The seven steps to creating a culture of effectiveness

Effectiveness is not something that can be stamped on a campaign, but rather the result of a business culture that works toward it from the outset.

Bridget Angear
is joint chief strategy officer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and 2016 IPA Effectiveness Awards convenor of judges. 

James Miller is global head of strategy for Mars at BBDO.

Effectiveness is the central pillar of marketing, but, while we all pay lip-service to it, seldom do we give it the deep consideration it deserves. Strange, when effectiveness is the ultimate goal of everything we do in advertising. 

With this in mind, we have created the following guide to seven things that can be done to not only give effectiveness the consideration, time and effort it requires, but also foster a culture of effectiveness in business. 

1. Make effectiveness the start of the process

Despite all our best intentions, it still seems that most conversations about effectiveness occur at the end, rather than beginning, of a process. Just like tidying up after a party, it’s treated as a necessary evil, but not something to be contemplated in the heady build-up to it. And yet, the very best communications case studies are often those that integrate effectiveness from the start. 

Take the oft-cited Sainsbury’s "Try something new today" campaign. It was an idea born out of a business goal of increasing average basket size by £1.14 – or, put another way, adding one extra item to every basket. The goal, and therefore the evalu-ation metrics, are straightforward and underpin the communications. The role of every piece of communications was to invite people to experiment with their favourite dishes with new ideas. A simple concept with a clear evaluation metric. 

While not all communications will be as simple to express as this one, the clearer we are at the start about what we want to achieve and how it will be measured, the easier the job of evaluating it will be.

2. Make it everyone’s job

One of the impediments to creating a culture of effectiveness may be that it is usually left to the "geeks in glasses" (agency planners) to undertake, and that somehow the process of evaluation has become divorced from the process of creativity; hived off as a specialism for those good at statistics, rather than those adept at working with words and pictures. 

However, as John Hegarty explained: "Effectiveness is our goal, creativity the means." So you’d think that it would be everyone’s priority to understand how and why their communications were working. 

If it were, then maybe effectiveness would become a more important business tool, used in boardrooms to justify increasing communications spend, and in agencies as part of procurement conversations and fee negotiations.

3. Embrace failure

In his book Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed contrasts the way in which the aviation industry has improved its safety record consistently over the past decades with the healthcare industry, which hasn’t.

His explanation is that the aviation industry undertakes forensic analyses every time there is a disaster and implements recommended safety improvements. In the healthcare industry, on the other hand, mistakes are swept under the carpet, lessons are never learned, and therefore seldom are big improvements made. 

In Syed’s words: "It turns out that, for reasons both prosaic and profound, a failure to learn from mistakes has been one of the single greatest obstacles to human progress. Healthcare is just one strand in a long, rich history of evasion. Confronting this could not only be transformative to healthcare, but business, politics and much else besides. A progressive attitude to failure turns out to be a cornerstone of success for any institution."

I urge the industry to be more aviation than healthcare. 

A culture of effectiveness means being open and honest when things haven’t worked as well as we wanted them to, then diagnosing why and implementing changes. 

4. Write a communications model for your brand

This might sound like Marketing 101, but how many of us have a model of how we believe our work will work, and how we will measure it? In the days before open-plan workspaces, I would advocate pinning up a model and reviewing progress against it. In a paperless, wall-less age, we should at least have one on our desktop. 

In truth, a model can be as simple or a complex as the task requires. At one extreme, it could be as simple as:

Get people who shop at Sainsbury’s

To put one extra item in their basket every time they shop

By inspiring them to try new things

At the other end of the scale, a model could be as detailed as the one sometimes used by UK government (see the Government Communication Service Evaluation Framework model, below).

In truth, it doesn’t really matter – just as long as you have one. It’s an amazingly powerful tool, if used well, to force each one of us to be clear about our objectives and strategy. Banning all generic language around the task (penetration), the audience (millennials), and the message (delicious) also helps make this a more potent tool.

5. Have a point of view about how communications works

There is now a lot of evidence-based thinking about how communications works. The Long and the Short of It  by Les Binet and Peter Field, published by the IPA, and Byron Sharp’s book How Brands Grow, backed by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, both conclude that emotionally driven campaigns outperform rational ones in the longer term.

Yet, despite this evidence, there seems to have been an increase in short-term thinking creeping into our industry. "Selling Creativity Short", published by the IPA earlier this year, concludes that "the dual impacts of short-termism in marketing and lower investment behind creativity has halved the benefit of creativity over a period of just four years". Or, put another way, despite all the evidence to the contrary, we are making more commu-nications of a rational, short-term nature than we were a few years ago.

Byron Sharp has other rules about how brands grow that help inform this debate:

Byron Sharp’s 7 rules for brand growth 

1. Continuously reach all buyers of the category (communication + distribution) – don’t ever be silent.

2. Ensure the brand is easy to buy (communicate how it fits with the user’s life).

3. Get noticed (grab attention and focus on brand salience to prime the user’s mind).

4. Refresh and rebuild memory structures (respect existing associations that make the brand easy to notice and buy).

5. Create and use distinctive brand assets (sensory cues that get noticed and stay

6. Be consistent (avoid unnecessary changes, while keeping the brand fresh and interesting).

7. Stay competitive (keep the brand easy to buy and avoid giving excuses not to buy).

Not, of course, that these seven rules have to be slavishly followed – The Economist’s Cannes Effectiveness-winning case flies in the face of rule number one, and shows the success of a highly targeted creative and media strategy. They are, however, a good place to start, even if we then consciously choose not to follow some of them.

6. Invest in evaluation

This is about time as much as money. Forensic analysis takes resources and may be seen as a luxury in resource-stretched agencies. But if you are serious about it, then it requires commitment. 

Ideally, this commitment occurs right from the start of the communications development process, with all key stakeholders aligned behind a set of objectives and evaluation metrics. It also requires clarity about when results will be reported. 

Given the often large sums of money involved, it is not surprising that stakeholders are usually keen to know as soon as possible how a piece of activity is performing. Not surprising, but not always helpful. It can result in a higher value being placed on short-term metrics than longer-term ones – metrics that may not be good indicators of ultimate business success and might in turn affect the kind of work produced as a consequence of the evaluation. As Peter Field said in "The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness" (IPA, 2011): "Short-term campaign evaluations prejudice against creativity because highly creative campaigns tend not to deliver as powerfully as less creative approaches in the short term."

There can be an assumption that an econometric model is the only definitive way to isolate the effect of communications, but this isn’t so. A look at successful IPA papers over the past few years reveals that only about half used a model. The others make their case without relying on one. Indeed, judges have commented that sometimes cases are unsuccessful because they were over-reliant on their model and did not cite any other metrics as evidence of success.

It helps to be clear about the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. The Oxford English Dictionary defines effectiveness as "the degree to which something is successful in producing a desired result". There are some useful phrases there. "The degree to which" suggests that results are rarely absolute and that most are much more nuanced. "A desired result" is a reminder to be clear about our intended result from the start, rather than retrospectively claiming what the desired aims were.

The same dictionary defines efficiency as the "accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort". Or, in other words, how well you deployed your resources against the task you set out to accomplish. Metrics such as ROI (often the output of an econometric model), which are often cited as effectiveness measures, are in fact efficiency ones.

So, in a nutshell: efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. 

There are interesting examples of brands that have built evaluation into their communications process (rather than viewing it as a separate exercise). The Economist, for example, has constant optimisation of creative and media built in from the start. 

7. Write effectiveness papers

If we embrace Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that you need to do something for 10,000 hours to master it, there is no better way to get good at effectiveness than writing effectiveness papers. They are not a walk down easy street, but might be just that bit easier if all of the above six steps have already been taken.

The act of writing one will make you the brand expert as you will know more than anyone about exactly what did (and didn’t) work and why. But more than that, you will have added to the general body of effectiveness learning that continues to help build the professional regard for our industry, and create a treasure house of learning for those who follow you.  

There are numerous effectiveness awards around the world, including Cannes Effectiveness and the Effies. None is more rigorous than the IPA Effectiveness Awards, introduced in the UK in 1980. 

The IPA database holds more than 1,300 cases over 35 years, with 72 added this year, making it an invaluable source of learning and inspiration.