No measurable communication without strategy

Measurable communication stands or falls with the strategy process that is in order. And there is much more to be gained from the quality of this process. You can read how to do this below.

It is Measurement Month again, thus AMEC; the professional association of communication professionals for measurement, the evaluator and organizer of the annual event. With the aim: drawing attention to the importance of measurable communication. A good mission.

More than an end station

We often think of the strategy formation phase within the communication plan as the most interesting part of all. But this phase usually takes place too quickly, in an unstructured manner, where the right experts are not even at the table.

As a result, the basis for measuring the communication plan is not good either. Are we measuring the right things? And why? It is about being accountable.

Decisional accountability for measurable communication

What we often overlook is what professor emeritus of Communication Studies, Betteke van Ruler, refers to as ‘decisional accountability’. As a communication professional, can you substantiate why you make certain decisions? This is crucial for measurable communication and requires a precise focus on the strategy process. To go through this process more clearly, ask yourself the following 5 questions:

1. How do you see strategy formation?

Strategy formation is not the same as determining the number of desired media messages, press releases, events, content or influencers. This is only one part of strategy formation.

More importantly: you determine a strategy that is relevant with regard to the communication objectives and context in which they must be realised. AMEC itself offers a useful tool for this via a framework. The following 7 steps are relevant:

  • Objectives: First of all, define the objectives of your program. What is considered successful? How do you make this measurable via KPIs? How are your communication objectives linked to the organisational objectives?
  • Inputs: Describe the target group(s) and the strategy for reaching them, while achieving the communication objective(s).
  • Activities: These are the communication activities you will be carrying out. The translation of your strategy into resources aimed at your target group(s).
  • Outputs: Did your efforts produce meaningful results? If so, look at qualitative and quantitative indicators. A handy classification to PESO is offered within the framework: Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned media. You can look at changes compared to the starting situation before the start of your program in terms of volume of media messages, reach, CTR, tone of voice, and/or your desired core messages have also been adopted in the media messages realised by PR
  • Outtakes: What do these results (outputs) mean for the target group you are trying to reach with your communication message? Has an awareness of your product or service increased, are they considering your brand more? Do they visit your website more often or do they do more with your content? This also requires baseline and one-off measurements to identify changes.
  • Outcomes: Here we look at the effects on the behaviour of the target group. For instance, can you use Google Analytics to show that your campaign website was visited more often during the campaign period? Has content been viewed well? Have more leads been generated?
  • Impact: What is the ultimate impact of all the results on the organisation’s objectives? Has there been any change in your company’s reputation? Has preference for your brand increased? Have you been able to stop impactful legislation? Have you been able to identify a better, and more effective use of communication tools?

2. What ‘change’ are you working on?

We often follow an (internal) briefing too quickly, without asking critical questions. We want to move quickly towards creation. We move on instead of taking a step or several steps back and ask ourselves:

  • What is really going on here? Is the image painted the real problem?
  • How and why did this problem arise? Who caused it? When? What happens if you do nothing? What effects does it have? On whom?
  • Which social trends play a role?
  • Who is really our target group? Do we know these people well? What drives them? What keeps them awake? What and who influences them?

Ultimately, you want to bring about a sense of change among the target group through your communication (more web visits, brand awareness, engagement with the brand, product trial). Do you want to define this change as clearly as possible? Use the 5 why-question technique to unravel the core of a serious challenge. By asking more questions, you may suddenly find yourself facing a completely different communication challenge than the briefing initially suggested.

An example

Internally, it has been proposed to create a new website to acquire new customers.

  1. Why is a new website necessary? We are not easy to find!
  2. Why are we not easy to find? We don’t do enough about our profiling.
  3. Why do we do too little about our profiling? We focus too much on perfecting the services we provide
  4. Why do we only focus on perfecting our services? In doing so, we might increase turnover based on our current customers
  5. Why can we increase turnover based on our current customers? We are already familiar with them but many they aren’t aware of our wider range of services

Behind the proposal for a new website there appears to be another issue. It is about working on the visibility of our services with regard to existing customers, in order to achieve even more revenue from them

3. What are the measurable goals of your program?

Often we confuse goal and strategy with one another. If the goal is the end point of your program, the strategy is the way to get there.

“If you can’t measure it, it is not an objective”

Make your communication goals clear by making them SMART. Things to watch out for:

  • You may be translating goals well, but with too much focus on vanity outputs (think of: volume, impressions, shares and likes) instead of outcomes and impact. By drawing up a measurement plan just before the start of the roll-out of your plan or campaign, you can create a gradation in kpi’s, show the connection between them and thus provide an even sharper insight into the effects of your communication policy with your target group.
  • The measurement plan is also an immediate debriefing document for reaching an agreement with your (internal) client on what the joint communication task is and how to make it measurable. Is it true what we want to achieve together in terms of the organisation’s business objectives? When is this a success?
  • Keep baseline measurements to establish especially realistic kpi’s. And often forgotten, also map the context and the why – within those changes of the kpi’s. The one is often related to the other and is not necessarily the result of your communication efforts.
  • Think of underlying cultural trends, news climate, search behaviour for your brand and motivations behind social media engagement. I wrote about how to report on this earlier.

4. Do you have a budget for measurable communication?

If you ask to make communication measurable, then (almost) everyone wants this immediately. But measuring costs money. So what do you do?

  • Make measuring a fixed part of your overall communication budget, just like all other activities. If you don’t budget it, measuring will be seen more quickly as a peripheral activity and will be more likely to be cut back on.
  • Hook up with brand tracking studies that are already in motion. Or use your monitoring tools, such as; Clipit, Meltwater or Talkwalker. This allows you to quickly create insightful graphs that say something about; the volume of visibility, who/what the sources are, their influence, sentiment and what the trending topics are. Both for your own brand, as for your competitors, in order to determine the share of voice.

5. How much support is there for your communication plan?

If the goals are clear, and the strategy and tactics are appropriate, involve the right people to discuss this with one other and come to a buy-in. Who are they? This varies from organisation to organisation, but often involves an interplay between the communications strategist, researcher, brand management and senior management.

It is important that everyone understands what you are aiming for and why. Pick up the previously drafted strategy document. Always refer to it (also in your measurement report, this is your context). This will prevent you from changing course (too) easily in the event of setbacks. A clear strategy document acts as a compass.

Measurable communication: choices you can justify

A sharper process of strategizing your communication program also makes it more measurable. You measure the right things more quickly, based on choices you can justify. This contributes to the added value of your role as an accountable communication professional and/or that of your department, in achieving the company’s objectives. You can never really be worse off from this.

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