What Measures Can Marketing Communications Impact?

As I work with companies on their marketing communication efforts most are understandably concerned about measuring the effectiveness of their marketing efforts whether those efforts involve multi-media campaigns or social media. And, personally, I’m a strong proponent of measurement in any business endeavor – you must be able to show a return on your efforts to prove your worth whether you’re an employee or a consultant/contractor.

But, if you’re responsible for marketing communications, you also need to make sure that you’re measuring those things that your efforts can realistically impact. 

First, a distinction between “marketing communications” and “marketing.”

As a marketing “purist” I do tend to believe that marketing is responsible for *all* of the 4P’s — price, product, place and promotion. However, in most organizations the marketing function tends to be most focused on communication (or promotion). This is the source of a great deal of confusion and angst in many organizations as those whose jobs involve creating advertising materials, managing a web site and social media activities find themselves held accountable for measure like customer retention or ROI. Sorry – those aren’t marketing communication metrics.

Unless the marketing communication staff members are also responsible for product/service quality and service delivery they have no control over these downstream impacts. It is unreasonable, therefore, to hold the marketing (or better labeled “marketing communication”) function responsible for bottom-line sales results or ROI, because they do not independently impact those results.

A simple model can help illustrate.

There are some predictable steps that consumers go through when it comes to purchasing goods or services. If you think of your own buying behaviors you will likely see the relevance of these steps:

  • Awareness
  • Knowledge
  • Perception
  • Preference
  • Choice/Access (convenience)
  • Usage/Satisfaction
  • Advocacy

The marketing communications function “owns” the first four steps in this process. It is through their activities that consumers become aware of, gain knowledge about, form perceptions and hopefully develop preferences for the products/services that the organization has to offer.

At the point of choice/access, though, responsibility for what happens next in the consumer decision-making process falls outside the scope of the marketing communications function and belongs to operations. Here’s why:

  • Choice/Access. Marketing can generate exceptional levels of awareness, knowledge, perception and preference for a product, but if the consumer attempts to access the product and it’s not available — or they are faced with challenges during the process and give up — that’s an operational issue.
  • Usage/Satisfaction. Once a consumer uses a product or service they will inform impressions about that product/service. While those impressions will certainly be impacted by the expectations raised through marketing communications efforts, the quality of the product itself and the service experience will impact a decision about whether to re-purchase the product or return for the service. Again, an operational rather than a marketing issue.
  • Word-of-mouth. Assuming all goes well through these steps, particularly during those “moments of truth” when consumers interact with staff and use the product/service, they will spread positive feedback about their experiences. Today they will do this not only directly, but through social media tools that can impact WOM exponentially. Marketing communications can influence word-of-mouth by explicitly seeking recommendations or referrals, but advocacy is most impacted by experience. Again, a function of the operational processes that result in a high-quality product/service.

The point of all of this? While every area of an organization needs to work together to ultimately achieve success, particularly in larger organizations accountability needs to be clearly and appropriately established. Marketing efforts can drive demand for and even purchase of a product, but if that product/service does not meet expectations this is not a marketing communications issue, but an operational or R&D issue.

 What can marketing communications impact?
  • Awareness
  • Knowledge
  • Perception
  • Preference

They, therefore, might be held accountable for impacting measures such as:

  • Levels of awareness/knowledge measured through attitudinal surveys
  • Levels of perception/preference for their specific product/service and in comparison to competitive offerings measured through attitudinal surveys
  • Levels of preference measured through the generation of leads, inquiries or orders
If, however, those orders generated are not filled due to lack of availability of the product in sufficient quantity to meet demand, or if the products are returned because they do not meet consumer expectations–*or* if the customer never comes back to make another purchase and spreads bad reviews about their experiences, that’s not a marketing communication issue.
Allocating responsibility for these types of metrics appropriately isn’t just an exercise in semantics. Any organization should ensure that measures are managed by those who have the ability to impact those measures. That ensures that process breakdowns can be identified and impacted. It doesn’t make sense to focus effort and energy on generating more marketing communication materials in an effort to impact customer retention or ROI if the breakdown in the process is a product defect or poor customer service.

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