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17 February 2017, 09:59

Should you ask an accountant to measure the effectiveness of your marketing?

I've got a few friends who are accountants - I know this sounds like some kind of guilty secret, but it's true. Actually, to be more accurate, they are Cost Accountants. I started wondering what that meant, so I turned to that oracle of all accurate information, Wikipedia and it suggested: 

Cost accounting is a process of collecting, recording, classifying, analyzing, summarizing, allocating and evaluating various alternative courses of action and control of costs. Its goal is to advise the management on the most appropriate course of action based on the cost efficiency and capability.

That got me thinking. Throughout my near 30 years in marketing related roles, I've always worked with finance colleagues who are really good at counting things. Especially costs. The thing about counting costs is that you can see them. They appear as invoices, bills, time sheet entries etc etc. Over the years, I've been presented with beautiful spreadsheets showing me what my team, campaign, business costs. And it's odd that everything always costs more than I thought too, but that's food for another article…

The only problem is that costs are only part of the story - half to be precise. The other half is benefits. In other words, what happened as a result of all that lovely money we spent? If you're lucky enough to be in a business where you can see direct sales and relate them to a campaign, then, Bingo! You can see both sides and you've got a chance to calculate return on investment. Brilliant!

But what if you can't? What if, for example, you work for an FMCG brand and your goal is offline sales? There are multiple reasons why people will or where they buy your products, so you can’t be certain of cause and effect, or cost and benefit. Or if you're in customer loyalty, where I spent so many years?  Then, we're trying to count something that didn’t happen, i.e. the customer didn’t stop buying your product. Tricky….

And the odd thing is, when in those situations, my cost accountant friends were only too happy to pass the spreadsheet over and ask me to "just pop in the benefit you created..."

Fortunately, in today's world, there's an awful lot we can do to inform this. Data capture happens routinely at so many points in the customer journey that we often can track cause and effect, sometimes a little creatively, but it is there. We're all much more used to aggregating a bunch of campaign elements together - emails, social, PPC, retargeting etc - and measuring the overall benefit against the overall cost, creating an ROI and then running the campaign again with an element removed to measure the difference. Plus, services like Google and Facebook have such fantastic tracking and reporting tools that the answers are at our finger tips. 

The final piece of the jigsaw is that these days, the accountants do much more than track costs (I'm sure they always did, but it's fun to pretend they didn’t…). In fact, some of the best ROI campaign reports I've been involved in were produced by colleagues, who technically are qualified as Cost Accountants. 


So I wondered. Maybe its time for are-brand.  Welcome to the world of Benefit Accountants.

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