This is a piece I wrote for an m/SIX newsletter in January 2022.

Effectiveness and efficiency are not the same but they are both critical in media strategy, planning and activation


Marketing effectiveness and campaign efficiency are intertwined terms across the open plan workspaces of both advertisers and agencies. But they mean very different things. Now is a good time to remind ourselves what these terms mean and to explore the differences between effectiveness and efficiency and how they apply in media investment.

Effectiveness is about doing the right thing. It is sometimes referred to as ‘goal orientation’- are we doing the right things to reach our goal?  At m/SIX we refer to these effectiveness options as “levers”.

Let’s look at some examples of effectiveness; if we want to build sales revenue by growing the market share of a brand we need to increase its market penetration. To increase penetration, we need to move our brand into the consideration and preference sets of more consumers and in order to achieve this goal we need to deliver increased reach. In this case the goal of increasing reach is our route to effectiveness.  Actual effectiveness is the degree to which our approach delivers proximity to the selected goals – increased market penetration through increased reach.

In another effectiveness example we may wish to increase revenues by repositioning our brand versus competitors. For example we may wish to position our brand as more environmentally friendly than other brands in the category. To do this we may need to change the way consumers view our brand and ask them to associate new meanings with it.  In order to do this we may need to change the memory structures associated with our brand which in turn may require the use of media channels capable of delivering that “change in memory structure” goal.

In a third example we might want to deliver revenue growth by increasing purchase frequency. To do this we might need to give consumers reasons to purchase more often by reframing the way they use the product. This would typically increase the number of usage  occasions that the product can contribute to. The decision to reframe the way the product is used, and our success in doing that is the measure of the campaign’s effectiveness.

Efficiency is about doing things right. Efficiency tends to be process or ways of working orientated. At m/SIX we refer to these efficiency options as “switches”.

Now let’s look at how the three examples above might benefit from increased efficiency.

In the case of increasing market penetration,  we would need to examine which channels are able to deliver reach most efficiently – typically, we might ask which channels can do this quickly, or which channels can do this in the most cost-efficient way – how much reach and attitudinal shift can be generated per pound or dollar invested. Another aspect of efficiency might be which creative assets we use, exactly when we use them, where we use them and the time and cost involved in producing them.

In the case of repositioning a brand, efficiency might be measured as the number of points of attitudinal shift per £pound or dollar invested. We know that some channels are more efficient at achieving this goal than others. We also know that certain ways of using those channels are more efficient – a moving image may be more efficient than a static image, a larger format ad may be more efficient than a smaller format ad. Higher frequency over a short time period may be more efficient than lower frequency – or vice versa.

In the case of increased purchase frequency, the most efficient route might be how an agency and marketing team can remind consumers with prompts or triggers to change their behaviour – this is usually signals-based targeting; it could also be a carefully planned search campaign to target recipe searches for example. Or it may be a signals-based media and creative optimisation to target active meal planners; if we know that a consumer is going to shop online, we need to deliver our prompts and triggers in the right way and at exactly the right planning moments.

Efficiency and effectiveness is not a binary choice between one approach or the other – we have to deliver both, but in the right measures

Now we have explored these two concepts, we need to emphasise that one without the other amounts to suboptimal marketing and media investment.  Making effective strategic decisions without efficient delivery is likely to be slower and more expensive than it needs to be. Delivering campaigns efficiently, does not necessarily deliver the best goal delivery – ie effectiveness outcomes.

At m/SIX we manage both effectiveness and efficiency;  the levers and the switches. We have teams of strategic planners who are able to focus on making the right goal choices to maximise marketing and media effectiveness. We have teams of audience planners who look for the audiences most likely to deliver our goal and the channels and targeting criteria that will deliver those audiences in the most efficient way. And we have teams of display, search, social and CRO ad CX specialists who help us ensure that the strategy is delivered efficiently.

But whilst the choice is not binary, the balance between maximizing effectiveness and efficiency has to be carefully considered – our strategists and analysts work on optimsing this balance so you can be assured that your budgets are being invested in ways that will maximize your overall business outcomes.