Staff Writer
AMEC Summit
The Importance Of Measuring “Nothing”

Engagement. Clickthrough rate. Conversions. Marketing is a number’s game, and measurement is how we know if we’re winning. But a handful of keynote speakers at this year’s AMEC Summit in Bangkok are beginning to ask; are we allowing ourselves to be blinded by numbers?

Measuring a hug

Fritz Quinn, VP of Public Affairs & Communications for American Express in Asia, believes that in the realm of PR, measurement can be something of a fool’s errand. And yet teams still strive to quantify the unquantifiable. Why?

“We need to be loved; we need that reassurance,” he says. “We need people to value the work that we’re doing, and I think a lot of times that gets us distracted. We go into these boardroom situations where we have to prove our worth; we have a much harder case to make, and I think that creates a lack of confidence.”

He likens PR to a hug. There is research to show that giving a kid a hug can lead to greater wellbeing, sure, but that doesn’t mean you can measure the value of one hug on a person’s later earning potential. It’s the same with PR, he reasons; the way that we “hug” our customers, and send out messages that make their lives better, reaps long term benefits which might take a good while before they can be counted as actual returns.

And while content which has no call to action or product focus might seem fruitless from the off, Quinn insists it has a role to play in the long game. “Why do people engage with something? Because it’s useful,” he says. “What does useful mean? It’s something that a user can identify as relevant to their lifestyle.”

He cites branded videos created for foodies and fashion lovers as examples of this initial “hug,” a moment of connection which can set consumers on the path to loyalty. “It’s nothing to do with American Express,” he says, “but it’s useful.

Quinn concludes that by engaging people with this kind of content over time, “you’re going to have more of an engaged customer, who spends more money with you, and is more of a brand advocate.” And these, he says, are defined business metrics.

How do you measure nothing?

“Measurement in the public sector is significantly difficult,” says David Watson, Head of Campaigns at 10 Downing Street, “because we are often trying to measure nothing.” In the private sector, there is usually a product or service that marketers are trying to sell, and sales data is the KPI that really matters.

But as the Head of Marketing at Public Health England, sometimes the action that Watson wants is really inaction — like trying to get people to give up smoking, or more accurately, getting people to not start smoking. How can PHE track the effectiveness of their anti-smoking campaigns aimed at teenagers, when the desired outcome is a teenager not doing something?  Every teenager is, as Watson puts it, simultaneously a potential smoker and a potential non-smoker.

When it comes to measuring potentiality, he turns to quantum physics, and the idea of a “massless particle,” something which exists in multiple places at the same time.  It cannot itself be detected, and can only be measured by the effect it has on its surroundings. Additionally, the way in which we observe, determines what we see. Direct observation fundamentally alters the behaviour of both the audience and the subject.

“When you’re observing the absence of a thing, KPIs are your enemy, because what they do is give you a snapshot,” says Watson. Snapshots aren’t helpful, as they “collapse” the potential of a thing by only showing you the subject in a single moment of time.

So Watson doesn’t ask teens what they think of smoking. Instead he might ask them about school, or their friends, or their relationships. These kinds of questions show the behaviours, attitudes and activities that the audience engage in, which creates a pattern, which might make them more likely to become smokers. This means PHE can target their communications better, and then if that group of people doesn’t take up smoking, they can make a “reasonable inference” that some credit is due for this lack of action.

“Metrics don’t matter in the context of inaction; ratios and relationships do,” says Watson. “How many people go from receiving your output, to understanding what you’ve said, to acting on what you’ve said, to sustaining that behaviour? The absolute numbers aren’t important; the numbers between the metrics are what is important.”

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