How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Problems Need Marketing Too

I recently wrote about how creating a minimum viable index could be one of the most useful steps a leanly resourced research comms shop could take.

But useful how?

A list member sent my email to his director, who responded that although indices play well with media, they fall short for actual decision making, and that creating tools and providing data for decision-support modeling was a more immediate priority.

The value of indices, the director said, is that they invite a closer look into a problem — a look that could then prompt a desire for that decision-support modeling.

Yes! Exactly!

It’s hard to think of an index that provides the full basis for decision making. But it’s much easier to think of indices that could catalyze an inquiry that would lead to behavior change — for instance, if one were to create a ranking index about the climate impacts of individual corporations.

An index is about awareness and branding. Creating awareness for a problem that’s relatively unknown; defining the problem through the index in a way that brands it; and crystallizing a focus on that problem in your audiences. And branding your organization as expert authorities in analyzing the problem — as the avatar of that focus.

The stronger the white space for a focus on a problem, the more we might need an index for it. (Although nobody likes the Human Development Index, it’s hard to imagine that adding one more alternative to the 20 already now out there would gain traction and make a difference.)

Conversely: the stronger your organization’s differentiation from others in its space, especially in owning a particular question, the less it needs an index.

I’d argue that there are only a handful of research organizations who are so well differentiated and whose branding is so strong that they couldn’t benefit from an index with high name recognition. (Even Brookings has its Metro Monitor.)

Takeaway: The first move to make: understand whether the problem you want your audience to focus on needs more awareness and branding.

Because — whether you decide to construct an index about them or not — problems usually need marketing, too.

And if you’re going to help solve them, so do you.