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What can marketing technology learn from government?

|June 08, 2017
Canadian parliament
Written by
Vice-President, Insights

Jonathan Oldershaw

Vice-President, Insights

Government may not seem like the most obvious source for lessons in marketing technology. The pace at which new tools and platforms are developed and adopted in this space would seem in stark contrast to the often plodding and risk-averse focus of government-funding activities – which it’s often argued would benefit from a more business-like mind-set.

During Donald Trump’s election victory speech in November – the U.S. President with conversely the most business knowledge and least political experience in history – promised:

"I’ve spent my entire life and business looking at the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world. That is now what I want to do for our country.”

By contrast, on the other side of the pond in the U.K., the two main party leaders in this year’s General Election have a combined 54 years in elected office. Incumbent Theresa May’s catchphrase of ‘strong and stable leadership’ is so antithetical to both Trump’s braggadociousness and the reality of his first five months in office, it’s a wonder she didn’t just go for ‘Make Britain about the same again’.

As the U.S. President learns his own lessons about the separation of business and state, I thought I’d share some ideas from Madano’s experiences working for Government and the rigour of thinking that often lies behind policies.

Needs first

Good policies start with a need first – an audience with challenges that need to be overcome. That need should be very clearly articulated, as policies or programmes must be developed in a logical and evidence-based way to address these needs. Knowing what you want audiences to think, feel and do (beyond buying a product or service) should be the starting point of all good marketing – yet it’s very often an afterthought.

A theory of change

The principles behind the ‘marketing funnel’ – the firm business favourite for thinking about behaviour change – were first published in 1898. A mere 26 years later, the funnel itself was added to these principles, and after that, everyone decided that no more thought was needed.

In contrast, because the public sector is inherently working with multiple competing and intractable outcomes, more sophisticated ways to link our actions to results have been developed. The ‘theory of change’ approach used across the public sector and social enterprises is about working back from your ultimate goal to identify the intermediate outcomes behind them. In a way, it’s a like a bespoke funnel – one that takes into account all the different audiences, channels and the range of outcomes that are likely that can be attributed to a given set of actions. This means that you can’t assume that some undetermined magic will happen to make your actions a success (which seems to be the assumption of a lot of ‘influencer marketing’).

Finding the right things to measure

The challenge that currently faces marketing technology is definitely not an inability to measure – but instead lie in finding the ‘right’ things to measure. Obviously, activity metrics – such as how much you spent and how many impressions you generated – are easiest to collect and understand, and heavily embedded in PR. But measuring the right outcomes (not just the ones that measure what you’ve done, but the ones that measure the difference it has made) mean you’ve really done the thinking about what you’re trying to achieve.

One of the elephants in the room of marketing technology is that paid channels provide their own rules by which you measure how good they are. Many of these tools are still great for understanding outcomes – Google’s attribution modelling, for example, can provide an opportunity to tie a range of outcomes (or ‘touchpoints’) to sales conversion. However, if you haven’t done the thinking about what your outcomes should look like, you’re letting someone else determine what your focus should be.

Government doesn’t always get it right – but when you have to justify beyond the bottom line, you’re forced to look more closely at how to articulate and demonstrate the link between what you’ve done and the impact you’ve created. That’s how we should get called to account for what we’ve done – and our political leaders too.

——— Jonathan Oldershaw is a Vice-President, Insights and Intelligence at Madano, sister company of NATIONAL Public Relations