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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

That ‘don’t’ impress me much

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I am going to come straight out with it – when it comes to evaluation, I am not impressed by impressions.

By the time you are reading this, many of you will have attended the Communiqué Awards.

As fun as the evening is, the true purpose of these awards is to recognise the amazing work and herald best practice within our sector. I, like other senior communicators, have been kindly invited over many years to be an award judge. It is fantastic to see the varied and impressive work being undertaken. However, there is one element of judging that invariably makes it feel like Groundhog Day, and that’s when we are looking at the evaluations provided. And, in the spirit of openness, I have seen some amazing work that has not been the ultimate winner, purely because the entry has been wanting in this area. To add some caveats, I know there will be variation across organisations and campaigns. However, I am still inclined to believe that across the sector we need to seriously up our game. Why? Because we constantly say communications needs to be represented at the very top of the decision process and to achieve that, we need to be able to better demonstrate the significant role communications plays. So, what am I getting all worked up about? The simple answer is setting measurable objectives that lead to demonstrated outcomes, not just outputs.

Part of me would like to stop using the word objective entirely and substitute it with a word like ‘changes’, with a hope the terminology would help focus the mind. As soon as we identify the changes we are trying to achieve, we should already be thinking about how we are going to measure them. And that means benchmarking the current situation and identifying where we want to be at the end of the communication activity. In fact, in many situations, the benchmarking part is integral to deciding on the need for the communication activity in the first place, so it can be built into the situational analysis. However, I sometimes see great situational analysis work being undertaken, but I am then left feeling wanting when the key components of the analysis that directed the change required, are not repeated at the end (or during) to assess the impact being made.

Outcome not output
Does everybody in your team and organisation understand the difference between Outcome and Output? I don’t mean to be condescending with the question, but even if they do, are they actually integrating that understanding in every communication programme? Is there scope for better? Demonstrating outcome is about showing the change (there’s that word again) the communications have made. It’s not about how many bums were on seats at a symposium, how many times something was mentioned in national press, the impact factor of the publishing journal or how many healthcare professionals saw your message.

Just consider all the content you see on social media, in junk emails or in print on a daily basis, that has no impact, relevance or maybe even interest to you.

Targeting the right audience, in the right way, with a message that resonates and catalyses change, remains a fundamental of our work. Followed by ensuring that any positive change is sustained.

It’s not to say that these quantitative output measures are not valuable markers of our progress. Clearly, if we have a message that has been shown to deliver the outcome we require, we need the right people to hear it and repeat it, the more the better. But these measures are only waypoints; evaluation needs to demonstrate we reached our destination.

False objection
‘It costs too much’, ‘Not really possible’, ‘We can’t separate out the communications’ impact’ are often excuses for what is really just bad practice in evaluating outcome. That does not mean some of these things aren’t true, but best practice should focus us on finding ways to overcome these challenges – doing nothing should not be an option. We should also know what the challenges are in evaluating outcome when we start planning a communications programme, which takes us back to starting with measurable objectives (changes). I am not suggesting you need to supply a quantitative outcome measurement every time – although it would be fantastic if you did! But best practice surely demands we at least show that our communication activity is having our desired outcome? We can often utilise the power of qualitative data to show that the required change is being made. Ask a sample of customers what influenced their change to help identify the most impactful component of an integrated marketing campaign; utilise listening data to analyse changes in the opinion of target individuals or whole audiences; ask customers in MSL or sales calls how an event or activity they have engaged with has made an impact; build some qualitative insight gathering into the activity itself.

Whatever your next communications project, please think about the change you are trying to achieve and how you are going to measure the outcome, not just the output. If you can demonstrate the activity is definitely making the difference, that is when your impressions become impressive.

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association and a communications consultant

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association and a communications consultant

12th August 2022

From: Marketing


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