Friday, May 20, 2011

Communication metrics and the fallacy of instant gratification

Example #1: From the intro to a discussion I "lurked" online (paraphrasing):

"I can't believe it. Been exercising 2 days now, and actually GAINED weight. Has this happened to anyone else?"

#2: Roughly re-enacted question about communication campaign:

"Where are the metrics on that message from this week? Has anybody pulled the WebTrends?"

#3: Last but not least that old standby of any conversation about whether an issue is a big deal or not:

"How many hits on that are there in the news results?"

All of the above questions rest on a single assumption that is completely false:

Every action provokes a reaction that you can measure instantaneously.

Of course all of this is Hollywood's fault. And the fault of us marketers.

Movies forward through the action, making it seem faster than it is in real-time. It is especially interesting to see how law enforcement and medical care are portrayed as swift processes when in real life they're actually usually agonizingly slow.

Marketers, of course, push people to buy, buy, buy, on the premise that a leaking wallet leads to immediately visible results. Green tea = 10 pounds in the first week, right? And of course the opposite – fast food, fast satisfaction. Wrinkle cream. Smartphones. Clothing. Vacations. Just press the Staples "Easy" button and it's done.


The problem with all this instant gratification, of course, is that it's a false promise.

In real life, things take time to happen. Change is slow. Relationships build over time. Good and bad. Trust is built as a process. A brand evolves and takes shape the same way you smelt iron into a final form. (OK, I have no idea what I'm talking about with the smelting…hopefully you get the idea.)

It is so very tempting to communicate superficially and look for instant results. Print those glossy posters and brochures, launch that flashy website, sit back and uncork the champagne. You did it!

But the real work is far, far slower. In fact it's almost invisible. Certainly it's difficult to measure.

So the real way ahead has nothing to do with flash and metrics.

What it does have to do with is process.

Just like in weight loss – you change your lifestyle and don't look at the scale.

Just like in gardening – you plant the seeds, water them, ensure the right environment, and they grow.

Just like with children – you love them continuously from infancy.

It's the same with communication.

Build a solid process, reinforce it every day, revisit it when needed. Care for it with love.

That, in the end, is the real formula for success.

Good luck!