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First, the triumph of digital media now means we’re awash in data. And, second, we still struggle to show the C-suite (or for agencies, to prospective clients) how marketing and communications budgets yield a clear return on investment. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to some emerging trends.
Better data should lead to better decisions and better outcomes. But the quest for a “hard data” answer based solely on numbers can be misleading at best and disastrous at worst. There’s an interesting parallel here with the world of economics. The dangers of ignoring contextual intelligence were one the great lessons to come out of the 2008 financial crisis, and economists have increasingly considered in their deliberations various kinds of behavioral and attitudinal “soft data,” such as surveys of consumer sentiment or business optimism.
Today, the dictatorship of data means that too many marketers have become obsessed with lower-funnel issues, such as conversion and lead generation, all the while neglecting the importance of awareness, reputation and affinity—all upper funnel considerations that defy easy measurement, especially online.
The power of storytelling, influence and reputation, in other words, the upper funnel “soft data," have never been more important.
Ultimately, the Holy Grail here is to build a way to measure the effectiveness of digital campaigns, thought leadership, public relations, etc., that combines hard data, such as online analytics and media coverage, with a qualitative assessment of the data with the goal of achieving the following:
There are various methodologies that have been developed, and Pierpont has developed its own Pierpont Qualitative Assessment Scoreboard (QAS) for ensuring client results are driven towards awareness, reputation and favorability—and not just numbers for the sake of numbers.
Historically, communicators and PR practitioners have sought success through a focus on earned media coverage. That coverage, in turn, raises awareness, fuels reputation and, it is hoped, drives the success of the enterprise. But the changing nature of media in the digital era—blurring paid and earned, outlets versus individual social media influencers, etc.—means that traditional media coverage is only one part of building “earned” third-party credibility.
Those changes to the media landscape are directly linked to the rise of data-driven decision making. This, in turn, changes how trust is earned, how authenticity is communicated, and how reputations are built. In other words, it is insufficient to say the story of the brand is merely a combination of what I say it is (traditional marketing, paid content, etc.), plus what I can get media or other third party influencers to say (PR).
In the 2000s, the first wave of efforts focused on reputation drove enterprises to invest heavily in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs as a strategy. These programs have been wholly incorporated into most organizations’ communications efforts and are now an established and significant driver of “social capital."
They’ve been shown to work effectively but frankly, they aren’t enough. In this era of transparency and immediacy, the brand must reflect an authentic set of values, and it is increasingly evident CSR is evolving into Corporate Shared Value (CSV) programs that are less about separate initiatives and more about an organizational commitment to business behavior that reflects core values.
In support of that, marketers and communicators are increasingly recognizing that reputation is earned through the actual customer experience (CX), itself a synthesis of customer touch points, journey stages and executed promises that reflect the enterprise’s positioning, values and external voice.
Put simply, for many years communicators have correctly emphasized the need for authenticity in communications, which is now more important than ever in this era of declining trust. CX journey mapping provides the analytical framework for ensuring brands “walk the walk” at each stage of external engagement and there is much about the CX approach that should now be a part of the professional communicators and PR leaders toolkit as well.
Best of all, CX is measurable and metrics-driven, and combined with qualitative communications measures such as the Pierpont QAS and others can give the enterprise a precise, honest and actionable view of the brand’s reputational success. Going forward, this type of approach will be absolutely necessary for marketers and communicators to convince data-driven CEOs, CFOs and CMOs to allocate appropriate budget dollars to grow their brands.
James Savage is Senior Vice President and General Manager of Pierpont's Dallas office. He brings decades of experience in both corporate and agency communications, working with global brands across financial services, telecommunications, healthcare and technology.