Measure for measure

Economist Brian Easton’s statement – “don’t talk about the intangibles when there is nothing else” – is a timely reminder to all of us in the ‘fuzzy’ areas of business that if there is no demonstrable bottom-line return for all the reputation enhancement, profile building, credibility, authenticity, loyalty and goodwill that has supposedly been generated by or at a particular event or activity, then it essentially carries no value. It may not be worthless, but the cost that has been incurred has subsequently made no tangible economic contribution. Therefore there is no actual return on the investment.

In that context, what brands are often getting, and paying for, is an impression – or at the very most, a contribution – towards an abstract sense of progress. A best guess.

That’s as true for those pouring money into the Rugby World Cup (Easton’s specific gripe) as it is for social media or advertising. If you’re putting money in and you can’t or won’t measure what you’re getting back on your bottom line over the medium and longer term, you are not actually getting back anything. You are throwing money at hope, which has probably been conveniently repackaged as “brand awareness”.

Awareness alone counts for little. You can build awareness anywhere – it doesn’t mean though that your brand benefits. The fact that 30,000 people watch a TV programme does not instantly give that programme value for your brand if you advertise there – particularly if the audience is 30,000 people who don’t buy what you sell. It simply means that there are 30,000 people out there with their TVs on at a given moment. If you advertise, then they’re aware you’ve advertised. That’s it. We know that about media. Everyone gets it. And yet when it comes to things like sponsorships or events, the logic often goes west.

The temptation, and indeed the preponderance of opinion, seems to be that being there will be enough: there’s a tendency to smooth over concerns with reassurances that efforts that can’t be measured must be ‘doing some good’, it’s just that no-one can say what or how much. Or else, particularly in the case of social media, to install and religiously reference metrics, such as likes, clicks and follows, that are themselves intangible, as a means of monitoring intangible effectiveness.

Having a measure may give you a number that you can add to your next brand report or board presentation. It may put another line on the flow chart. But, as Easton reminds us, that does not automatically mean you are quantifying anything, if the measure itself cannot be concretely and meaningfully defined and aligned with what really counts.

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