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Fostering a culture of decision-making that is data driven

The digital and social media revolution has opened the door for tremendous advances in how we can both measure our work and gather analytics to help inform our decision-making

Joe Cohen, Axis Capital

 

A formative moment in my career was my first experience taking part in an integrated marketing and communications meeting. It was the early 2000s and I was a young executive working on the agency side of the business when my client invited me to present at an inter-agency meeting hosted by her ad firm.

During the reporting share out, the client’s ad- and media-buying agencies presented first. The presentations were smart, sophisticated, and filled with powerful analytics, insights, and learnings. Conversely, all I had to show was a binder of (hard-earned) media placements, accompanied by a recap that centered around impressions and ad-equivalency numbers. It was immediately clear to me our reporting lacked meaningful insights and implications.

From that point, I became obsessed with the importance of measurement and analytics and focusing on generating outcomes versus outputs. We immediately elevated the caliber of our reporting but, at that time, it was challenging to meaningfully demonstrate the impact of our work.

Fortunately, the communications profession has come a very long way since then. The digital and social media revolution has opened the door for tremendous advances in how we can both measure our work and gather analytics to help inform our decision-making.

When I joined Axis Capital, one of our first investments was to build a top-notch measurement and reporting platform. At the same time, we fostered a culture where our team understood that, at every opportunity, our actions must be grounded in data. And that’s key: It’s not just having the tools, but also fostering an environment where everyone believes data is essential to all decisions.

Below are several best practices for creating such a culture.

Build a diversified team

To have an effective measurement and analytics program, you must begin by bringing in the right talent. Reporting and analytics are highly specialized areas that fall outside what some consider to be the “conventional” communications skill sets.

All too often we look at a diversified comms team as one that includes strategists, media, content, and social media experts, but we don’t see nearly enough “quants.”

Having experts schooled in data and analytics embedded in your organization won’t just bolster your reporting, it will also add a fresh perspective that will broaden your team’s collective thinking. If adding a full-time employee is not feasible, freelancers and agency support are good options.

Make the investment

Allocate a reasonable budget for measurement as you will be hard-pressed to find an investment that will pay a stronger return. If you want your organization to be taken seriously as a strategic function, you must be able to report at a level that is on par with your peer disciplines.

Measure and analyze everything

Teams will often invest in deep-dive measurement for large scale programs or quarterly updates, but fail to make measurement a part of their daily routine. Another common mistake is to look at measurement as a merchandizing exercise, a way to showcase your results to your internal or external clients.

Instead, underscore to your team the role of measurement in guiding your decision-making on a real-time basis. Whether it is helping to drive forward a large campaign or measuring the impact of day-to-day tactical initiatives, challenge your team to constantly look for insights that can help optimize your performance.

Promote rigorous honesty

A critical benefit of a strong measurement and analytics program is it helps you identify programs and tactics that aren’t working. Coach your team to view this as a positive. Encourage them to be rigorously honest as it comes to measuring the impact of their work, both with themselves and their partners.

Identifying issues early so you can course correct and, when appropriate, exit programs that are underperforming, are hallmarks of a high-performing team. Encourage your team to understand transparent reporting is an opportunity to build credibility and small failures are often opportunities to enhance your performance and ultimately deliver a stronger product.

Joe Cohen is chief communications officer at Axis Capital.

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