End-to-end measurement for marketing communications

Cleave the ambiguity from planning, briefing, and reporting with a seamless and consistent approach to measurement.

End-to-end measurement for marketing communications

Simple things can work best. Organizations need KPIs to know where business going and how they’re doing. Whatever actions are taken, they should impact KPIs and derived metrics in an effective and understandable manner.

To ensure this happens in marketing, we need explicit goals – they are requisite for aligned messages and media units. The ideal is that every single activity and action is planned and defined in terms of a common measurement framework, which stretches end-to-end, from business goals to details of execution.

An effective marketing process with predictable results requires consistency. Messages and activities should be planned, executed, and evaluated according to well-defined criteria. The challenge is rarely with technical integration of data sources, like connecting your ad buying metrics to your dashboards. The actual measurement problem is qualitative: Are the goals being set truly reflective of what you’re trying to achieve? Does everything you communicate line up with the goals you purport to pursue?

The solution is obvious on paper, but can be a struggle to pull off in practice.

A consistent measurement framework has direct implications on your ability to understand business performance and communicate priorities and decisions to partners and people within your organization.

There are three key reasons to get your basics in order:

Clear marketing goals

Financial top-level KPIs, like profitability and growth, are usually easy to set and track. Breaking them into components that guide marketing processes and decision-making is the challenge. What precisely is it about your brand or your sales that is the priority? What is the bare minimum you can strip it down to?

Coordination and alignment

When all creative work, planning, and media use are explicitly linked to specific business goals and marketing objectives, overall performance grows. All parties can more sharply focus on reaching specific targets in their work, due to lower uncertainty and the elimination of mid-process changes to objectives.

Data-driven capability

With the basics in order and well-structured data flowing in, a whole range of new options become available for using advanced analytics to understand the causal mechanisms that drive your business.

Steps to get started

It’s rare for any organization to start from scratch, which means that a measurement framework needs to learn from and improve on the existing marketing process. The roadmap to effective end-to-end measurement should look something like this.

Make sure you have support

Any attempt to get an organization to dance to a common tune needs to involve the highest decision-makers. Without a mandate for both creating the framework and an express understanding about the top-level goals and KPIs, the effort is bound to fail.

Audit what you have

Round up all current reporting. Dashboards, templates, presentations and minutes from periodic review sessions are particularly valuable. Contrasts between internal reporting focus and content in partner presentations are solid evidence for completing the picture.

In addition to what’s being talked about, document the data flows that supply whatever metrics are currently tracked, and the specifics of any operations on the data. That is, who’s adding up what. A thorough review of the data situation and reporting practices will expose development areas to focus on.

Review goals and objectives

To begin building a measurement framework, you’ll need to figure out how to match the marketing activities with the business goals without leaving anything hanging, and how you’ll communicate this link to planners and partners.

An annual plan for impacting defined marketing goals, like brand awareness and sales volume, is a usual starting point.

Translating these into campaign-level goals is where the chain usually breaks. Briefs are too often framed independent of explicit links to the overall goals, and even the campaign-level metrics are often shoddily defined, and not fixed to benchmarks and predefined data sources. This often leads to campaign goals developing an unhealthy life of their own.

Form the end-to-end framework

Every campaign plan and activity in it, right down to an individual media unit, needs to flow down from top level objectives. Individual plans and activities should not exist if they don’t link to marketing goals and strategy.

The variety of message formats and media contexts needs to be addressed head-on.

Every activity and unit has three key dimensions to measure, and you should be explicit about how success should be evaluated in each. Data availability will be different depending on the channel as well as your data collection resources.

1. How many opportunities are you creating for good campaign performance? This measures the media execution, for example amount of consumers reached.

2. What kind of an impact are you having on those that the message reached? In digital, 1:1 addressable channels, engagement metrics like clicks and shares can be valid indicators depending on the unit. Ad awareness and attributable sales also capture impact.

3. How cost-effective is the activity in reaching the overall KPIs? Direct sales ROI and cost per engagement are immediate indicators of effectiveness. When benchmarks and previous analysis is available, cost per KPI unit (like % brand awareness) and media ROI should be tracked, depending on channel and message.

Communicate and deploy

Aligning the entire planning process with explicit, preconceived metrics can be a harrowing exercise unless everyone involved understands the idea behind the metrics and how they relate to each other. To communicate this, it will be beneficial to lay out examples of how a pilot campaign or similar was measured. Referencing actual messages and media units, providing real benchmarks and results, will make it much easier for people to replicate the measurement idea.

As you plan you the measurement framework, you also review data availability. This provides the starting point for bringing the measurement framework to life. The aim is to identify all gaps in current the information setup and measurement process, and ensure that everything you are thinking of measuring can, in fact, be measured.

All information about measurement and reporting practices should be compiled into a standing document. This will serve as the reference for briefing, planning, and measuring campaigns and other activities, with documentation and best practice recommendations for all typical planning cases.

Once a framework is in place, creating a matching end-to-end reporting system, such as a dashboard, becomes an exercise in information design and visual communication. Dashboard views need to adapt to manager and specialist use, but all need to share the same measurement and data foundation.

When solid measurement recommendations are implemented, it becomes increasingly possible to track and report the effect of marketing – and to plan analytics work into understanding the causal dynamic between different messages, activities, channels, and long run vs. short run performance.

A case of measurement allergy

All the steps and helping frameworks predicate that there are is a level of strategic consistency and clarity about the role of marketing. That is by no means a given.
I once had the learning opportunity to work with a car company who were particularly repulsed by both.

KPIs and metrics were desperately needed. Information that was critical for media planning was not being shared, and planning metrics, if given, were completely arbitrary convenience measures, typically only referenced after the fact. There was no attempt to justify media activities through links to marketing goals.

For annual campaigning, the client ingested bullet-point level guidance from their international parent. They were, however, unable to define roles for their local agency partners or establish any guidance beyond top-level KPIs of sales figures. No clear brand KPI or marketing goal was available. To a large extent, the reason for this seemed to be that the leadership were not equipped for the moderate level of abstract thinking that the development task would require, and not sufficiently self-aware to accept help. A measurement framework could not be framed as the shiny object to sustain attention.

Simplifying the set-up was the only option to get support for the team. To arrive at at least some internal guidance for the agencies involved, the reluctant client was involved as little as possible, with information instead pieced together from whatever sources and documentation we could get our hands on.

“We were eventually let go and replaced with an agency willing to focus on the preordained bookings instead of their quantitative performance role.”

The solution we proposed was to focus on connecting planning and activities to KPIs and using that as the vehicle to cut out activities that could not be attributed to defined sales and brand goals. These represented a double-digits share of the annual media budget. This was not acceptable to the client, as they were, inexplicably, major annual media activities that they were not willing to relinquish. We were eventually let go and replaced with an agency willing to focus on the preordained bookings instead of their quantitative performance role.

Instead of a success case, we were left with a warning example. The measurement framework project was by all accounts buried, and attempts at the causal analysis along with it.

Consistency is the process goal

A formal measurement framework ensures planning rigor and sensible use of metrics. And by extension, your resources. There should be very little guess work or reinventing the wheel: all activities and media should be evaluated against a shared, consistent, and well-understood set of criteria.

Sometimes it seems as if getting the basics in order is the most challenging thing to get in place. Judging by the evidence in the field, a lot of work still remains for most before the basics are covered.

Edited images: Paul Gauguin (ca. 1892–94). The Siesta; Auti Te Pape; The Devil Speaks; The Universe is Created, from Fragrance (Noa Noa). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.