The Score: Making Sense of Measuring Your Marketing Communications Efforts

By Stephen Dupont, APR

Several years ago, while handling the marketing communications for a running shoe brand, we came up with this awesome idea: Go to where the hardcore runners are – marathons and half-marathons and place posters in porta-johns showing the different colors of runner’s pee. Then, as the runners came out of the porta-johns, we’d ask them what color their pee was and if they remembered the shoe brand.

We reached thousands of hardcore runners who shared their enthusiasm for the shoe brand – and how the brand “got” real runners.

We knew we had raised the brand’s awareness and enhanced its perception among hardcore runners.

But, we struggled with this question: How did we know if our efforts really had an impact on the sales of the shoe brand at local running stores?

Determining the Score

Before I begin a new marketing communications project or campaign, I want to know exactly what we’re trying to achieve. It’s the competitor in me.

Because much of my consulting practice is focused on marketing communications, over the years I’ve come to realize that each client has one key metric that he or she considers most important. However, different people within an organization may define this differently. The head of sales may say that the No. 1 goal is converting impressions into sales leads. The head of marketing might say the top priority is to obtain a ten-fold return on the marketing investment. The communications director might want the campaign to increase the company’s “share of voice.”

The reality is, all of those measures may be critical.

Think of driving a car or truck. The goal is to go from point A to point B, safely and on time. Right?

But, to accomplish this, you need a speedometer, a gas gauge, an oil gauge, a map (GPS) for navigation, and a clock.

Before you start your journey, you need to know that your vehicle has enough gas to get you to where you want to go. And, throughout the trip, you are constantly monitoring your speed, the map, the time, and any warning lights on the car, to not only help you gauge your progress (and allow you to make adjustments along the way) but also to help you predict your arrival.

Your dashboard needs to include data points that measure both the process of getting to where you’re going, as well as the final outcome (arrival at your destination).

Driven by Data

Many marketing communications professionals dance a fine line in justifying their roles within an organization or their value to a client. We used (and may still use) measurements such as impressions, reach, frequency, and advertising equivalency to demonstrate value.

Those with larger budgets have the luxury of conducting pre- and post-campaign research to measure the changes in awareness and perceptions. Better yet, with additional resources we are able to tie our communications efforts to donations, votes, an 800 number, or a rise in stock price.

In the years since the launch of digital platforms such as AOL Mail (1993), Google (1997), LinkedIn (2002), Facebook (2004), Google Analytics (2005), Twitter (2006), and Instagram (2010), communications professionals have been able to access a slew of new data points (Likes, Follows, open rates, click-thrus).

In addition, marketing communicators can access data through software that measures the sentiment of social media posts, key words (word clouds), or referral sources.

Some marketing communicators interviewed for this story combine data to create a share-of-voice statistic to measure the combination of earned and paid media coverage in comparison to their nearest competitors. Others demonstrate value by the number of email addresses (leads) obtained through their marketing communications efforts.

While the addition of these data points has been a boon to communicators, it has also added another layer of complexity — more data, more measurements, and more key performance indicators (KPIs).

And yet, do we really know if we’re achieving the success we desire? How many measurements do you really need on your scorecard? Which measurements are the best measurements?

And, what if you have no measurements – such as preventing a crisis situation from reaching the mainstream news?

Measuring Outputs, Outcomes and Impact

What most of us really want to know is: “Are our efforts having an impact?”

The problem is that many marketing communications professionals often are “trapped” in an endless cycle of reporting the outputs of their actions.

For example: Let’s say that we’re trying to encourage drivers to stop texting while driving and we’re targeting drivers who drive in a specific area (a city, county, state or province).

  • The outputs might include impressions generated through editorial coverage and experiential events, the number of editorial placements, or the number of Facebook Likes.

 

  • The outcomes might include results of surveys of residents about their awareness and perception of the issue, residents’ signatures on an online petition committing themselves to not text while driving, and reports on a police survey of drivers to record the number that are not looking at a cell phone while driving.

 

  • And the impact of these efforts may include: Drops in traffic injuries or deaths caused by texting, lower number of traffic fines, and legislative action to increase funding to support no texting while driving.
Dr. Michael Porter, University of St. Thomas

“The key to measurement,” says Dr. Michael Porter, a professor with the University of Saint Thomas’ MBA program, “is understanding the customer journey. Many communicators go into a campaign saying, ‘here are some measurements.’ These often just measure the output or outcomes of their work. But when you look at all of your data, there’s much more happening.

“It’s important to ask critical questions up front, in the planning stages of a campaign,” he adds, “to understand what data to collect. But it’s equally important to find the right people to analyze and interpret the collected data to the original goals and objectives of the campaign to determine what the actual impact is of your efforts.”

Driving for Outcomes

Communications measurement guru Katharine “Katie” Delahaye Paine, publisher and CEO of Paine Publishing, has made it her mission and business to help communications professionals better measure their efforts.

Katharine Delahaye Paine

To Paine, one of the pain points that many communications professionals face is getting agreement and buy-in on communications and marketing metrics by senior management. And with that, obtaining the data to demonstrate value based on the agreed-upon goals and objectives.

“In building a measurement system,” Paine says, “it is absolutely critical to get the data you need to demonstrate your impact on generating tangible outcomes, such as conversations.”

“If you’re just measuring the process,” she adds, “you’re toast. Just driving people to a website, for example, is just measuring activity. People at your company will start paying attention when you can show them how many new customers you produced, or how many online sales you generated. That’s where you need to be more specific – drive consumers to a specific page on a website, where they can vote, donate, or purchase.”

To document change, suggests Paine, communications professionals must gain access to internal data (financial, sales, marketing, etc.) or conduct research prior to the launch of a campaign. It’s best, she adds, to show results in the context of how a company’s competitors performed. For example, obtain market share for your company and its nearest competitors (a tangible outcome) and desired share of voice (a process measure). Tied together: Increase share of voice to increase market share. 

Trust and Reputation

Your scorecard would not be complete without a consistent, ongoing measurement of trust. As author and sales expert Bob Burg has repeatedly noted, “When all things are equal, people do business with those whom they know, like and trust.”

Trust is the lubricant that allows sales to go more smoothly. For example, an organization such as Apple relies heavily on the trust it has built with its fans over the years to ensure that its new products are quickly and widely accepted. Similarly, employers rely on trust to attract and retain great talent.

Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, executive partner and chief research officer with the Reputation Institute, says, “Reputation is the outcome of everything you do. To me, it is the most important measurement because your brand (and the people behind your brand) are validated by other stakeholders. Your reputation is the key predictor of how well your organization and its brand(s) will do in the future.”

Building Your Scorecard

Similar to the dashboard in nearly every vehicle, is there a universal scorecard that all professional communicators should subscribe to, to monitor the most important measurements?

Although I believe that such a system could be constructed, the problem is that communications and marketing professionals don’t maintain the same reporting systems as the financial operations within an organization. Let’s say your organization is 30 years old. It’s likely that your organization could use widely accepted metrics to track the financial status of your organization for every year going back 30 years.

However, could you easily find the market share figures for your organization, or share-of-voice stats, if you were given a similar challenge?

And yet, as noted by Hahn-Griffiths, what the future of big data holds is the ability to predict outputs, outcomes and impact. If given certain financial and human resources, could you, with reasonable certainty, predict the process and outcome measurements for your next communications campaign?

Until forecasting tools are available to marketing communications professionals, I recommend following the advice of Dr. Porter: rethink what you’re measuring. Before jumping into the next assignment, take the time to ask more questions about exactly what matters with an eye on enhancing the trust and reputation of your organization or its brands. That can help identify the tangible outcomes that clearly demonstrate the value of public relations and communications to a client or company.

Did you find this article helpful? If so, let me know. Leave a comment on this blog, or send an email to me at stephen.dupont@pockethercules.com.

Stephen Dupont, APR, is VP of Public Relations and Branded Content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a brand marketing firm based in Minneapolis. Contact Stephen Dupont at stephen.dupont@pockethercules.com or visit his blog at www.stephendupont.co.

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