Great campaigns are driven by insight: brands and agencies understanding the perceptions of potential customers and how to change them to produce results that ultimately enhance the goals of the client.
Before the advent of digital PR, for many brands there was little difference between insight and inspired educated guesses.
With the data that is available from digital campaigns, however, brands and agencies have more opportunity to understand their customers and evaluate campaigns than ever before. The big question is whether brands translate this data into useful insight.
We are in the middle of a perfect storm for professionals in all marketing disciplines, but particularly for PR. The importance and impact of digital, coupled with the emergence of a plethora of tools that generate data, means marketing tactics that were hard to measure only a few years ago are now brutally transparent. The challenge is developing skills that can differentiate between insight, information and data.
Digital PR and marketing can generate vast amounts of data – enormous amounts of data. But data is just a collection of items. Brands need people with the skills to take this data and transform it into information, and then insight.
There is a huge shortage of these skills in the industry. Frankly, many of our industry’s most creative people really suck when it comes to maths. There is a real danger of the industry allowing this opportunity to slip away. Setting naïve targets based on simple metrics such as likes or page views provides no insight and frequently results in money being wasted on ill-conceived, ineffective campaigns.
Many brands are realising that there are just not enough people with the PR and analytic skills required: you really need both.
Fortunately, agencies such as Napier are stepping in and building teams with the right analytic skills to assess and understand the torrent of data.
Transforming data into information is straightforward, but often adds little value. A very simple example might be using data produced by Google Analytics to determine that more website visits were generated by one item of editorial coverage than another, or to identify the campaign was most effective in generating Facebook likes.
A simplistic approach to campaign metrics might finish at this point. In fact, a surprising number of large brands have fallen victim to the "reduce the metrics to one number and make that as big as possible" approach.
Unfortunately, these brands are usually those asking "now what?" when they realise that their large number of Twitter followers are from click farms in low-wage economies and are going to do nothing to help the organisation achieve its objectives.
Insight means delving deeper to find meaning in the message. Insight is all about understanding cause and effect: how and why a campaign impacts the organisation’s objectives. This is often complex, challenging work requiring expertise in the use of several tools and data analysis skills that are alien to many PR professionals.
Some industries have already adapted.
E-commerce companies, partly because of their unique opportunity to be able to link PR outputs to sales, are forging ahead with the use of measurement to determine the best tactics to employ.
In b2b, many companies are beginning to catch up. It is not unusual for Napier to focus campaign reviews with clients using Excel workbooks that mash up data about website traffic, leads and other behaviour. This produces insight and understanding about the needs of customers and the impact of PR and marketing tactics.
Yet a willingness to define and commit to meaningful metrics, or to expose great creative campaign concepts to impartial analysis of whether or not they were effective, seems to be conspicuously absent in many parts of the PR industry.
The ability to analyse and manipulate data to build insight will continue to grow in importance. Although it may not quite be true that "the geeks will inherit the earth", it is abundantly clear that brands, agencies and individuals must embrace data analysis if they are to produce the insights that ensure their campaigns are effective in helping an organisation achieve its goals.
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Mike Maynard, managing director, Napier