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Success and failure is a binary outcome

Toby O'Brien

By Toby O’Brien, Head of Multichannel Communications at Bedrock

I’ve spent nearly my entire career producing ‘Multichannel’ projects, from shipping systems and large-scale eCommerce to cutting-edge virtual reality and holograms; if it requires a power supply I’ve probably tried (and sometimes failed) to do something with it. What I’ve learnt during this time (from some very smart people) is that when it comes down to what really matters, everything is binary. A yes or a no, a 1 or a 0. This includes human behaviour – we either do or we don’t. This happens with decisions we make every day: click on that website, choose that slice of cake, treat a condition differently or take our medication. There are multiple determinants: facts, experience, knowledge and skills all influence these decisions, but ultimately they end up as a 1 or a 0.

In the dark ages before Google, we couldn’t easily capture most of this behavioural information and therefore we used interviews and educated guesses. As we become more aware of our successes, we can capture this information digitally and achieve something with it. The power of our ability to do this is unprecedented and as it continues to grow we need to utilise it as an industry and do better as we navigate this paradigm shift in how we communicate, gather insights and store information.

Data, when you really think about it, is just a population’s binary decisions grouped together; outliers, anomalies and errors are all extremely valuable. To establish our successes in Multichannel, we set ourselves targets (or KPIs) for these decisions and benchmark ourselves and our projects against them.

Why? We want to make a positive difference to people, and we want to know when we succeed at doing it. We track whether we have achieved our targets or not, the binary answer: yes or no. Some believe there exists a grey area where we almost achieve our target, but not quite. But we should recognise this for what it is: a failure. It sounds harsh, but if we choose to embrace this we can really improve.

As Multichannel firmly takes our industry by the scruff of the neck and demands we do more for our users, it’s essential that we understand the nature of our KPIs and the data points we’re using, in order to measure our progress better. There is nothing worse than a job delivered on time, on budget and looking great that doesn’t really make a difference. It’s a waste of resources. You only have to look at the App store to find the final resting place of healthcare-focused projects that don’t perform for one reason or another. If the success/failure triggers had been set out at a strategic level and thoroughly thought through, these apps might not have existed in the first place or would have taken a different form. Surely the resources spent on developing these defunct apps could have been put to better use? What amazing things could have been achieved if real strategic thinking had been done at an early stage?

‘If you build it they will come.’ No, they won’t, and would it matter if they did? Yes, you might blow the trumpet of success that your eLearning platform gets 10,000 unique visits a day, cost £100 and looks like the best thing since Van Gogh looked at a sunflower with paintbrush in hand, but if your KPIs aren’t aligned to measure the impact and positive outcomes of that learning you have no way of understanding your effectiveness, and no baseline to improve things even further to keep doing a better job.

Every project needs to start somewhere, right? Yes, with KPIs. Personally, I think they need to be one of the first things you decide upon before you look at any form of digital execution or channel. They need to be well-researched, evidence-based and apply not only to the company but also the end user’s behaviour. Our industry is built on data and KPIs; drugs must meet strict criteria or they are not approved. The KPIs that drugs are developed against are rigorously thought-out and controlled. As controllers and processors of data (yes, I am using a GDPR term) we have an opportunity with modern technology to address our KPIs with the same rigor, and properly quantify our successes and failures to do better.

I know you agree with me, so the next time you embark on a digital/multichannel project, will you make appropriate KPIs the first step after your objectives and have a robust process for regular review and assessment? If we can base our achievement of them on a binary level, we will always strive to achieve that absolute positive outcome – anything less would be a failure.

In association with


13th March 2019

From: Marketing



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