At the recent B2B Marketing Forum in London, where John Neeson of SiriusDecisions was a featured speaker, one of the discussions focused on the interplay between marketing creativity and accountability. Specifically, is the ongoing trend toward measuring the impact of marketing and improving ROI killing creativity and innovation? This post combines my notes from that discussion with my own thoughts on the topic.

Demonstrating the impact of marketing should theoretically increase marketing’s credibility and give us the freedom to try new things. The potential danger is that a preoccupation with elevating the numbers will tempt us to focus exclusively on already proven strategies and tactics, rather than experimenting with new approaches.

This would be a critical mistake, because B2B buying behavior is changing fast, and organizations that don’t experiment compromise their ability to impact the business. So the real challenge is to develop your “accountability muscle” while experimenting with new, creative approaches.

There are a couple of ways that best-in-class marketing functions are achieving this balance:

  • Use digitization as a vehicle for innovation. Instead of focusing only on measuring results from established programs and tactics, view the digitization of customer buying behaviors as an opportunity for marketing to make the “first sales call.” In other words, experiment with creative approaches to driving early engagement of potential buyers via digital channels, which provides better tracking capability throughout the demand waterfall.
  • Set aside money for experimentation. During the annual planning process, some organizations earmark a portion of their marketing budgets (e.g. 10 or 20 percent) to spend on previously untried approaches. Some follow a 70/10/20 rule: 70 percent of the budget is allocated to established initiatives; 10 percent is dedicated to new approaches (measures of success are established and evaluated, but there are no set ROI expectations for these efforts) and 20 percent is used to continue building initiatives that were in the 10 percent bucket in the previous year and have shown some success.

    By imposing on themselves a mandate to keep experimenting with new approaches to drive marketing ROI, best practice marketing organizations create synergy between accountability and creativity, rather than becoming preoccupied with finding ways to extract the last possible morsel of ROI from established initiatives.