How 11-year-olds and executives measure marketing ROI

By John Briggs / 03 Apr 2015


It never fails when I’m driving on a long family road trip. Especially in the mountains. Especially when the sun is setting behind the clouds, when grayness takes over and it’s a little hard to see. Seemingly, out of nowhere, a massive rainstorm. Bolts of lightning crash all around the car. Windshield wipers thrashing, my sweaty hands grip the wheel, trying to maneuver curves through dense layers of fog, around semis, somehow avoiding the plunge down a mountainside toward our untimely deaths. Flashing red lights pulse in the car, and in my head, over and over and over again.

Perhaps that’s not far from the feeling you might get when presenting ROI numbers for your marketing program to members of the C-Suite. But we’ll get back to that in a moment. Let’s talk about ROI of our family vacations first, from the perspective of our 11-year-old son, Nate.

It was on one of those trips, after a long day of touring Biltmore mansion, driving into the evening, having passed that storm in the mountains, and gliding smoothly into darkness, into the valley, we had arrived at our stop-over for the night. A charming two-story motel on the western edge of Virginia, a place my wife, Julia, had found online, reminiscent of the roadside motels of our childhood. Only it wasn’t a charming motel.

Maybe it was the barefoot woman behind the front desk, with her considerable girth, toothless grin, flannel pajamas, and a smoke trail following behind her like a wispy leash. Or it could have been the rowdy lobby bar and adjacent parking lot full of, let’s just say, activities going on. Or perhaps it was the “smoking” room they gave us on the first floor, which we promptly switched out for a moist, I mean MOIST, non-smoking room on the second (apparently smoke must hover in the mountains, never rising between floors). Needless to say, we didn’t sleep well that night, in our clothes, on top of the sheets, all the while avoiding mysterious stains on the carpet and furniture when we had to make our way to the bathroom.

Julia had done her research. She had the data points to support the decision: location, price, distance from home, compelling photos and exceptional reviews. Nate believed we were missing the mark. (In fact, that night before we all fell asleep, his last words were,“We’re all going to die!”) Our son doesn’t care about distance from home, occupancy rates, mountain views or nostalgia for the roadside lodging of our youth. He doesn’t care about online photos and reviews. He wants a clean hotel room, on a high floor, with panoramic views, a gigantic indoor pool, in a walkable neighborhood, with tons of culinary delights within a few blocks of the lobby.

Isn’t that the point about marketing and ROI? You can comb through all the numbers and compile data points on the size of your audience, posts per month, page views, number of engaged viewers, average engagement per post, percentage of engaged viewers versus reach, and the like. It’s an important destination, even if it looks like a shady motel, toward understanding your performance toward the benchmarks. But the CEO, or other members of the C-Suite, may not care. They may ask questions, like: How do the marketing hours we're logging drive revenue for our company? Does your plan create efficiencies that save us money? Is the message connecting with our customers, showing them value, keeping them happy and on board? And you better have answers to those important questions.

Like Nate, your C-Suite audience may not always like where you are at a given point of your journey. But if you both understand the destination, even though the path may take you, undoubtedly, to its share of shady motels, it holds promise. As in the Shaker Nature Center Camp, Nate’s favorite summer camp, awaiting him on Monday morning after we had had reached our destination on time. We had arrived.


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