The measure of success: The Measurement Roundtable [Extended]

From social listening to leveraging the Barcelona Principles, measurement strategies can help boost comms' impact on a company's bottom line. Industry leaders discussed these topics and how greater insights can be mined from data at this BurrellesLuce-hosted roundtable in New York.

Participants

(l-r)
-Meredith Stevens, senior director, integrated initiatives, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to The Beef Checkoff
-Robert Fronk, MD of reputation strategy, Purple Strategies
-Todd Grossman, CEO, Americas, Talkwalker
-Linda Rutherford, VP, comms and outreach, Southwest Airlines
-Jackie Matthews, comms research strategist, GM
-Beth Perell, VP, information management, Goodwill Industries
-John Deveney, president, Deveney Communications
-Johna Burke, EVP, BurrellesLuce
-Heidi Mock, senior director, analytics and insights, Time Warner Cable
-David Rockland, CEO, Ketchum Global Research & Analytics

The local-global balance

Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How can measurement help brands tackle the daunting challenge of taking themselves global?

Johna Burke (BurrellesLuce): To start, every organization is a global one at this point with all the communications channels available. Hyperlocal plays a key element in building brand awareness and doing so from the integrity an organization has. But a key factor every brand must determine is whether they are truly global or simply have a presence in various markets around the world.

Todd Grossman (TalkWalker): The Internet has no boundaries. It’s getting more challenging for communicators and analysts to really get information they truly need.

David Rockland (Ketchum): When I look at brands that run global measurement programs, they basically get there by unraveling the past to understand the measurement programs they have in place, what they should keep and what they might discard.

Frankly, the thing that makes measurement work is the goal setting. UNICEF, which now has a measurement program in place that rolls out to 192 countries, is a great example. Its board decided on three key elements against which they would measure KPIs across the entire world. The measurement program has clear objectives. It has to start there.

John Deveney (Deveney): Just to be clear, choices need not be made between hyper-local and global analysis. You must have both. What brands must be mindful of, though, is having a strategy that appreciates the global landscape because they will be competing in a global marketplace.

Let’s take a restaurant chain. A global strategy would be to have a consistent, high-quality experience for their guests. However, what that means to customers is very different from city to city, let alone country to country.

The global marketplace is where you get the measurement strategy. Hyper-local is where you create the experience with the people you engage. You need that strategy that works around the world to move the metrics that are important to you, but ultimately the customer needs to have an experience that brings them back to you.

Meredith Stevens (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association): The same principles apply nationally for our organization. Measurement is a part of that foundational piece of how we make sure we execute successfully, but we also work with 45 state beef councils and different affiliates who are our feet on the ground. They are the ones making those connections with the consumers.

Our measurement journey has truly focused on making sure we have the full picture because it is really the state councils executing significant programs for us.

Beth Perell (Goodwill Industries): It’s similar for us. I work in the national office, but Goodwill is a network of 165 community-based agencies. That structure allows us to have some deep roots within the community and develop those relationships. We are certainly measuring different things in different communities, so it’s vital to work together with all those agencies.

Linda Rutherford (Southwest Airlines): I cannot emphasize the importance of goal-setting enough. You need to identify those so you can apply metrics sensibly. If you have a local market objective, you must make sure to set the right goals and metrics for what you want to accomplish there versus a more global setting where you might focus more on reputation measures, for example.

Robert Fronk (Purple Strategies): I looked at this from two different perspectives. The first: How does measurement help you decide whether to actually advance into a new market? Those metrics must be clearly business-related. You then focus on how your value proposition serves that market in a unique way. Once you have that set of metrics, and you make the decision to move into that market, then you have to actually incorporate those metrics into tracking success there.

There’s a sequencing to how measurement helps a company make key decisions. And it takes commitment. It will often take years of consistent measurement, with adjustments made along the way.

Integrated effort

Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Be it global and hyper-local or between internal departments, what are the keys to a cohesive measurement strategy?

Rockland (Ketchum): It’s not that different. If you have the goals that connect to what the organization is attempting to achieve and how communications intends to drive the organization, whether it be advocacy on behalf of children or new cable subscribers in two markets in Florida, honestly, there’s just not that much difference between how you measure locally and how you do it for many countries.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Having a holistic program across the board can deliver ultimate results, but there are definitely different outputs that drive the outcomes regionally that then ladder up to those results.

Rutherford (Southwest): While communications has evolved and become more sophisticated, so has every other part of the organization. Customer service is putting out metrics. So is marketing. So are operations. And for the communications team, it’s a bit of a herding the cats kind of exercise because executives are now being bombarded with data. A key challenge for us now is to make sure all that data is still telling one version of the truth.

We’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out how our outputs help create corollaries. For example, marketing tracks net promotor score [which gauges the loyalty of an entity’s customer relationships]. If they can see a trend in something, we try to corollate that with some of the listening center data we’re hearing from customers real time and social, and try to show some of the corollaries.

That is the epitome of integrated measurement and it’s something we are spending a lot of time perfecting.

Jackie Matthews (GM): There are mountains of data all over a company at this point. A concerted effort is now taking place to pull all that data together rather than having the top executives getting all these separate reports. All the teams are now coming together to present as one report. In turn, recommendations on action points can be made as a holistic group. That’s where you’re seeing real integration.

Going back to the local versus global topic, it’s important to understand that the differences in markets mean scores won’t represent the same meaning from country to country.

For example, when we go to market in the US, it’s Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick. In Europe, it’s Opel Vauxhall. And we don’t have a comparable Opel measure in the US, nor a comparable Chevy measure in Europe. So you have to allow for local measures, but do so in a manner that can roll up to the organization’s objectives globally.

Stevens (Beef Association): A couple of years ago, we basically created a measurement North Star to help be a guiding light for the efforts of all the different internal departments. This all tied back directly to the marketing research we measure on a consistent basis for our consumer target audience.

If you all have that one guiding light you’re working toward, you can then find that integrated measurement model. As we’ve done this, we’ve absolutely looked to the PESO ecosystem to help plot out those tactical program elements so that no matter what anyone from any department is looking at, they can see how it relates to everything else that’s going on around the organization and the initiatives they are all working on.

By having an integrated measurement dashboard, it helps everyone reach those core principles, but integrate it in a way that makes sense for the bigger picture. This really helps people see how measurement lines up to the organization’s greater business objectives.

Deveney (Deveney): Challenges certainly arise from region to region in terms of measuring a brand’s reputation. Factors such as innovation, being a good corporate citizen, or being green translate and manifest themselves differently depending on geography.

For example, innovation means something different in Silicon Valley than it does in the Gulf South. And those are regions within the US. Imagine the variations globally. A brand can certainly have a global measurement strategy around the broader goals of measuring reputation, but the challenge lies in consistently measuring those matters across different geographies and cultures.

Fronk (Purple): I’ve been a part of hundreds of multiple-country studies and I’ve truly come to appreciate how often communicators are the adults in the organizations who recognize that sometimes being right isn’t as important as actually building consensus and making progress.

In some of the most successful global reputation trackers I’ve seen, corporate priorities take two-thirds of the real estate, but then it’s incumbent upon companies to work qualitatively with the local country management to understand what it is they’re focused on and include that in the study as well. This enables you to report back something that is really useful for them because it’s targeted very specifically at what they want. Simply put, consistency, not compliance, is a great way to think about measurement.

It’s also important at the local level that management not look across regions – whether national or global – and compare too closely because businesses evolve in different markets in different ways. If you’re a US-based company, comparing Japan to England on certain metrics is unfair. You also have to change your approach depending on how you entered a market. Was it through an acquisition and now you’re trying to move on from an established name and build your own? Or did you come in early under the same name that exists elsewhere? That context is super critical in not only analyzing results, but determining what you want to measure.

Rockland (Ketchum): Let’s analyze what integration really means for PR measurement. There are numerous meanings. Local-global is one. PESO is another. In truth, you’ll either be dealing with PESO measurement within five years, if you aren’t already, or you’ll be out of business.

However, another huge area of integration is qualitative and quantitative measurement – and not just in the research, but also in terms of valuation. Qualitative research adds a richness to measurement efforts that truly facilitates an integrated environment that works.

Deveney (Deveney): The key is having the tools to put that integration into a usable, understandable form that anyone can access at their fingertips. Invariably, clients, colleagues, or the C-suite will simply want to know if things are improving. You have to be able to provide the data in a way that answers that question easily for them.

Heidi Mock (Time Warner Cable): Much has already been said about the importance of having a set goal before measuring, but I also believe the goal has to come off of all the research that’s in place. And that research has to be fundamental before you start even setting a potential goal.

At a conference earlier this year, a young woman asked me about a particular campaign her brand was doing and my opinions on whether it was succeeding or not. I told her that she needed a goal in mind in order to answer that. Perhaps she netted 12 stories in tier-one publications. Is that good? Bad? Maybe she should have gotten 30.

You need an idea of what your baseline is so you can more easily see what success looks like or when you need to elevate efforts. You can always course correct as you track things and figure out how to make yourself successful. But it starts with that first step of establishing a baseline.

Grossman (TalkWalker): When you think of integration, you have to think about tools – plural. There is no one tool that can do it all. For example, a clip folio from a sales perspective going with a social media listening tool can be a very powerful measurement combination.

Mock (Time Warner): One metric we really focus on is prominence. However, if you’re looking at prominence only on the news side, you’ll get a score that probably means nothing unless you’re comparing it against your track record or what other coverage is getting on different topic lines. If you’re not looking at the whole picture, it’s just one piece. There must be other layers to solidify the measurement approach.

Stevens (Beef Association): Integrated measurement is also about outputs and outcomes. It’s really easy to look at the outputs and say, "Look at all the stuff we’ve done." But why does it matter? What is that getting you to? What are the outcomes? They are equally important, but you will never have integrated measurement without both.

Mock (Time Warner): People often want to jump two steps ahead and get right to the outcomes, but you must have the outputs to be able to correlate and look at where to move the needle or where to make adjustments. You can’t do one without the other.

Rutherford (Southwest): In all this, we must not forget how vital the human analytics piece is. In talking about prominence, it could be prominence on a topic you wish you weren’t associated with. It could be a headline you’d much rather not have been in. The human piece has to work with all the tools to not only bring everything together, but arrive at meaningful insights.

Deveney (Deveney): Without the integration of outputs and outcomes, you can’t understand the cost of your outcomes. It’s very possible you have a successful measurement program for a client, but it turns out to be twice as costly as other efforts but delivers the same results. As an agency or in-house arm, you need to be able to advise brand decision-makers on programs that will deliver the outcomes you want at the best cost.

Listen up

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Social listening has become part of every communicator’s lexicon. What is the key to doing it effectively?

Mock (Time Warner): It’s an untapped source of intelligence. It’s great for insights because you will get information from listening that you won’t from formal surveys, from your news outlets, or other traditional approaches. It offers the most honest, transparent feedback. It will tell you how people are really talking about your brand, the phrasing they use, the tone, and so on.

That listening component will reveal so much about where you need to move in a strategic sense. When you focus on measurement tools, ensuring you have the capabilities to listen effectively and pivot off of that tops the list.

Grossman (TalkWalker): Fundamentally it’s a very simple concept. It’s taking those salient points and doing something with that information. Every team listens differently – and that’s fine. They are all digesting information to be able to get the output they want.

Rutherford (Southwest): We listen as a means to take insights to action. We have a corporate listening center. We take an enterprise approach in which teams representing communications, customer care, strategy, and marketing all have seats. We also have an early alert for reputational or operational crisis.

A recent example bears out the impact. Recently, there was an active shooter incident at LAX. Because we were listening, we saw some of the tweets coming from the airport before the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] or anybody else knew what was going on. We were able to alert our LA operation while everyone on the ground was seeing customers walking on the tarmac or fleeing the airport without having a clue why. Listening gave us a head start in communicating.

It’s a free, real-time focus group. When we relaunched our mobile app, marketing had all its metrics derived from surveys, but we got real-time feedback on what customers were saying in the social space. This enabled our team to re-prioritize some of the functionality they were going to introduce in the second and third releases of the app.

And, of course, the listening center is an opportunity to figure out how to be culturally relevant and sensibly insert ourselves into the daily conversation.

Deveney (Deveney): You can’t separate engagement from listening. If you don’t engage with your audiences, none of the measurement efforts will mean anything.

When I think of the best examples of the impact of listening, crises come to mind. Because of the high cost of failure in a crisis and the immediate pace, data and good information become even more important. In turn, listening takes on a different function.

Frequently in a crisis situation, we’ll analyze the comments that follow a news article. You’ll sometimes be very unhappy with what you see, but you get some amazing content and data. You can anticipate where the next news cycle will be. It gives you a great chance to challenge your messaging strategy, your platform.

It is also a way to neutralize potentially incendiary situations. When you listen to individual comments and respond, you very likely won’t even have the solution to the problem at hand, but people will recognize they have been heard. I have seen so many instances where you can clearly measure how the sentiment about a brand changes simply from responses such as that.

Perell (Goodwill): We have the thrift business most people are familiar with, but its revenues fund our mission of job training and placement. So we have to listen about many topics and not fall into the trap of just paying heed to customer service issues.

An interesting example of the benefits of listening, something I was talking to Heidi about before, is taking advantage of misspellings and the like. It might seem silly, but a whole online dialogue can be ongoing where a key word was misspelled by one person and then it remained so throughout the conversation. A brand that listens well will pick up on it and get involved in a conversation they might miss. Little nuances such as that can pay big dividends for brands that listen.

Listening also pays off in helping identify brand ambassadors who might otherwise slip under the radar. Maybe there’s someone who doesn’t have tons of followers, but is really jazzed about your brand and has followers who truly engage with the content. Also, by listening you can see how many people are out there defending your brand.

Matthews (GM): We have a listening center, too. Frankly, every brand should have one. It allows you to be proactive in various ways. You can see someone on social media who might have a problem with one of our cars. Instead of waiting for them to contact us, which they might never do, we can reach out to them.

Similar to what Beth was saying, there was a lot of miscommunication early on around the Chevy Volt. Owners would often jump in to the car’s defense before we even entered the conversation.

Then there are the times when social listening allows you to turn a potentially negative situation around. At the end of last year’s World Series, one of our spokesmen was awarding the MVP and a brand new Chevrolet truck to the series’ best player. His nerves got a hold of him and he uttered the now famous words "technology and stuff" as he described the car’s features. It started trending on Twitter instantly.

We were listening, of course, so we jumped in immediately and had fun with it. We turned "technology and stuff" into a marketing slogan and ad campaign. Beyond the marketing impact, this showed our human side. We listened to what the community was saying about our products and our brand. And we created a whole campaign – in the language of the community, not corporate-speak – that worked very well.

Fronk (Purple): I’ll take a bit of a social scientist approach to the question. We counsel clients there are two types of listening – before speaking and after speaking.

In the first case, you are truly just listening to your target audience, what they want, what they expect, and what they value. It’s digital ethnography where it really is just pure observation. And the tools to be able to do that now are great.

In the second phase, you’ve engaged in conversation. Now you need to listen to what happens. You need to gain an understanding of how you as a brand fit into their most cherished values.

You need to do both. The first phase of listening really helps you with product development and understanding trends you may not have known about. The second is to help evaluate the efforts you’re taking and refine them.

Stevens (Beef Association): Listening empowers organizations in three ways. The first is real time. At a moment’s notice, you have the ability to learn something valuable about your brand.

The second is context. Listening helps us know more about what our consumers are talking about and what they mean by that. If you do a "beef search" online, you could see relevant conversations, but you could also see stories about a beef Nicki Minaj had with Mariah Carey on American Idol. You need that context.

The third is engagement. Listening has empowered us to engage consumers both proactively and reactively. We have the chance to identify consumers who bought a cut of beef, are unsure how to best prepare it, and engage them with recipes and cooking tips proactively. In terms of reaction, you monitor social conversations and get involved at the right time to ensure you manage your reputation effectively.

Rockland (Ketchum): Donald Trump recently said he wants to put H&R Block out of business. He said it in the context of getting rid of the American tax system. H&R Block, a client, sees this and immediately tried to determine if this was a big problem or not. In doing our social listening to find all the comments related to what Trump said, we saw the volume was under a tenth of a percent. Not a major problem. Social listening helps clients make such key determinations. There’s real value in that.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Communications is really in the best position to determine what kind of listening an organization does. There’s the narcissistic listening where it’s me, me, me. Then there’s active listening where you can identify these trends, potential partners, and so on.

Obviously, the second variety of listening is the more valuable one. But when you go back to translate that to your brand, the best tool remains the human mind. No matter how great tools are, they don’t pick up on nuances that are often key to driving business results.

Narcissistic listening will tell you how often you get mentioned, but that doesn’t tell you where your brand sits in the hierarchy of an industry – and you need to know that.

Another thing effective listening can do is make your evaluation of news coverage stronger. Brands will often analyze coverage by whether or not their key issue was mentioned. But if you’re smart, you’ll pick up on a lot of other consistent themes that can help build strategic partnerships or other areas of revenue. You can’t be myopic about measurement and only focus on what is important to you at the moment. It limits what measurement can truly do for your brand.

What started in Barcelona

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): The Barcelona Principles were introduced five years ago. What impact have they had – and will they have going forward – on the industry?

Rockland (Ketchum): In 2010, they served a huge purpose by basically defining a line in the sand and a foundation from which measurement programs would be built. Prior, there were a few very loud voices making a racket, but offering no resolution.

Honestly, I thought it was a flash in the pan. It got good coverage in the industry trades and put AMEC (the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) on the map. To my delight, five years later, half the RFPs you get for AOR consideration ask, "So how are you going to measure against the Barcelona Principles?" It stuck. And now we’re refining.

Back in 2010, though, I would say the principles defined more of the negative – what not to do. Don’t use multipliers, AVEs, clip counts. In the rewrite, the principles are the same, but the focus is on how to do it right. It looks to the future now.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): The baseline the principles provide is so valuable. Even if you have a limited budget that allows you to only do quantitative measurement, they give you a great foundation for effectiveness. Adopting them can clearly help you determine what will or won’t work within your organization.

Deveney (Deveney): The progress made due to the principles is encouraging, but there remain a lot of smaller organizations that won’t let go of dollar figures and old measurement philosophies. The revisions should help in this regard.

Rockland (Ketchum): The principles changed our annual and biannual planning with clients, who really embraced them. The next step is to spread this out to the non-communicators so they recognize them.

The principles have helped non-PR pros gain a better understanding of what we do. However, we still confront situations where clients set goals that are not ones we would find acceptable because they are not measurable. And this speaks to the education process, which is nowhere near over. And I’m not just talking external to the industry. A recent AMEC survey indicated that around 25% of PR practitioners had never heard of the Barcelona Principles.

Mock (Time Warner): The principles gave us the words and a framework to firmly establish an industry standard in terms of measurement, vetted by masters in the space. It allowed me to talk to anyone in my company about outcomes and outputs. The conversations started have been so beneficial.

Rockland (Ketchum): It’s important to remember that there were about 50 different people representing 50 different companies who worked on drafting the Barcelona Principles. Johna was part of it. The IPR measurement commission was, too. Many others. That breadth of input strengthened it to where it truly resonates with so many different types of organizations. It wouldn’t have the staying power if that weren’t the case.

Rutherford (Southwest): I get impatient with critics who don’t feel the Barcelona Principles have evolved fast enough. If you pay attention, in the five years since they were introduced, they have moved from principles to standards. David mentioned how 25% of PR practitioners still haven’t heard of them. However, I focus on the 50% who have full awareness of them. That’s a huge win.

Listen to conversations happening today among PR teams. You’re hearing terms such as "measurable objectives" and "transparency table." You rarely heard those things five years ago. Frankly, the Barcelona Principles gave birth to our measurement in analytics practice. We don’t move forward on any projects until we determine what measurable objectives look like, what our transparency table will look like, what outputs will look like in terms of employee, social, and media sentiment, and, of course, corollaries to outcomes. That’s a huge testament.

What David said about RFPs and the principles is encouraging, too. However, as part of my work with IPR, I’ve seen that RFPs issued by government arms still use AVEs as the standard measure. So there is still a long way to go.

Rockland (Ketchum): On that front, credit must be given the UK cabinet. When it evaluates agencies, the Barcelona Principles are clearly a key factor.

Fronk (Purple): When the principles first came out, there was a lot of misunderstanding on the part of non-comms senior executives. They didn’t understand the goal was to stop all the yelling and create structure. They felt the principles didn’t go far enough. A common sentiment among them was, "If I laid out seven principles about how to measure economic performance around some ethereal things that might get better in five years, we’re all going to be fired." There was a lack of education, but things have improved notably on that front.

The other prevailing sentiment from clients I’ve heard from was, "I hope the PR industry isn’t setting up another topic where they’re talking to themselves about themselves. They better realize they need to quickly convert these into the business outcomes I’m looking for." This is the bigger fight for PR and I hope the refined principles help underscore the business value of PR.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): CFOs and the like are not in a position where they have to fight for budget to conduct an audit of what your expenses are. That is an expected business practice. PR doesn’t have that, but the Barcelona Principles have helped get us closer to it. They provide a valid metrics framework that gets to true business objectives that do ladder up to an executive team. They help arm PR pros with ammunition to show how the overall business is being affected by communications. That’s where you get all those touch points that impact the different business units. And that creates the ultimate tether to the value of what communications and PR brings to the table.

Fronk (Purple): I totally agree. And PR has certainly evolved enough to where this update of the principles can really focus on how communications is impacting business performance.

Stevens (Beef Association): The only limit I have found is that it’s broadly seen as the Barcelona Principles of PR measurement. As an entity that measures across the board with our ads, brand marketing, and reputation management, these principles are the backbone of measurement period, not just PR.

To put this in context, I’ve said the same thing about social media measurement. That model is so significant and can be applied across the PESO ecosystem. It’s measurement that should be applied across the board. And this will make all the conversations organization-wide much more consistent.

The Barcelona Principles are such a significant foundation they should be expanded beyond just thinking of them as a PR agency tool for measurement. They are the basis for a core measurement philosophy that should be applied across the board.

Rutherford (Southwest): Five years ago, PR people were so excited about the principles we jumped right to tactics without stepping back to interpret what they mean for business. These revisions will give us a great opportunity to do that.

Rockland (Ketchum): To Meredith’s point, it’s been really interesting to see how so many individuals involved in the revisions have indeed commented that we should get rid of PR mentions or at least reduce the focus on PR greatly.

Deveney (Deveney): I’m encouraged by the fact it seems these revisions will not be a navel-gazing exercise, but rather a true focus on what is happening in the market and in boardrooms. The C-suite expects its communication counsel to understand its business. With the principles, that bodes well for us.

Rockland (Ketchum): Think back 15 years ago. PR measurement was people cutting stuff out of magazines and newspapers and making a big fat book. Your measurement was how pretty your book was. Five years ago, we at least got some basic rules. Now we’re evolving from there. We beat ourselves up as an industry, but look how far we’ve come. I’m proud of the role the Barcelona Principles continue to play in that.

Little data, big insight

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Big data is so often the focus of measurement conversations, but little data can be just as important. Please speak to its impact and how it works in concert with big data.

Grossman (TalkWalker): Big data is sexy. CEOs want it because it helps them see around the corner. It’s predictive, as well as analytical.

Little data, though, is equally as important. It’s more personal. You can drill down and make some really nice decisions that bring a new level of context to your communications efforts. But perhaps most of all, if you need information quickly and to act on it immediately, little data can be of utmost use.

Rutherford (Southwest): There’s a perfect chemistry between the two. There are pieces of little data that can be acted upon, but then if you’re watching, listening, and measuring, all those pieces of little data can add up to one potential big data insight.

On a daily basis, we’re pivoting on little data, so you must not underestimate it. We’ve gotten feedback – little data – that has caused us to change a website feature. We have done some competitive listening of something an airline competitor did and we immediately put out a piece of content, source coded it, and derived sales by making it part of the conversation. So that little data actually went straight to the bottom line.

Mock (Time Warner): Little data helps connect the dots between the big data. It’s more than just hand in hand. To me, little data is a subset of a bigger viewpoint. It tells you the message behind all the numbers. It gives you the detail behind what you’re exploring.

Deveney (Deveney): This is akin to asking whether primary or secondary research is more valuable. It depends on the situation and your needs at the moment, but you’re much better off not having to choose between the two. They both have immense value.

Allow me to use Ruth’s Chris as an example. Big data will help the brand with a global strategy and significant parts of their plan. However, it’s that little data that will drive guests to a restaurant in any specific location. If you want more people in that bar or restaurant or you want to make menu changes, little data can really be helpful. Big data shapes broader strategies, but when it comes time to implement actions at locations, little data is gold. Furthermore, little data can better help you identify top influencers so you can tweak your program by geography or what tastemakers in a certain area are thinking.

Beth Perell (Goodwill): For a brand to use little data most effectively, it’s about spending less time and less data telling customers about you and spending more time telling them something about themselves. Little data is certainly where you’ll find greater insights.

Matthews (GM): I never think of this as big data versus little data. It’s simply right data. It’s all about going back to what your objective is and looking at what the right data sets are for you to look at. Sometimes you have to do the deep-dive analytics, but other times it’s a really quick analysis on a small subset and that will give you the insights you need.

Fronk (Purple): Think about the main outcomes communications is tasked with driving. It’s about informing or changing opinion and behavior. If you begin with that lens, little data is far more valuable to those outcomes. In terms of outputs, big data is essential to create benchmarks because you need enough information to do so. But those outcomes will allow you to move into the analytics stage and change behavior – and those come primarily from little data analysis. In fact, I’d go as far as to say little data should be the category communications owns.

Stevens (Beef Association): At the end of the day, we simply need to arrive at a place where we make data-based decisions. It’s no longer about what one marketing pro or one PR executive thinks as opposed to everyone else. It’s about what the data tells us based on everyone’s learnings and insights.

Rockland (Ketchum): When I look at our clients, a common issue is they have too much data. They often lack any kind of analysis of that data. You want to get to a stage of overlaying data sets on each other. Demographics here, psychographics there, media buying habits here, media consumption habits there. And then you put that all together into a profile of a target.

The problem is a vast majority of organizations have all their data in different silos, so they get way less value out of it than they possibly could. Perhaps organizations should devote some time to not collecting data and actually figuring out how to use the data they already have to answer the questions they need answered. There’s a huge tendency to just buy and buy more data. That isn’t always the answer.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Big data gets people started in analysis – and that’s good. However, it also creates paralysis because people become more focused on what their chart looks like than what is the quality of the data behind the chart. I term this the "graphic seduction of communications."

To echo David’s sentiments, organizations are pulling in more and more data, but they aren’t pausing to ask what it really means. When they do get around to that, though, in many cases it’s the little data that creates incremental change that eventually drives much bigger change. It’s little data that tells organizations the things that truly matter. For example, if you’re a bar owner, little data will tell you what glasses women 25 to 32 prefer for their specialty drinks. It’s very specific intelligence, but it moves the needle.

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