Measuring communication – Nous not numbers

Numbers matter, whether you are reporting campaign effectiveness or valuing stocks.  So far, so trivial.  But if you work in marketing or communications you may be secretly or even openly fed up with producing endless numbers – for the finance director, for the CEO, for the person on the Clapham omnibus.  And that is before you start worrying about the relevance and credibility of the numbers you need.   If this rings a bell, then we hope you like our slightly tongue-in-cheek three-point communications research manifesto for putting numbers in their place.

With Thanks to the people at wix.com

1. Eureka!

As with good business, good communication starts with great ideas – you know that better than us.   Human intellect and psyche, not measurement – from Archimedes’ apocryphal Eureka moment through to Einstein imagining riding on a beam of light.  Even the management scientist Peter Drucker distrusted facts in the wrong time and place.  Too much early reliance on the common view and/or on the wrong measures leads to tedium and group-think. Or worse. And it is the same with you and your communication, whoever you are.  So:

CRM1: You have the ideas – start there and banish the numbers to numberland

2. The paradox of ideas

Now for the bad news.  Most ideas are not particularly good ideas.  On their own they will not be new (think about it), they may not stand up to much scrutiny, or they simply will not be very useful or interesting – sorry.  It is the way diverse ideas are linked and woven that creates utility and intrigue in the minds of the audience.  Long links, short links, speculative links, contradictory links – your competitors, your products and people, government activity.  The trigger sources are endless and it is your advocacy and creativity that lights up the mind’s eye – and it starts with a great story and good story-telling.

CRM2:  Beg, borrow and steal links, ideas, trends to help tell the story

3. Time to measure

Stories are the beginning, not the end. You test your story, tune messages and audience objectives, define targets, select your channels and publish.  So what?  Is the result what you hoped for and predicted to yourself or your boss?  Are there surprises – good or bad? Now it is time to embrace numbers.  Why?  Firstly because in a digital world it is easy to do – and it’s expected.  But more importantly because the right measurement leads to better communication and bigger budgets.  It’s the results that count.

CRM3:  Measure, learn, repeat

This is what we do all day every day at Investor Dynamics, whether it be market scanning on sector activity, audience profiling or measuring results.  If you’d like to find out more then talk to us.  We are experts in communications measurement and love exchanging ideas and views.

Getting emotional about money

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Philip attended Professor Richard Taffler’s  talk on ‘Applying Emotional Finance’ earlier this month in London.  We found him thought provoking in his own right, and it also inspired us to think about some parallels – and applications –  in our own work.

Markets – bounded rationality
Taffler’s first theme was that people often think of the markets – whether they be for products or for financial assets – to have a distinct life and DNA of their own.  That’s true in a way, but markets are, if we think about it, nothing more than amalgams of the weighted opinions and actions of its participants. And whereas economists have traditionally thought about their discipline in purely rational ways – homo economicus – Taffler’s argument is that people involvement means that it is at least as much about human emotion.  ‘Bounded rationality’, rather than either rational or irrational.  “Animal spirits”, as Keynes described them.

Fund management – excitement and fear.  Not greed
Taffler interviewed 50 or so fund managers around the world.  The underlying emotions were both excitement – in finding undervalued (or overvalued) assets coupled with the fear and sometimes stress of uncertainty.  Importantly, Taffler stressed that this was not about greed – he could not identify a single fund manager he thought was ‘greedy’ – rather the other way round if anything. It is where uncertainly gives rises to fear and stress that the problems and market fractures start.   Taffler introduced some intriguing words not associated with finance lectures (eg phantasies, paranoid schitzoid, manic process)!  These helped illustrate his theme that for good evolutionary reasons humans automatically forget the bad parts and remember the pleasurable parts.  The overarching point being that as humans we pick up on the information that confirms our a priori views and discount those that don’t – even to the point of filtering information quite blatantly.

Implications for communications measurement
How does this relate to our work?   In what we do on media monitoring, we track and profile constituencies – what they like, what they do not like and what makes them happy or angry in their words.   This can be complicated stuff and we know that this requires expert in-depth human qualitative assessment on top of whatever the software analytics can provide.  Our job is to challenge and confirm the gut feeling – and sometime the group-think and downright anger of our customers – with real numbers.  Often this does indeed involve unpicking and defusing stress and emotion associated with particular points of view – whether they be of our client CEO or CMO, or a particular journalist or analyst on ‘the other side’.  Fascinating but hard.

Building the story
With respect to Taffler, we think that individual heuristics and biases – however fascinating – can’t be the whole story.  Institutional markets are maybe more like a multi-player game of ‘chicken’ or prisoners’ dilemma, in which individuals’ judgements about each other’s states of information access are at least as important.

Interested in your thoughts.

A video of Professor Taffler’s talk is available here.

The trouble with twitter

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I love twitter, I really do.  I follow a set of about 100 person-feeds ranging from PR blogs to the Scientific American and from Guido Fawkes to Tony Parsons, plus a smattering of good friends and associates.  The daily thought and broadcast stream from this set carries many gems that make me think and laugh, and regularly inform, surprise or worry me.  But, and it is a big but, even with just a few feeds, the noise content is high – maybe 95%.  Of course noise is subjective and not objective – one person’s wisdom is another’s data point is another’s noise – so what I really really want, to help my slow and often distracted brain, is a clever information filter on top of twitter. One that that knows what I already know, knows what is contextually relevant to me given where I am, who I am with etc, and intuitively knows how well different information parcels light up or dampen down different spots in my mind.

Bird-brained? Not at all

Given that we are engineers by ethos – we like investigating interesting problems – we’re keen to look at candidate approaches to this need as they filter out of academia and other places and enter mainstream application.   Some interesting things are escaping from the lab into the wild:

  • Google search engine is getting better month-by-month at providing good contextual answers to my poorly phrased queries – now regularly correcting and interpreting badly bungled spelling and word order.
  • user response to Apple’s Siri, its smart voice recognition for iPhones, suggests a quickly maturing technology that is no longer simply about “voice recognition” per se.

Interested in your thoughts.

1984 and broken Macintoshes

I remember seeing the first Apple Macintosh in early 1984 – one of the senior engineers had bought one for the department, so that he could then take it apart and play with it.  It looked so sleek, so modern.  And whilst we had ourselves been experimenting with touch-screen pictorial interfaces, the Mac’s mouse, GUI and icon approach was something to behold.  Certainly for those of us who had been brought up on ZX80s, BBC Micros and Commodore PETs

The original Mac

About 20 of us left our VAX terminals and gathered around the new device and variously had a go until one smart aleck (otherwise known as a test engineer) had the idea of dragging the clock into the dustbin on the screen.  And of course, the system crashed.  Moral of the story – if you want a better system – keep playing with it.

Here’s the engineer joke we promised last month

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During the French revolution a priest, a drunkard and an engineer were being led to the guillotine. The executioner, Gerard, asks the priest if he wants to face up or down when he meets his fate. The priest says that he would like to face up so he will be looking toward heaven when he dies. Gerard raises the blade of the guillotine and releases it.  It comes speeding down and suddenly stops just inches from his neck. Gerard take this as divine intervention and releases the priest.  Next the drunkard comes to the guillotine. He also decides to die face up hoping that he will be as fortunate as the priest. Gerard raises the blade of the guillotine and releases it.  It comes speeding down and suddenly stops just inches from his neck. So Gerard releases the drunkard as well.   The engineer is next. He too decides to die facing up. Gerard slowly raises the blade of the guillotine, when suddenly the engineer says: – Hey Gerard, I can see what your problem is…

Think you’ve got a better one?  Send it to jokes@investor-dynamics.com.  Go on.  Make our day.

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Doing it like an economist

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I like jokes about different trades and professions.  Here is an old one about economists and their models that I came across the other day:  An engineer, a physicist and an economist find themselves ship-wrecked on a desert island, with only a sealed can of baked beans to eat.  How to open the can?  The engineer proposes piercing the can with a sharp flint, whilst the physicist suggests leaving the can out in the mid-day the sun until it explodes.  Meanwhile, the economist thinks for a long while and then says “Firstly, let’s assume that we have a can opener…”

Next time – one on engineers.