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Is your measurement of marketing and communications just a joke?

Mutt and Jeff comic strip - streetlight joke

It’s an old joke.  A drunk is looking for something under the lamplight.  A cop tries to help him and asks where, exactly, he lost it.  He indicates somewhere off in the darkness.  The cop asks, why would the drunk be looking under the streetlight if he lost it away, off in the dark and the drunk responds, “Because the light is better here.

It’s a common form of observational bias to search only where it’s easiest to search.  Measurement for public relations and marketing repeatedly defaults to this bias; counting what can be counted as opposed to what counts.  Desperately crawling and groping about, searching – not where the object we’re after, ROI, lies – but simply where the light is best.

Exposure Metrics

Reach.  Hits.  Engagement.  Impressions.  These are quick to find.  Relatively easy to attain and readily available.  They twinkle and sparkle in the only light available and so we get drawn to them like moths.  But no matter what twisted leaps of logic and feats of correlation and multipliers that we produce, they do not give us the ROI that we are so desperately on the ground hoping to find.  Because it lies elsewhere.

Business Objectives

Real operational matters that determine your ability to conduct a profitable endeavour.  Dollars and cents. A sale.  A satisfied customer returning to purchase more.  A community that welcomes your organization vs one that’s barred the gates to you.  Being able to attract the best of talent and hold on to it.  Seeing the price of your company shares inch upward.  These are the true marks of impact.  The return in the ROI equation.  The place where you see the results of your operational and communication efforts.

We keep trying to make the leap from exposure metrics to business objectives and always fall short of the mark.  That’s because we’re treating the beginning of our communication efforts as if it were the end.

Communication Objectives

The change in the marketplace that you’re actually seeking to make.  Anyone who’s ever stated ‘buzz’ or ‘impressions’ or ‘reach’ as their goal does not understand the role of communications: to change the views and perceptions of the market so that business objective may be more readily attained.

What is it we’re hoping to do with all of those impressions?  What is that change we’re trying to make in people’s minds?  Are we seeking to make them aware of our offerings, or better educate them on the features and benefits?  Are we looking to establish trust?  Create a positive association?  A want or desire?

There are perceptions and viewpoints that need to exist in order to reach the desired business objective.  Where this change is occurring is that dark corner, that place just outside of the lamplight, that we need to be focusing our search.

For years, marketing and public relations have been drawn to exposure metrics.  And like a bad joke, we keep returning there to conduct our search.  The time has come for the profession to set aside the comfort of searching in the light and bring our attentions to where ROI is going to be found.  Time to start looking around objectives and truly identifying the change we’re trying to create in the market.  Yes, it will be difficult.  But better a hard search that ends in results than an easy search that never ends.


cross-posted from LinkedIn