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I came across an interesting problem the other day. While working on copy for a website, I noticed a statement that some service had improved some client’s ROI by some huge percent. The people who had asked me to write this were very clear on the fact that ROI should be a focus, and so I wrote that in without consideration.

However, it nagged at me, and it still nags at me, because of something I read just this Monday. CopyBlogger’s wonderful blog post on Social Media ROI. An interview with Sean Jackson, the CFO of Copyblogger, brought up a very interesting technicality of our industries current copywriting practices: you don’t get an ROI from expenses, and marketing is an expense.

In Sean’s words:

Marketing will never produce an ROI because ROI is not what you think it is.

A pure definition of ROI is simple to quantify.

ROI = (Gain from the Investment – Cost of Investment)/Cost of the Investment

The problem for marketing professionals is that marketing activity is not an investment. An investment is an asset that you purchase and place on your Balance Sheet. Like an office building or a computer system. It’s something you could sell later if you didn’t need it any more. Marketing is an expense, and goes on the Profit & Loss statement.
Unless your organization uses Enron style accounting (circa 2001), every marketing effort you pursue is an expense in time, money, and resources … it’s not an accounting asset.

This resulted in a conversation between myself and Ben Meyers about copywriting and proper language use. In this case, ROI is a widely (mis)understood term, and as such, it’s likely to be understood better than alternatives. On the other hand,  people in-the-know will scoff and have a lower opinion of you. It’s a trade off.

My general attitude is often summed up online as “haters gonna hate”, so use language the way you think your audience does (although with the overabundance of horrible writing online, perhaps not exactly like them). So go ahead, use ROI, especially if it’s a big number.