The Paine of Measurement

We generated some interesting discussions with last month’s “Failure” issue, so, it being almost summer, we thought we’d make some lemonade out of those lemons. An essential insight arose that cuts to the core of why so many people are so averse to measurement: Too many comms pros as well as their bosses see measurement as a binary construct. A campaign either wins or loses. In your performance review you either pass or fail.

And measurement has brought this problem on ourselves. We’ve developed too many simplistic measurement programs and dashboards that only tell us good or bad, with nothing in between, and no insight as to why. When we design measurement to yield yes-or-no results, then we design situations that create a fear of failure. Because we can only win or lose. At best we present ourselves with three possible results: little green, yellow, and red lights. Red means “I’m doomed,” green means “I can go on vacation,” and yellow means “Back to the grindstone.” The problem is that most of those dashboards never teach us how to change those colors.

Fear of finding out

What all this binary mentality leads to is what Paul Holmes so eloquently described as FOFO: Fear of Finding Out. Too many comms pros are terrified of finding out their results because they can see only two possible outcomes. And the downside of failure is much worse than the upside of success.

The scenario I see playing out in the average comm pro’s subconscious reflects two sides of the same personality: the insecure one and the overly confident one. They both lead to resistance to measurement. On one shoulder our inner child whispers all the insecurities we have about our work: “Why do you want to do all that math? It will only show that your program didn’t work, and the campaign failed. And in that case your job is probably on the line, and then if I get fired I’ll lose my apartment and I’ll end up living in my car.”

On the other shoulder our superhero psyche boldly brags about how great we are: “The boss already thinks we’re winning so why do anything that might change his/her mind? You have better more important things to do with your time than mess around with all that data just to show you’re doing a great job.”

The problem is that not measuring no longer works in today’s environment. As Christopher Penn told the recent PubClub audience in Boston, if you aren’t showing revenue you’ll be fired. And in order to understand how you can bring more value to the bottom line, you need data, metrics and a system to continuously evaluate your results.

Most every other department in your organization is now using some sort of data to drive efficiency and improvement. So if you’re not on the bandwagon, you’ll prove Chris Penn right. It’s not about winning the campaign or getting more hits. It’s about learning from data what it takes to make your organization more successful—whether that is sales, revenue, efficiencies, resistance to crises, or better relationships with customers.

Good measurement is a guide to success

The point is that good measurement and evaluation doesn’t pass judgement on failure or success. It guides you to success, it shows you how to turn all those red and yellow lights to green. So the first step to greater communications success is to jettison the binary mentality and adopt a comparative perspective where you’re are ranking all your campaigns, efforts and programs to see which one succeeded the most. And the key to learning about success from your data is discovering the insights that your data holds.

Which is why we’re dedicating this issue to insights:

Also, our usual monthly columns:

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