells you that these things are the essence of what we seek to impact. Unfortunately, those outside of the marketing profession see those terms as arcane and would rather you just “show them the money.” You can’t really blame them.

It was while considering the intangible and social marketing’s impact on it that I found this article by Christopher Kenton (via David Churbuck) that I found fascinating. Christopher’s article isn’t about social media/marketing, but rather about why CMO’s are being pushed more toward true financial measurability of marketing in general. The premise of his article is built around this finding:

According to Jonathan Knowles of Brand Finance, a consultancy that specializes in the valuation of businesses, the tangible assets that used to account for 75 percent of a company’s stock market value in the 1980s now only accounts for 22 percent of market value.

Wow, I can imagine the CFO-head-scratching that this sea change likely causes. Seventy-eight percent of my company’s value is in assets that I can’t see? Granted, some of these intangibles will reside in the internals: the IP, the human capital, the processes and technological know-how of a company. But no doubt much of this intangible value exists outside: in the brand equity that a company has built with consumers/customers – the affinity, loyalty, advocacy, and market insight that is the department of the CMO.

Today, what the stock market knows has forced the CFO into that CMO’s office to ask for a firmer grasp of the unseen – and for less arcane ways to measure it. Popular but still nascent measures like NPS (Net Promoter Score) seek to fill the gap and make loyalty/advocacy tangible, but more research and development is needed to tie it to financial impact – and that impact likely differs structurally from company to company.

In the meantime, as we wait for more widely accepted measures, I would suggest this hypothesis: there is currently no more powerful tool in the marketer’s toolbelt to impact intangible marketing assets like loyalty, affinity, advocacy, and insight than social marketing. Proof points abound outside of Powered’s walls, but our statistics show an extremely powerful effect that I believe dwarfs other marketing mediums when you take into consideration relative cost. Aaron Strout blogged about them earlier.

And when you’re talking about assets that make up as much as 78% of your company’s stock value, you might as well be talking about your entire business.

In the world of the CFO and company valuation, the two main forces on the positive side are cash flow and assets. So it’s reasonable to predict that someday in the not-so-distant future, the ROI of social marketing (and marketing in general) might not only contain a short-term conversion-based model that looks like the ROI models of old, rolling into cash flows . . . but will also include a more powerful new-world long term model that analyzes the impact of social marketing on intangible assets.

Are you already there? If so, how are you measuring?

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