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How effective is your marketing?

How effective is your marketing?

McDonald's Super Bowl ad this year focused on a new campaign as the chain continues to struggle.
McDonald's Super Bowl ad this year focused on a new campaign as the chain continues to struggle.

I always find the Super Bowl a good time to reflect on the effectiveness of marketing (it is after all the Super Bowl of advertising), and this year was no exception. While many commentators singled out the McDonald’s ad for praise, its CEO resigned, paying the penalty for declining sales. And RadioShack, whose Super Bowl commercial last year was widely praised, declared bankruptcy. It's easy to conclude that marketing no longer works.

However, the real lesson is that now more than ever, it's what brands do that matters, rather than what they say: Both McDonald’s and RadioShack have struggled to adapt to changing customer needs. This is where marketing should be focused. So here are three questions I use to gauge a retailer's marketing effectiveness.

First, is marketing shaping the customer experience? Retail CMOs should be spending the majority of their time bringing the voice of the customer to the business, and then working across the business to improve the experience. This, rather than advertising and promotion, is the foundation for effective marketing.

Second, does the brand communication reflect the customer experience? The recent “Values Matters” campaign from Whole Foods is a good example. It amplifies what Whole Foods believes in, and what it actually does. It isn't just another version of the supermarket staple — higher quality, lower prices.

Third, does the business use actions to symbolize what it does? While McDonald’s was producing highly rated advertising, Chipotle was putting signs up saying “Sorry, No Carnitas,” as it had discovered one of its pork suppliers was not living up to its responsibly raised standards. It signaled that it took its Food with Integrity mission seriously. CVS did something similar last year, by announcing it would stop selling tobacco.

Of course, none of this speaks to the return on investment of marketing. But unless marketing is effective in the first place, there's really no return to discuss. What's your experience?

Simon Uwins is a former CMO of fresh&easy and Tesco UK, and author of Creating Loyal Brands (2014). Find him online at

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