Marketing Mix Modeling, News • 12 min reading time

Making the most of a slope

Roz Bowman - published on August 16, 2023

What do Marketing Measurement and professional cycling have in common? Our senior consultant, Roz Bowman, shares her thoughts in her short blog post Making the most of a slope.

With the Tour de France behind us and with La Vuelta just around the corner, I have been musing about how cycling holds some analogies with marketing measurement such as MMM. 

Just the other day, the topic of response curves arose with a client. It’s a very common topic and a common source of complexity when considering how to apply MMM learnings. The theory of a response curve is an accepted theory: each point of media investment is not equal, there will be a point at which adding the next £, € or $ will not gain any further uplift. 

We often focus on where the plateau point is, “when should I stop investing in a channel?” a client may ask. But let’s think of this more like the INEOS Grenadiers would: they won’t dwell on the flat points of a TDF stage, rather they’ll be pin-pointing steeper sections of the parcours, where their stronger riders can take advantage and power past other weaker cyclists. Surprisingly, the steep brings the advantage in a cycle race, and this is true too of a media response curve; the investment level aligned to steeper points in the curve will be the amount at which a media channel will give the biggest return for that £. We could realign our question from when to stop investing in a channel to instead “at what level of investment can my media channel bring most advantage?” 

 Another incredibly key point is often overlooked both when watching a long-distance cycle race and attempting to plan with a media response curve. This point is how important the team effort is. To expand: in cycling, the lead rider won’t blast up the steep slopes alone; they won’t end up wearing the winners’ jersey be it yellow or red by working alone. They depend on the work that occurs around them. Their team of domestiques works to make the mountain work for them.  

 In a similar action, the "team", rather the laydown of a channel and full media plan will dictate the shape of the response curve that gets estimated. A single week of media investment should not be considered alone just as a rider should not be considered to be a lone rider.  

 In the case of media measured with an adstock function, the absolute level of media uplift for any given week will be dependent on the investments that have preceded it. Even without any adstock functions, the shape of a media response curve is greatly dependent on what was available for measurement. Without much variation within the weekly investments seen on a media plan, it is hard to obtain a full view of the shape of a response curve.  

 A cycling team needs variety, they need climbers, sprinters and all-rounders to succeed on the mountains. A media channel benefits from variety too to be measured well and so enabling a winning plan to be designed.  

 A cycling team needs to work together to achieve the winning time. A result of a media channel will need to be considered as the effort that has been made by all weeks of activity measured in order to understand the nuance behind the result measured.  

 In cycling, as with all top sport, a feature never to be ignored is budget. Budget to secure riders’ contracts, funding for physios, engineers, team cars, etc. Not all teams, nor even riders, are monetarily equal.  

 Neither do media channels and campaigns cost the same.  

This is the final part of understanding a response curve- the COST to reach a level along the slope is not always equal. Crucial to consider when creating scenarios for the future. How much uplift your media curve signals you may achieve but fundamentally a question to ask is “how much will that cost me?” 

 In conclusion, when measuring the action of media on a brand’s performance, a single week of media - or to go a step further even a single media channel - will not shape response alone. Instead, there is a backing from any activity surrounding and running alongside. A marketing manager needs to reframe their thinking when judging a response curve, appreciating what has come together to shape it, what any future cost implications may be, and then look for the advantageous points of any curve. 

 In the same light, a viewer of the Vuelta needs to appreciate -- a team will cycle together to shape their performance along the slopes of each stage. A single rider will not wear the Red Jersey alone, but in fact the team will secure that jersey together. 

Picture of Roz Bowman

Roz Bowman

Senior Consultant UK