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It is, by now, hackneyed to say that we live in the age of data and that businesses are reacting accordingly. Nonetheless, the adoption and intensity with which data is implemented continues to grow. Those who have boldly embraced it, putting data at the heart of their decision making, have reaped the benefits: higher ROI on marketing, better and more effective spending, a deeper understanding of reputation and audiences… in short: optimised, evidence-based decision making.

“Yesterday’s ‘good-enough’ is no longer good enough.”

At W2O, analytics is at the heart of our business, leveraging data to our client’s advantage is part of our DNA. Analytics is embedded into every corner of our service offering. By embracing the importance of data analytics in informing our recommendations to our clients, we continue to justify our place as strategists and key advisors.

However, as this adoption has escalated, so too have the requirements and expectations of clients. In response, analytics has undergone massive, disruptive changes radically transforming the discipline. New technologies and ways of capturing data have gone from niche to commonplace in a matter of months, and by the same token, the level of insights and depth that are expected from analytics has been continuously pushed forward. Yesterday’s ‘good-enough’ is no longer good enough.

As such, passivity in the analytics we offer isn’t an option if we want to continue to be ahead of the curve. Not only is internal R&D extremely important, but as possibilities and methods proliferate, it is increasingly important to have a holistic evolving view of not just what is out there, but of what is possible. Here’s three trends which I think will be most important in the second half of 2015:

1) Convergence and Agnosticism

The breaking down of established analytic discipline silos will continue. It is no longer a matter of one technique versus another, but of optimising and layering analytics to yield results. The combination of social media analytics, marketing techniques, social sciences will become commonplace, and clients will expect you to be familiar in navigating multi-disciplinary data stacks.

By the same token, data sourcing will continue to be agnostic. Rather than relying on a single vector of data acquisition, multiple sources of data can be used together to strengthen the accuracy of analytics, the depth of insight or the validity of a model: broadening the spectrum of what is possible.

Business Insights Analytics will become a much more multifaceted discipline, leveraging methods and foraging through multiple data feeds to offer unparalleled intelligence. Techniques and platforms no longer matter, only insights and answers do.

Analytics Image

2) Models & Predictive 

As a direct consequence of this convergence, the burden on creating models to synthesise multiple datasets and translate complexity into actionable and understandable conclusions grows.

While complex modeling and predictive regressions can be powerful, as for all complex models, it can’t be fully convincing without qualitative analysis to support the results and drive an insightful narrative. It is in this relationship that truly responsive research can be forged. To be able to run complex analysis, we must be aware in 2015 that one-off data analysis is not an option. We need to think ahead about how we can use our key clients’ data to inform the evolution of their market and be able to predict certain outcomes with relative certainty. This will call upon a much wider set of specialist personnel that we may have to leverage: from data scientists, sociologists, marketing experts, data visualisation experts and good-old strategists, the make up of our analytics practice is extremely diverse.

“Techniques and platforms no longer matter, only insights and answers do.”

3) Delivery Mechanisms

The main three tools for insight delivery to our clients are becoming outdated. Dashboards, presentations and reports will have to give way to new initiatives to communicate results previously unexplored. The always-on nature of our lives, layered with the ubiquitous presence of interactive high-resolution screens will give birth to a new line of data presentation, one that oozes the visual quality, accessibility and interactivity of our modern environment but still contains the distillation of analytical thought, guiding the user through the heart of the insight. Watch this space!

Analytics Image #2

The Future is Up for Grabs!

Many more things lie around the corner, both known and unknown, that will have a radical impact on the future of the industry. The stakes are high, and this isn’t a future that’s coming in ten or five years, but a much more immediate maturation and this still very much up for grabs. If it hopes to remain competitive, a successful company will have to combine institutionalised innovative thinking and dynamic problem solving, while keeping a close watch on market developments and successfully creating a multifaceted ecosystem that attracts a wide combination of disciplines and professionals. Not an easy feat. But then again, if you’re already working analytics… you wouldn’t have it any other way!

If you’re interested in how those data and insights are affecting all of us every day, W2O is hosting a summit in London on Monday the 14th, which you should definitely attend if you can make it, or live stream if you can’t. It’s free!

We will be taking a look at how digital technologies and data have changed the way we live, work, and create. We will also be asking some questions about the ‘duality’ of digital, evaluating whether these developments have been of benefit or a detriment to people and brands. Don’t miss it.

London PreCommerce Summit Image

In the past six years, I can count on one hand — one finger, actually — the number of times I’ve attended a conference and not been an active participant in the Twitter conversation onsite. It was 2009, my laptop was at the office, and I did not yet have a smartphone. You can bet that was the last time I traveled without multiple devices, a smartphone being one of them.

As a millennial — yes, one of those — I began my career at a time when Twitter was only for the tech elite, Facebook was still “The Facebook,” and LinkedIn was a glorified resume. Now, similar to how no one can remember a time when anything got done without email, I can no longer fathom — nor want to — a world where social media wasn’t a driving force behind how business gets done, and done well.

In my past life as a healthcare conference producer, social media wasn’t yet the widely adopted medium for communication and collaboration that it is today. Speaking faculties and conference agendas were created from research and whatever publications and articles were available online, and events were publicized via mass email campaigns and cold calling. Just a few years later, the landscape had already changed drastically.

In my next role as an editorial content producer at a technology publisher, hashtags were the new sources for news stories, LinkedIn was the first point of contact, and QR codes were all the rage. To stay timely, topical and relevant was to keep up with the rate of change in social media adoption and use. Today, that thinking still holds true. Only now, the cost of not participating is something that individuals and brands alike can no longer afford.

We’ve all heard that “content is king,” and from a content generation perspective, Twitter is one of the most valuable — and all too often, underrated — sources. If someone had told me back when I was putting together conference agendas that there would soon be a channel that would provide, in real-time, insights on the topics and trends that your target audience cares most about, I might have traded an arm or leg for access. Now, that information is just a screen tap away.

But the wealth of benefits that Twitter provides goes well beyond social intelligence — topic and audience targeting, influencer analysis, idea generation and the like. While it’s true that the incredibly rich data that Twitter provides — when paired with the right analytics, active listening tools and analysis in place — creates an unmatched opportunity for social optimization and ROI-inducing initiatives, to me, the most valuable aspect of the channel has been the relationships that is has allowed me to cultivate. And for that, I could not be more appreciative.

While conferences and networking events might have previously been where industry colleagues would be introduced to one another for the first time, now, these onsite interactions are simply an extension of the relationships that began through a series of 140 character posts. The number of times I’ve approached — okay, ran toward — industry colleagues with whom I’ve connected on Twitter first, and recognized solely from their profile picture, is a bit embarrassing. But the amazing opportunities, incredible learning experiences, professional connections, and friends, that I have made, simply because we were engaged via the social medium first, makes it all worthwhile.

Case in point being earlier this year, at W2O’s #HITsmCIO event at HIMSS’15 in Chicago, where provider innovation, information and technology chiefs gathered together to discuss the proliferation of social media in healthcare. UPMC’s chief innovation officer, Rasu Shrestha, M.D., one of the Twittersphere’s most active — an quite frankly, awesome — digital health leaders, shared that when it comes to hospital and health system use of social media, “it’s less of a question about whether you should do it; it’s can you afford not to.” I would have never gotten the opportunity to meet, know, and most importantly, learn from, Dr. Shrestha in the same capacity if not for Twitter, where his perspective perfectly echoes what we advise our clients, friends, and ourselves, regarding social media engagement.

For House of Cards fans, during one of his infamous first-person narratives to the camera, Frank Underwood noted that “imagination is its own form of courage.” For anyone who has yet to take the leap or see the value in social media from a personal perspective, I’m here to tell you that it’s worth it. Imagine yourself interacting with and learning from individuals you had previously only read about, fostering relationships with an unmatched network of thought leaders, and carving out a voice for yourself in the space. It might take a bit of courage to put yourself out there, but just imagine the possibilities.

And for those brands who have yet to harness the power of social engagement and intelligence — from healthcare and digital health, to technology and pharma, through B2B startups to well-established B2C staples — the time to imagine how these social channels can drive opportunity and incredible value for your business is now. Remember, it takes imagination — and courage — to see innovation and opportunity where others cannot, and social media engagement is no exception.

For more information on how social commerce and SoMe intelligence is driving change, enabling opportunity and creating a competitive advantage across the marketing and communications landscape, be sure to follow #PreCommerce on Twitter for updates and notable information from W2O’s EMEA annual PreCommerce Summit, taking place in London on September 14, 2015.

Please see here for more information on the event. In the area? Come join us – registration is free!

Businesses today live and die on their return on investment. Companies invest in expansion, marketing, infrastructure and the many other components of the operation. Boards of directors and shareholders want to know whether those expenditures truly bring value and growth.

No component of the business today escapes ROI analysis. To answer that critical question across the many facets of the business requires measurement to gauge whether the money and time spent on something is yielding the intended results.

But when we start measuring what’s happening among the people inside the organization, what are we chasing?

Let’s assume we can get a monthly read on what the employees are looking at on the internal website, how many are viewing what, for how long, what they’re doing with it, who they’re sharing what with, etc. Also, we can discern what they’re chattering about on internal social media.

But what do we do with that information? Do we become obsessive about it? Do we become reactive? Do we become too reactive?

Monitoring employee communications is certainly a critical and potentially valuable capability, insofar as it enables us to respond to employee information needs and adjust what we provide them, when, and through what channels. Beyond that, what are we looking for?

The problem with such monitoring is its potential to entice us to get ahead of ourselves – ahead of a curve that may or may not be critical, a curve that we may or may not be able to define – to make us too smart by half when what we need to be providing to our internal audiences is something far simpler than what analytics might lead us to believe.

At base, employees are just trying to do their job, to be good at it, to get better, to be acknowledged for their contributions, and to be aware of and understand the relentless changes that they and their company must adapt to.

Providing Relevance and Context
As communicators, our primary role then is to provide the context and information to help employees stay abreast of the shifting marketplace and its multiple impacts on them and the company. If we do our jobs well – everything else being equal – then the company thrives, employee attrition stays low, and high quality talent is attracted to the company.

In the alternative case, the business fumbles its opportunities, under-estimates challenges, and fails to meet revenue and profit targets. The best talent leaves and the mediocre remain. Growth and success elude the organization.

Measuring the quality of our employee communications, then, becomes an opportunity to stay on top of and eliminate the gaps in understanding among the internal audience that can fester into poor performance or activities that don’t add value.

Monitoring the conversation inside the organization should be less about numbers and percentages and more about the content and context of that conversation. If our analytics and monitoring allows us to determine whether key messages are resonating or not, then they become truly valuable. They can give us critical and timely guidance to help us adjust our content, relevance, cadence and context to assure maximum effectiveness.

So in that regard, yes, measurement is important and can be valuable. Rather than becoming obsessed with tenths of percentage points that measure intranet traffic, we must focus instead on delivering timely, relevant information and context. In that way, we are contributing to the success of the organization and its people, and delivering return on investment.

The core driver of any business is investing with the expectation of positive (financial) returns. Companies build manufacturing plants and buy machinery to establish the means to create products and then get them to market.

When customers in their target markets buy their products, the resulting revenue stream is what makes the up-front investments start paying off in the form of profit – also known as return on investment (ROI).

When business people talk about invested capital, this is what they generally mean: physical plants, equipment and transportation, the kinds of investments that are amortized and depreciated over time.

Building a new production plant may cost, say, $150 million and the senior managers justify the expenditure based on the projected ROI – how long it will take to “pay” for the investment before they can start realizing a profit.

However, we rarely hear business people talk the same way about the investment they make in their people, whether they are getting a good return on that investment.  Employees are often an overlooked part of the big picture.

Huge Expenditure

That seems ironic, especially in light of the fact that the cost of personnel is often the biggest line item on most companies’ balance sheets. In addition to salaries, health care costs, and other benefits, investing in people also includes:

  • The time and money it takes to find the right person for a given position, including paying the recruiter and investing the man-hours to conduct interviews and winnow down the candidates to the final few.
  • The initial and ongoing training necessary to assure that people acquire and sustain the skills needed to be the best they can in their jobs, and to excel and rise in the organization, further adding value.
  • Various other costs incurred in retaining people, such as salary increases, incentives and bonuses.

This all may seem obvious. I only reiterate here it because of what we have been experiencing for the past four years or so. Millions of American jobs have been lost – evaporated. And the job shrinkage doesn’t appear to be over in light of recent announcements we’ve been reading about recently: Citigroup’s head-count reduction of 11,000; Dow’s announced cut of as many as 2,400 jobs in Europe; Canadian Pacific’s decision to eliminate 4,500 jobs; and Siemens’ pledge to cut 4,700 positions in its lighting division.

Naturally, a good leader resorts to lay-offs only as a last resort, doing so only after hiring and wage freezes, other expense cuts, and/or price increases have failed to stop the red ink. They know that every single laid-off employee is a lost opportunity, a lost investment. Good leaders feel an ache in the pit of their stomachs at the prospect of having to cut the work force by even one person.

While they are conscious of the personal side of each lay-off – the family that’s impacted, and the blow to the employee’s ego and sense of self-confidence – the business leader side of their personality aches at the loss of investment capital.

The Deeper Impact

However, the bigger challenge and what keeps these leaders awake at night is what each lay-off does to the company and its future prospects. Yes, shedding jobs reduces expenses to better ensure the company’s ability to persevere in the trying times – which is the point, after all.

But the care, feeding, and cultivation of effective employees are works in progress. When it all meshes and the company is thriving, there are few things that make a leader prouder than seeing the employees operating at their best, as a team, contributing collectively toward the company’s mission.

When lay-offs are unavoidable, however, that finely tuned machine loses its edge. Remaining employees lose their focus on the mission, instead concerned for their own future with the company, while wondering when the other shoe will drop.

That said, even in the toughest times, businesses need to continue to cultivate their people, to be sure they understand how much they mean to the future success of the business and how important it is for them to stay focused on the mission.

Of course, the key is communications – through both good times and bad. Keep employees well informed and actively engaged in the external challenges the company is facing: competitive threats, economic turmoil, government regulation and taxation, etc.

Share with them, too, the company’s opportunities and always invite their perspective and ideas. Open and honest communications build trust and understanding, which will be what leadership needs most when the situation gets tough, when the best efforts of everyone and their full engagement to the company’s mission is central to seeing it through hard times.

The next time that you pull together a proposal for a Med Comms activity, ask yourself the following question: what is it exactly that this event will achieve? You probably already have some metrics in mind that you will sell to your client/boss, but really challenge yourself: short of a direct, visible effect on sales of the brand, what exactly will the return on investment be?

I recently came across a great cartoon related to this topic by Tom Fishburne, entitled “Brand Loyalty“, which makes a salient point within the humour:

A wedding with a difference...
'Brand Loyalty' by Tom Fishburne

Basically, your customers will swear their ‘loyalty’ to you and your brand now, right up until something better comes along. To elaborate on the wedding analogy, both parties need to work on the relationship, all of the time. Furthermore, working on the relationship is pointless if neither party knows what the other person wants, or even if what they are doing is working at all!

Let’s take a pretty standard example: a satellite symposium at an international congress, which will probably set your medical communications budget back by well over £100k (or equivalent). You gain the services of 3 or 4 top-tier KOLs to act as the scientific panel (although how were these people selected – are they really the top influencers of your target audience? That’s a whole new discussion for another day…); they do a fantastic job of presenting your key data to a couple of hundred delegates (some of whom won’t in fact be your competitors), and you head back to the office with a stack of evaluation forms showing your event scored 4.5 out of 5 on all measures.

Job done. Marketing Director happy. End-of-year bonus assured.

In the current regulatory and economic environment, most Pharma marketers are well aware that the general situation outlined above doesn’t cut it any more. The second the KOLs have delivered on their contractual obligations, will they devote any of their own time to be an advocate for your brand? Once the physicians in the audience have completed the evaluation form, how many will go away and talk positively about what they heard to their peers (either offline or online)? In short, what are the actual, measurable outcomes from your major investment?

Now, you may be lucky and the return on your investment may extend beyond the event itself. However, wouldn’t it make sense to set up your Med Comms projects properly to begin with? That is, to assess how and where your customers and KOLs are talking about your brand before, during and – most importantly – after your event? To find out what would gain their loyalty, and proactively work to keep it?

Here at WCG, we’re developing new models for Med Comms, founded on our industry-leading analytics. We’ll be expanding on this in subsequent posts, but get in touch if you would like to start building true KOL and customer relationships today.