Identifying the ROI in Dynamic Times

Written by Kathy Tunheim, president and chief executive officer, @ktunheim

Is there any business sector NOT undergoing a dramatic transformation of what constitutes “value?” How music is bought and sold; how the cost of a college degree is evaluated by a creative 20-something; how a B2B industrial giant stays relevant to its customer base — the examples of turmoil are everywhere.

And yet, somehow, being in good company when facing these challenges isn’t sufficiently comforting to alleviate the sense of urgency.

Measurable outcomes – our dilemma

For decades, the communications services sector was a slave to reach and volume: advertising equivalents and press clippings were the currency that clients valued most — they were the tangible evidence of successful return on investment (ROI) in communications. But as the explosion of channels to reach people — both consumers and B2B customers — has continued, those traditional measures of ROI are but a fractional indicator of contribution to the conversations important for an organization’s success. 

Marketing, consulting and communications services firms are all experimenting with how best to measure engagement and, of course, are looking for the Holy Grail to directly assess the ultimate ROI measure: sales.

Meanwhile, technology, diversity and the digital revolution are driving forces in the marketplace, allowing personalization of each consumer experience (including B2B customers), and leading to the inevitable: consumers will judge for themselves what they “value.” From shopping to skiing to schools, the possibilities are endless. And in a world where value is in the eye of the beholder, organizations and brands must decide whose opinion matters most and tailor their efforts for engagement toward those premium stakeholders, in order to be judged “valuable.” In the parlance of evolving social media strategies, just racking up “likes” isn’t enough anymore.

Challenge accepted

Here’s how we’ve decided to take on this challenge: first we force answers to the hardest question, which is “who needs to understand you in order for you to be successful?” [Hint: it is a smaller group than most businesses think it is.] And then we work with our clients to determine what they need to measure; set expectations for how to hit those marks; and then relentlessly innovate the tools of communication and engagement to ensure that we meet those expectations. And then do it all over again: set up the challenge, determine the success measure, set the expectation and innovate to meet that expectation. Rinse and repeat; rinse and repeat: not the executions, but the discipline of continually defining value that matters to the client.

Rather than taking orders for communications tactics or campaigns, our new normal is the provision of strategic direction and problem solving. It isn’t how most clients have viewed the work of communications firms they hire and trust — but it is a transformation that we see as inevitable for our relationships. Not unlike the transformation underway in so many other sectors, the pressure is on to evolve from volume to value.

Have you noticed a shift in your business? Is the perception of what you thought clients valued suddenly changing? Tell us about that!

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