How to Navigate the Measurement Tools Maze

A number of years ago, I attempted to design the ultimate tool selection chart. The first attempt wasn’t pretty; that’s it up above.

But some aspects of measurement tools are pretty simple. All communications measurement vendors do three basic things with relative competence:

  1. They collect data,
  2. They tag data, and
  3. They report on that data.

The extent to which any particular measurement vendor is the right one for you depends a great deal on your particular internal needs and the problems you are trying to solve. Which is why our Vendor Selection Chart (The Best Vendors to Solve 24 Common Communications Measurement Problems in 2022) is organized around the most typical of those needs.

But wait. Before you find your spot in that chart and the vendors that best suit your situation, there are some basic steps you need to take and questions to consider…

Step 1: Determine the goals against which you need to measure progress

It all depends on what you need to measure. Each goal should reflect an outcome that will move your organization closer to its stated business goals and priorities. This is where your choice of a vendor begins.

Once you know what you need to measure, move on to the following chart. Find in the left hand column the goal or objective you’ve agreed upon with management. Then you’ll have to use one of the tools in the right hand column.

Measurement objectives and appropriate tools.

Step 2: Allocate your budget

When you are clear on what you need to measure and the right tool(s) for that job, you need to make sure you can afford it. Ideally you’d want to measure everything. But if you have a tight budget, you may be forced to economize.

If you want to measure awareness, for example, you’ll need to do some survey research. Here the choices are pretty cut and dried:

  • If you can get away with a simple consumer survey and have six questions or fewer, you can buy responses from companies like Q1, Survata, and others for around  $1 per completed response.
  • If you need to do a phone survey of a narrow demographic or professional group, figure a minimum of $100 per completed survey. (Don’t forget to include incentives in your budget.)

How many completed surveys will your budget stretch to? If it’s less than 100, then surveys aren’t the way to go. Consider using Google Trends to calculate your share of search (i.e., the number of times people look for your brand as opposed to the competition).

If you’re tracking audience response and/or engagement, you can probably get away with Google Analytics and maybe additional help from a social listening platform. These can cost anywhere from $50-$500 a month, depending on how many search terms and licenses you need.

If you want to measure message penetration, subtleties in positioning, or nuanced sentiment, you’ll need human coded media analysis. To keep within your budget, only use human coding on those media outlets that really matter to your success. Then look at how many clips you typically get from those key media in a given month. Human coding should cost you somewhere around $4-5 a clip. Then use this formula that I’ve relied upon for years:

Measurement Budget Estimator #1

Let’s assume you’re trying to budget for an annual measurement program. You’ve decided that a reasonable budget is $50,000. You know you’re going to need quarterly reports. A written analysis report costs a minimum of $2,500. So four of those a year totals $10,000 annually.

Collecting the content will probably cost you at least $5,000 a year. If you’re like most organizations, with a lot of search terms and a lot of publications, assume it will cost you a minimum of $20,000.

So you’re now down to $20,000 left for reading and coding. Assume an industry average of around $4 a clip for human coding. $20,000 divided by $4 means that you can code 5,000 clips a year, or 417 clips a month.

You can plug in your own variables into this Budget Calculator.

Measurement Budget Estimator #2

But here’s an even a better approach than arbitrary percentages: Look at the program/campaign/project you’re trying to measure. Now, look at the total budget for that project. Factor in the importance of the project to the bottom line of the institution, and make an educated guess as to what is reasonable to spend on measuring the success of that program.

Look at it this way: Suppose you are a institution of higher education. If you’re spending $500,000 for an incremental lift in applications and registrations for a degree program that costs $100,000, then you’ll be a lot more willing to invest in measurement than if you’re spending $25,000 to announce an event that costs $10 to attend. So use your best judgment and your knowledge of the institution or your client. Go as big as you think you can and still have it make business sense.

Step 3: Make tough decisions as necessary

If your calculated clips per month or surveys completed sounds like a reasonable number, then you’re good to go. If it’s only a fraction of what you envisioned, then you have three choices to help you stay within budget:

Elect to do a random sample. Typically you would sample by media outlet type or channel. The downside of random sampling is that you can’t use real numbers, only percentages. This is important to remember when reporting results.

Reduce your target media outlets to only those that really influence your target audience.

• If you’re planning to measure the competition, reduce the number of competitors.

And if you have no budget all, start with these tips. Then next year make sure measurement is part of your budget with these tips. For more information about how to select vendors and run an RFP, check out our Measurement Sherpa Guide. ∞

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