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2015 will be the year that PR catches up with marketing metrics, but Todd van Hoosear urges caution.
I have lived and breathed metrics since my graduate school days, when the eyes of this poor, unprepared COM major (at a school where COM stood as much for “College of Optional Math” as it did “Communication,” at least at the undergraduate level) were opened to the world of standard deviation, r-squared, t-tests, cross tabulation and pivot tables. It was a little overwhelming, but it prepared me for where the practice of marketing communications is headed.
It seemed that 2014 was the year that marketing communications professionals finally caught up with the product marketers, who had been looking at numbers for years. And all indications show that 2015 will be the year that PR caught up with marketing. The old joke that says, “I know that 50% of my marketing budget is working, I just don’t know which 50%,” is no longer the case.
Or is it?
We have entered a world where everything seems to be measurable. Awareness and thought leadership campaigns have been replaced by lead generation programs as the top marketing communication tactics for B2B marketers, because we can finally measure our efforts. Or, more specifically, we can finally attribute top-line revenue growth specifically to marketing communication efforts.
I have some words of caution, however, for marketers—and especially for PR professionals—tempted to jump blindly into major communication strategy shifts simply to secure better accountability.
First, just because you can measure something doesn’t mean that you should. For example: congratulations on the fact that you’ve doubled the number of Twitter followers; now tell me how many new sales that effort generated. There are a number of completely useless metrics that get shared with the kind of reverence once reserved for quarterly revenue numbers. Likes, followers, Tweet volume, application downloads, web traffic, impressions—it’s not uncommon to see key performance indicators (KPIs) set up for each of these in a campaign. But what do any of them mean? Very little, in fact.
Second, some of the best effects of marketing efforts can be very difficult to measure. I identify five categories of marketing metrics:
Too often, I see most program KPIs bunched in outputs, with the occasional outcome thrown in—because they’re easy to measure. I would argue that, next to attributing revenue to marketing, measuring outtakes is the hardest. It’s very difficult to get into the minds of the people you’re trying to measure.
However difficult it may be to measure outtakes, the process may be one of the most important things you can do to predict behavior and plan your marketing efforts. Outtakes are the best way to measure awareness; they help us get inside the minds of our buyers and prospects.
If you’ve ever answered a “Would you recommend us?” question that pops up on a web page, email or receipt, you’re helping that company measure an outtake KPI. Your answer helps the company create what is called a Net Promoter Score (NPS) and serves as a peek into the mind of the consumer. Because it’s so difficult to measure this, it’s actually relatively easier to jump on the lead generation bandwagon: add some campaign codes, solve the attribution problem, in part at least and call it a day.
My third word of caution is aimed at PR practitioners specifically: While it may be tempting to jump on the lead gen bandwagon, I’m not convinced that PR, or more specifically media relations, is as good at generating leads as it is at creating awareness. I’m working on a longer blog post about that very topic for the HB Agency blog, and once it’s up I’ll update this post with a link.
In my next post on this blog, I’ll describe the dynamics and differences between awareness and lead generation activities.
Todd Van Hoosear is vice president of public relations for Eric Mower + Associates' Boston office, where he helps clients in the engineering, mobile, cloud, networking, consumer technology and consulting spaces bring new ideas – and new takes on old ideas – to the market. He also teaches new media and public relations at Boston University, and serves as a Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Find him on Twitter at @vanhoosear.
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