How the Big Boys, and You, Should Be Measuring Communication Success

I like, as a government communicator, looking at what our friends in the private sector are doing from time to time. I know that lots of what they do doesn’t apply to our day jobs, but you can’t beat the impetus on their part to succeed. If they can’t get their consumers to change their behaviors, well, they won’t be working in this field for long.

Then when I see a huge, successful company like Coca-Cola changing the way they market, well, I tend to take notice. Take, for example, this recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review by Joe Tripodi, the Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer at Coke. The coolest part?

In the near term, “consumer impressions” will remain the backbone of our measurement because it is the metric universally used to compare audiences across nearly all types of media. But impressions only tell advertisers the raw size of the audience. By definition, impressions are passive. They give us no real sense of engagement, and consumer engagement with our brands is ultimately what we’re striving to achieve.

Mr. Tripodi says that cutting edge marketers look at that audience, or eyeball, metric to learn what the largest audience they might be able to reach—and that’s it. The real value is in knowing how much of that audience is interacting and engaging with your communications efforts. He credits this evolution in thinking to, without saying so directly, social media. Mr. Tripodi feels that consumers today feel the need to have one-to-one relationships with the products and organizations they work with. This change came about as a result of, and will accelerate because of, social media.

Today’s American media consumer is too savvy, too busy to be swayed by an information product that is passive, like a highway billboard. They understand that their attention and engagement is worth something to marketers, and they’ll make those marketers earn their loyalty. This change has been a long time coming (see the rise of direct mail political fundraising), and is now like an out of control freight train. Lead, follow, or get out of the way that’s for sure.

So, what does that mean for the marketers and communicators amongst us? Well, the private sector is already moving there. In five years, metrics like consumer impressions will be a starting point, not a selling point. The public sector, well, it will take us a bit longer, but if we don’t make that change our fact sheet/press release oriented communications will even more ignored than they are now. How can we catch up? Mr. Tripodi offers these suggestions:

  • Accept that consumers can generate more messages than you ever could. Accept that and use it to your advantage.

  • Develop content that is “Liquid and Linked.” Liquid content is creative work that is so compelling, authentic and culturally relevant that it can flow through any medium. Linked content carries the same messages through all channels.

  • Accept that you don’t own your brands; your consumers do.

  • Build a process that shares successes and failures quickly throughout your company.

  • Be a facilitator who manages communities, not a director who tries to control them.

  • Speak up to set the record straight, but give your fans a chance to do so first.