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A Yankelovich study a few years ago found that as many as two-thirds of Americans believe that businesses would take advantage of the public if those businesses did not think they would be exposed. As many as one-fourth of Americans agreed that there is literally nothing that business can do to recapture their trust once it is lost. ("State of Consumer Trust," 2004).

We live in a time of omnipresent scrutiny by citizen journalists, regulators, attorneys general, and virtually anyone with a computer and a point of view. The risks of shaky integrity have never been more real. Now would be a good time to measure how well a brand's marketing helps or hinders its perceived integrity, which is to say its ability to build and hold customer trust.

Metrics for a New Kind of ROMI

Most marketers may be honest in the sense that they do not habitually break the law, but the definition of "honest" is shifting to a higher plane, just as it has for stock-option grants and board directors' liabilities.

Marketers need to consider a new calculus: "return on marketing integrity"—that is, a new type of "ROMI"—which can lead to stronger business performance.

Traditional return on marketing investment is calculated using gross margin generated by marketing efforts (GM), minus the marketing investment (I), divided by that investment: ROMI = (GM - I) ÷ I. The calculation for return on marketing integrity is identical, except that investment is replaced with marketing integrity. Simple enough to explain, considerably more difficult to measure.

One of the advantages of an integrity metric is that the additional investment is not like any other factor that could confuse the calculation. Consequently, it may be difficult to extract the market impact of a specific marketing effort from the effects of sales development drives or unexpected distribution gains. However, integrity investments are unique and thus—at least in theory—should be more trackable.

For instance, if a company invests significant person hours and some out-of-pocket spending behind ensuring that every marketing claim is ruthlessly checked for accuracy, then any attitudinal or behavioral gains among customers can be at least partially credited to those investments.

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Lynn Upshaw is an author and consultant, and member of the marketing faculty of the Haas School of Business, UC-Berkeley. Reach him at upshaw@upshawmarketing.com.