How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Metrics? Yes, Metrics!

Metrics? C’mon, the world is falling apart. What a weird time to talk about that.

ICYMI: In our falling-apart world, the countries that are measuring are staying ahead of the game — barely, but staying ahead. The countries that aren’t deeply and consistently measuring (and that are telling stories about the state of things instead) are falling behind, and are at risk of becoming global pariahs.

So, no: Metrics now isn’t weird. In fact, they’re right on point. If you run (or run marketing/comms) for a research-driven organization or business, getting metrics that are relevant to your business health — including for your communications and thought leadership — should be top of mind in the context of a multiple crisis. A tight metrics dashboard will keep your group focused and aligned as it experiments, evolves, rebrands, repositions, reallocates resources, briefs funders and plans for the next 18 months.

In my 20-year marketing/communications career and consulting practice, I’ve had essentially two conversations with colleagues and clients about developing metrics:

  1. The conversation about how they don’t think they need metrics.
  2. The conversation about how they think they need much better metrics and how do they get those, stat.

The #2s are either running businesses or running organizations that are hitting choppy waters and need clear signals on which initiatives need reevaluation and whether they’re getting spread too thinly.

The #1s have been getting away with improvisation, feel and telling stories and would prefer things remain that way, thanks very much. When I think of them, they appear to me as ostriches and sand: self-blinding and with their backsides completely exposed.

In a rational world, #1s would turn into #2s, eventually. As noted above, that is another world, far far away. The people with whom I have Conversation #1 and the people with whom I have Conversation #2 are and usually remain separate people.

The mess we’re all in might change that. But the #1s will have to overcome two deep-seated mindsets:

  1. Metrics are frightening. Probably done, they starkly expose your marketing and communication shortcomings and prevent you from explaining them away, bullshitting them away or running away from them. Metrics force you to acknowledge and improve them.
    Also, once you show a funder or donor or board member a metric, they’re usually anchored to it, which means so are you. Why do that? Because they’re probably already bugging you for impact metrics or soon will be.
  2. It’s sometimes hard for #1s to see how marketing metrics and paradigms that originated to drive sales — e.g, leads, conversions, funnels and prospects — are relevant to success in non-sales research environments, where you’re trying to market research or ideas and solutions based in research and expertise. We’re different, these #1s often say…and then stop there.

None of us would drive without glancing at least occasionally at our dashboard to know how fast we’re going, how much fuel we have left, whether something is wrong with the car, whether our lights are on, and about a dozen other things that might prevent getting from Point A to Point B successfully.

Every research-driven organization or project has target audiences.

Every research-driven organization or project wants those audiences to engage with what they’re doing and saying. Attending a webinar. Commenting on your social posts. Downloading your podcast. Watching your video. Visiting your website.

Every research-driven organization or project wants to move those engaged down a path of deeper engagement — subscribing to your email newsletter or your podcast or your YouTube channel, let’s say, downloading a research report or two-pager from your website, then reaching out for a conversation about partnership or collaboration or funding or your services.

Any research-driven organization — even if your comms department is one person — can track a dashboard of the most important metrics on all of those activities, as well as metrics on how aware your key audiences are of what your organization does and what makes it different in your space. And any research-driven organization can understand how those numbers fit together into a picture of organizational health — and use that picture to strategize on how to improve or maintain that health.

With a small investment in an integrated email marketing/marketing automation/CRM like ActiveCampaign, any research-driven organization can find out precisely who of their key audiences is moving down that path of deeper engagement, so you can make a decision about whether you want to reach out to them before they reach out to you. (Note: I do not use ActiveCampaign nor benefit from you checking it out. Several of my clients use it and are happy with it.)

I’ve never seen a leader of a research organization develop comms metrics that are tied to the organization’s business goals and then abandon them. The metrics habit — the data habit — becomes addictive and empowering. In a maelstrom such as this one, it’s the needle of your compass.