Southwest and Mirati: 10 Lessons on Building an Integrated Measurement Dashboard

An images of a surreal city scape network to illustration the concept of a measurement dashboard.

Gaetan Akinrolabu from Mirati Therapeutics and Rachel Forrest from Southwest Airlines spoke at the recent Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement. They have both recently gone through the process of integrating the vast amounts of measurement data that their organizations collect into a single communications measurement dashboard.

  • Over the past year Akinrolabu brought earned, owned, and paid data into a single Google Data Studio dashboard designed to answer leadership’s most pressing performance questions. It provides everyone with up-to-date insight into the performance of the various departments and divisions that he supports. And it automates the process as much as possible.
  • Forrest and the communications and outreach team at Southwest Airlines went through a similar process over the past two years, bringing together social, traditional, and reputational data into a single source of truth.

These are a few of the lessons they learned along the way.

Lesson #1: You need an omni-channel comprehensive approach

Both speakers agreed that communications is not just about media anymore. It involves paid and earned, traditional and social, influencers and employees, talent and customers, and investors. As a result, you must look at your communications reporting holistically whenever you are making decisions. The types of questions their dashboards answer are:

  • How does our ad purchase and placement strategy help amplify our messages beyond organic?
  • How is search impacting where people are going?
  • What happens when they go to our website?
  • What are the best types of posts for each channel?
  • What types of content resonate most with employees?

Both speakers agreed that the only way to answer those questions and manage the massive amount of data we all have today is to build an integrated measurement dashboard.

Lesson #2: Start by mapping the customer’s journey

Today each audience needs to be reached in the right channel with the right message. The only way you can figure out how to do that is by bringing all communications metrics together in one place.

At Mirati, Akinrolabu’s first step was to map the customer journey. Given that their “customers” are doctors, patients, advocates, investors, and talent, it’s a complex map. He looked at every stage of the customer journey, from awareness to engagement to adhering to the brand and mission.

Mirati has different behavioral goals for different audiences, and different messages and ways to deliver those messages. So, they map all the content they produce to the stage of the journey and to the audience. This frames the design of their measurement dashboard.

Lesson #3: Define the questions you need to answer

Start with the questions that leadership always asks, and the data that they require. What are their measures of success? What is the future state of the market, the industry, their positioning? What are the objectives for communication? Those questions drove the design of Mirati’s reports.

Typical questions for your own measurement dashboard might be:

  • Have key messages been successfully delivered?
  • How does earned media impact message amplification?
  • How does web engagement compare with other forms of engagement?
  • What channels and messages are most effective?
  • What contest is most effective at driving engagement?
  • Which campaigns are most effective?
  • What is most effective at reaching each target audience?
  • Is executive time being leveraged effectively?

Lesson #4: Bring all the data into one place

For both Mirati and Southwest, the volume and types of data are enormous. So, Mirati uses APIs to directly import data from Twitter, Google Ads, SEO, etc., into Google Data Studio. They also put all the summaries, answers to their questions, and full reports at the front of the dashboard. Subsequent pages break out the executive summary and separate custom reports for the various departments.

Lesson #5: Involve everyone

Both Forrest and Akinrolabu consistently stressed the importance of cross function collaboration. At last year’s Summit, Cindy Villafranca, Southwest’s communications measurement and analytics manager, talked about how they built their reputation intelligence and influence team to ensure a holistic view of the factors that impact their reputation. These included:

  • brand
  • community outreach
  • customer support and service
  • culture
  • customer experience
  • customer insights
  • customer relations
  • diversity and inclusion
  • environmental
  • flight ops
  • fuel supply chain
  • ground operations
  • in-flight
  • investor relations
  • marketing
  • people
  • recruiting
  • Southwest business
  • supply chain, and
  • SWA University

Southwest understands that all of those elements are factors that contribute (or can detract from) their overall RepTrak Reputation Score.

This year Forrest reiterated that the main purpose of communications and outreach is to protect and promote their reputation. She reinforced that message by sharing their closed loop measurement process for reputation management:

It now includes content planning and a driver working group that ensures that there is a constant stream of goodwill stories going out. More importantly, this process allows them to quickly respond to any drops in the RepTrack score. It includes a team that can brainstorm ways to mitigate any problems and ensure their reputation goals are met.

Lesson #6: Be rigorous and consistent about source codes and tagging

In 2004, at one of the very first Summits on the Future of Measurement, Southwest and SEO PR’s Greg Jarboe showed us how Southwest proved that press releases drove ticket sales. To all of you who say that you can’t show value, let that sink in.

Forrest explained that to connect PR to sales Southwest uses a specific source code for PR efforts. Every time a ticket is sold after someone clicks on a press release, that revenue is “sourced” to PR. If you don’t know what a source code is, you’ve never bought anything online. It’s that long string of numbers following whatever URL you clicked on. For Southwest it looks like this:

Southwest admits that the actual PR-sourced dollars are “a rounding error” compared to overall ticket sales generated by ads, email, and other marketing efforts. Nonetheless, tracking that number over time shows some pretty impressive results. One recent quarterly report showed that press releases generated nearly $2M — that’s more than $500K above the prior quarter — mostly attributed to above-average revenue generated on June WOW Sale communications.

And Southwest isn’t unique. Yes, it definitely helps to have an on-line sales function to track. But we’ve seen non-profits, associations, and even some B2B companies use similar source code systems.

Another valuable lesson that Forrest passed on was the need for developing a consistent tagging scheme so that all those random letters and numbers can be more easily deciphered. Southwest’s communications team uses the formula above so that the media type, channel, campaign, key word, and dates can easily be tracked.

Lesson #7: Consistency is key

You can imagine how many different coding schemes a complex entity like Southwest might have. They currently use eight different platforms to collect data, everything from Polite Mail to Sprinkler to Cision. So analysts are constantly having to check all those different sources to pull together a report. Having experienced that sort of challenge personally, I can tell you that it’s not only frustrating and time consuming, but it is very easy to introduce errors into the process.

The solution for Southwest is a single integrated structure for all communications and outreach. It uses consistent tagging, language, and definitions, and brings all that data into a single measurement dashboard.

The new system allows them to establish baselines for different categories so they can see how one piece of content performs relative to another. Further, it allows cross-channel analysis to learn which types of content work best on which channels. Better yet, it can track this data over time. So whether you’re comparing yearly results or quarterly, the data is at your fingertips.

The hardest part, according to Forrest, was getting agreement from all the different departments involved on the definitions of the categories. But now every single piece of content is being tagged for the appropriate categories and subcategories:

The plan for the future is to link the subcategories to the reputation drivers, so they can see the connections between what they’re driving and the RepTrack score. The system enables them to look at results by channel for each team, and also can report by department. The purpose is to answer the questions that leadership is asking. Ultimately the goal is to do so for each of the teams in communications and outreach.

Lesson #8: It requires both technology and humans

On the Mirati measurement dashboard, the summaries, answers to questions, and insights are all generated manually, and everything is updated monthly. Akinrolabu stressed that you need to look at the data, but then make sure that the key takeaways and answers to the questions (see Lesson #3, above) are actually in the dashboard. He also stressed the importance of making sure that humans are checking the data and making sure that it is accurate, relevant, and makes sense.

At Southwest, reports on employee sentiment require manual coding, and all data is carefully checked by staff to ensure accuracy.

Lesson #9: Customize your definition of quality

For their social media, Southwest has defined an “impact” score using a combination of views (a.k.a. impressions), engagement, and a Social Net Sentiment Score that ranks each post on a score of +100 to -100. That score is then applied to their reporting process along with the engagement and impressions.

Mirati also has customized metrics to meet internal definitions of quality. These include the terms and topics used and the quality of what is being put out there.

Lesson #10: Don’t forget the impact of employees

One of the keys to Southwest’s reputation is their constant stream of customer “feel good” stories. The communications and outreach team is constantly looking for those stories, but it’s the employees that pass them along. Which is why employees are such a key part of the reputation management loop. And also why employee communications and social media is included in their measurement process.

Additionally, as a result of the “Big Quit,” Forrest has been charged to pay lots more attention to what employees are saying, posting, and feeling. So far, it’s all very manual and subjective, but it allows her to identify the topics and themes that employees are talking about. She predicts that they will need much more employee feedback data.

The catch in measuring employee feedback is privacy. Because of privacy rules and Apple’s restrictions, internal email platforms like Polite Mail can no longer track when employees open email on their phones. ∞

Image up top by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

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Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.

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