The recently released Nasdaq CCO study reveals some eye-popping data points. Results show that communicators are being held to a higher purpose; they are expected to make an actual business contribution.
This is a good thing. Consider (and remember, these are communications leaders, not marketing):
- 65 percent of respondents say that they are responsible for website marketing and search engine KPIs.
- 63 percent are responsible for sales and lead conversion KPIs.
- More than half say they’re responsible for customer loyalty KPIs.
A decade ago objectives like those would have been the purview of marketing or customer service, not communications. So what can we learn from this data?
Lesson #1: Your job is to help generate leads.
Although you may think your role is in protecting and enhancing your brand reputation, for most of you, senior leadership sees your purpose as amplifying the marketing and sales efforts.
Lesson #2: CCOs need to understand the difference between business goals and activity metrics.
Frankly, if I were the boss of any of the respondents, I’d be combing LinkedIn to replace them with someone with a business degree. First, let’s talk about the finding that over three-quarters of respondents believe AVEs are valid KPIs. Which means AVEs are as common now as a decade ago. [insert “going berserk” emoji here]
I’ve taken heart from other studies that have shown that the use of AVEs is on the decline, but apparently not so much among the 101 U.S., Canadian, and European CCOs that Nasdaq interviewed. Let’s be clear. AVEs were invented in a time when space was at a premium and most people got their news from Walter Cronkite.
Today, space is free and attention is limited. People are likely to get their news from The Daily Show or Pod Save America, for which there are no column inches or “ad value equivalents.” For the 77 percent that still believe in the measurement equivalent of fake news, we can only wish that they soon experience a United Airlines-style crisis and realize that none of those AVEs translate into business value.
Lesson #3: Google Analytics and SEO should be considered survival skills.
Of far more interest in the data is the mix of KPIs that are being used, and the extent to which marketing data has found its way into the communications realm. Of the 12 key metrics that the respondents agreed were worth keeping, there were four or five that have their origin in marketing and might generate a provable business outcome:
- Search Engine Traffic
- Sales and Lead Conversion
- Customer Attitude
- Brand Consideration
- Message Pull-through (Only if they mean actual belief in the messages. Who cares if anyone sees your message if no one believes it or acts upon it?)
News flash to CCOs: Coverage, content, reach, and impressions are but means to an end. If you use these as KPIs without any quality filters, then you are encouraging your staff to be more like Travis Kalanick (Uber CEO). Who seems to think that any publicity is good publicity, even if it’s about how 200,000 people deleted your app or that no self-respecting female wants to work for you.
Lesson #4: Command and control is still alive and well.
The truly scary news in this report is that, “Fewer than half of CCOs have the ability to influence and change the KPIs they are accountable for.” This explains a lot: If everyone from the c-suite down to the event coordinator aren’t on the same page in terms of what the goals and KPIs are, there’s not a chance in hell you’ll succeed in the long run.
The whole purpose of KPIs is to ensure that everyone is working towards the agreed upon corporate goals. Getting to that consensus involves group discussions and dialog. “Command and control” was obsolete the moment that social media and millennials joined the work force. If you want to attract and keep talent these days (and keep your bad behaviors out of the headlines), you need get buy-in from the whole team.
Lesson #5: You need to fight for stability.
Here’s another frightening statistic from the survey: 44 percent of CCOs say their KPIs are apt to change quarterly. That means that either the company is changing directions more frequently than the Trump White House or their KPIs are unrelated to the overall business direction and objectives of the company. Sadly, I fear that it’s probably the latter.
In too many companies, management relegates communications to the role of “brochure mill” and “logo queens.” That results in over-worked communicators struggling to meet the ever-growing demands of sales and marketing folks, with no ability to judge whether that project they’re working on is worth doing from a business perspective. That’s why I title my lectures “Stop doing the stupid stuff!” With proper, business-driven metrics you can say no to the next silly demand and back up your answer with data.
Lesson #6: Less is more.
Maybe the brightest note in this report is that most CCOs are responsible for four KPIs or fewer. Too often I see performance reports that are cluttered up with dozens of different KPIs, none of which seem to show any value. The purpose of KPIs, it seems to me, has always been to focus your team’s attention on the few things that really matter. And we all know that humans can’t focus on more than about six things at any given time (my experience is that the number is closer to 3).
So, focus on the six lessons above, and your future will look a bit brighter.