The Measurement Revolution Manifesto: Use Business Metrics, Not Bad Metrics!

I am a child of the 70s. In those days our version of “OK boomer” was “When the revolution comes…”  As if by uttering that phrase we would cause adults to quake in their boots at what us young people might rise up and do. It turns out that most of us never did “rise up.” Instead we grew up, raised children, climbed corporate ladders, and did what our parents did—but with different tools, rules, and attitudes.

Back then, we took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War and racial discrimination. Today’s protestors are equally committed, but the streets have been replaced with much more effective tools. Cell phones, social media, and worldwide connectivity have enabled protest and revolution on a world-wide scale. Let’s hear it for Greta Thunberg making Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Something we can’t even conceive of Ken Kesey or Abbie Hoffman doing.

The reason for their world-wide impact is that they see the world in a way that our generation couldn’t conceive of. Back in our day we had traditional media and word of mouth. Today’s rebels are armed with information, ideas, and support from like-minded people thousands of miles away. Our brains evolved when having 20 people in your clan or 50 people in your tribe was the norm. Today the average teenager’s social network is worldwide, and probably bigger than the population of New Hampshire was when I was a teenager. So it’s not surprising that they think and communicate differently. Which brings me to the point of this manifesto:

We are already in the middle of a communication revolution, and the time has come for a measurement revolution.

The revolution in communication measurement

Think about it. The vast majority of communication professionals still approach measurement with the same tools and perspectives that I started out with 30 years ago. But the spread of revolts and protests around the world, the hacking scandals, the attack of the bots, and the malignant influence of those who abuse the many media now connecting us… these are all indicators of fundamental societal change.

Which means that all those things we have traditionally measured as communicators—messaging, perception, consideration, and preference—will have to change as well. And it means delivering metrics that aren’t based on what we’ve been using for the past few decades—impressions, column inches, AVEs, EMV, or vanity metrics. While those things may be easy to count, they aren’t connected to the value we deliver.

Instead, the revolution requires us to deliver what CFOs and CEOs have been demanding all along: the measurement of business value. But our contribution to business value in today’s communications environment must be measured in trust, relationships, crisis management, brand lift, and reputation—very few of which show up on your average PR dashboard today.

The irony is that those are the things that PR does best, but they are measured least. That has to change. We have to budget and plan for measurement by surveys, by experimental models, pre/post testing, and of course by deep dives into data to find the correlations. The only way we can talk the talk of business is with actual value calculations.

The measurement revolution has begun

New ways of communication measurement are already taking form. Consider the work of Mark Stouse, like myself another PR revolutionary. He was challenged to show the business value of his communications program a decade ago, and so went off and built perhaps the most revolutionary, game-changing measurement product since Microsoft introduced the Pivot Table. Proof.AI automatically calculates the value of every aspect of a communication program and tells you how long it will be before you see positive results. What was a revolutionary thought a decade ago is now becoming an accepted way of doing business.

Or take Alan Kelly, the innovative creator of Playmaker Systems. He’s been preaching revolution for years, arguing that all of professional communications can be mapped onto a set of strategies and responses that he calls the Taxonomy of Influence Strategies. Watch this video for a great explanation.

Back when we thought that there might be a handful of effective responses to a crisis, his ideas were either feared or dismissed. Today, when crises are a part of the everyday diet of every communication professional, it’s much easier to make sense of his Elements of Influence. When you look at the various responses he outlines, you can easily match them to strategies and crisis responses that are played out everyday by corporate leaders, elected officials (or those running for election), NGOs, and pretty much any organization that has an external communications function.

(Protecting your brand and avoiding or mitigating a crisis is part of the value we bring today, and we need to measure it. Which is why we recent put together an entire issue on measuring crises.)

It’s time to take to the streets and challenge the paradigm

I’ve been getting up on my soap box and ranting against bad metrics (AVEs, EMV, and impressions) for a long time. But me yelling about it isn’t going to change our industry. What is needed is to get the people that pay for measurement services to stand up on their own soapboxes and demand better metrics.

The only way this revolution will happen is if all our 6,000+ Measurement Advisor readers take to the proverbial streets and reject any metrics that don’t show business value. If you are part of an industry association that has an award program, ban all entries that use AVEs or other meaningless metrics in the measurement section. If you are a company or agency, don’t enter award programs that allow them. Occupy the offices of your vendors, agencies, CFOs, CMOs, and CEOs until they agree on what the business value of communications is and define appropriate metrics.

Demand the data

Not only do we need the wholesale replacement of old-fashioned meaningless metrics, we need access to the data to create better ones. Agencies, for the most part, are cut off from the data they need to show value, and are left working with whatever the bottom-feeding vendors deliver.

Revolutionary tip: In most organizations senior leaders control access to data. So stage a sit-in in the offices of whoever is stopping you from getting the data you need. Don’t leave until you have the user name and password of every CRM and analytical platform you need.

Measure better together

Anyone who has ever taken part in a protest march or movement has felt the power of a group of people, united by a single purpose. For that matter, anyone who has worked on a campaign—be it to elect a candidate or introduce a new widget—is familiar with the power of working together toward a single goal.

That’s what we need to measure!

For years we as a profession have tried to “claim credit” for our contribution to a desired goal. Even though we know intellectually that specific attribution is a fallacy. For years we’ve railed against advertising for taking credit for changing perceptions or generating clicks that we know we contributed to. But then we turn around and try to do the same thing, telling anecdotes about that one story that resulted in a huge sale.

In an era where the lines between paid and earned media are increasingly blurred, this has to stop. We need to measure the business value we bring as a group. Sure, you can have individual metrics that you track to know which tweet generated more engagement, but that isn’t business value.  Generally, communication teams work together toward a goal, and therefore our metrics need to reflect the contribution of that entire team.

The Measurement Revolution Manifesto: Use Business Metrics, Not Bad Metrics!

Which leads us to The Measurement Advisor’s measurement revolution manifesto:

  • Do a hard reset of how you think about measuring results. Use business metrics, not bad metrics!
  • Don’t measure unless you can show a direct link to revenue or a specific business priority. It is no longer the time to be showing how many likes or hits or clicks you got.
  • Demand the data. Don’t settle for AVEs or other useless false metrics.
  • Join with your colleagues to set clear objectives and strategic priorities. Then measure your collective progress against those priorities.

Today is the time to destroy those silos and barriers once and for all. It’s not about whether your press release gets more clicks than someone else’s blog post. It’s about whether those blog posts and those news stories are protecting and defending your company’s reputation effectively and enabling your stakeholders to trust you more. Measure business value.


About Author

Katie Paine

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