Marketing The Professional Services - Part 4
Photography: Jed Share, PhotonicaAll communication is ultimately an activity aimed at influencing human behaviour. That behaviour is expressed in actions which are determined by rational as well as irrational factors. To change human behaviour requires careful planning as well as steps which may at first seem illogical.
It follows that to measure the success of communication is not a straightforward process. Sometimes it takes longer for communications to have an effect. Vincent Gray, business development manager with Masons: "If you can immediately measure the success of your marketing expenditure, that is great. But sometimes it takes three to four years before you see results coming through."
What a firm and the profession have done in the past also matters. Cleopatra Veloutsou, lecturer at the University of Glasgow: "I call this the 'lag effect'. If you already have a good reputation, a not-so-good campaign may still generate good results."
There are also differences in what you are measuring. It depends on the format of the communication and its objective. And on who is measuring. John Bunn, UK head of media relations with PricewaterhouseCoopers: "In our evaluation of media relations we look at coverage and the quality of our spokespeople. For this purpose we hire independent monitors."
In practical terms, results come in different formats. Take, for instance, a marketing communication campaign. With advertising you can alter awareness. With publicity you want to change perceptions. With direct mail you look for an immediate response. In each of these three promotion instruments you are looking at different results, although the end result of all your work is likely to be expressed in sales figures only.
Sandra Mohabir-Collins, lecturer at the Paisley Business School: "A lot of organisations choose to increase awareness by means of advertising. But they are measuring sales. That is because more sales is what everybody wants."
It is therefore important to be realistic. Sandra Mohabir-Collins: "Sometimes objectives are very grandiose and there must be doubt about whether they are achievable. In the 1980s, Rowntree wanted their Black Magic to be the 'ultimate chocolate'. But how do you measure 'ultimate'?"
In general, communication is judged by a comparison of polls indicating traditional objectives, such as changes in knowledge, opinion and behaviour, with polls taking place before and after the communication project. Instead of opinion some pollsters prefer to measure attitude, asking people how they feel about certain issues. When it comes to measuring behaviour, sometimes a poll can only register intentions.
Evaluation starts in the planning stage of a project, preferably well before the start of an individual campaign. At this stage it is possible to measure several things. For example, whether the project is achieving its goals within internal audiences (which should always be involved in the campaign), or by using focus groups.
In addition to polls on knowledge, opinion and behaviour, there are a number of yardsticks to test the concepts for communication tools. These can be classified under three headings - professionalism, consistency and creativity.
Naturally, the question whether the communication relates to the firm's common principles and shared values comes first. Clarity of message and honesty are also good criteria. Vincent Gray: "The message must be clear and mirror the reality of the firm. Unlike washing powder, lawyers cannot keep washing whiter."
Although the following list is not exhaustive, some simple questions will help to test concepts for communication tools.
Under the heading of professionalism you can ask yourself the following questions. Is the communication attractive for its audience group(s)? Is it attractive for the employees of the firm? Is the proposition or promise we are making clear? Is it credible? Believable? Do we only promise what can be delivered? Is the message unambiguous? Is it current? Related to the firm? Can it be applied? Do we emphasise the benefits of the services on offer? Do we give enough tangible clues regarding these benefits?
In this context you may also ask yourself whether the message is easily recognised? Does it stand out? Sandra Mohabir-Collins: "You have to talk over the noise the competition is making. People are not waiting for your message. They pay attention selectively. They filter the information they get. What they take in must suit their own point of view. They like ideas and images they can relate to. They must be able to understand the message. What they absorb may not be the same as what you are sending out. You must get early feedback to check these matters."
Under the heading of consistency you can ask yourself whether the communication is unfailing. Is it consequent? Coherent? Is it continuously in line with the audience's needs and expectations? On what is the message based? Is this a single issue? If we are dealing with more issues, should there not be more communications or different campaigns in order to keep it simple and straightforward?
Under the heading of creativity you can ask yourself whether the communication is original. Is it unique? Different? Surprising? Eye-catching? Finally, should it (not) be humorous?
Asking yourself these questions and discussing the answers with your colleagues, external consultants and creative directors, will help you to produce better communication materials, fine-tune strategy, develop policy and put your firm on the front row when it comes to the scramble for new clients and more business.