Guest blog alert! Kristin Laursen and Teri Lutz here, filling in for Jeff while he relaxes somewhere in the middle of Iowa, sipping martinis and riding tractors (for real, we couldn’t make this up). So if you disagree with anything in this Rant, you’ll have to wait until Jeff returns and take it up with him. 😉
A common frustration in the utility industry, or any industry for that matter, is “why aren’t we hitting our targets?” In our industry, those targets can include any number of things, from customer interactions, to program participation, to impacts, and many things in between. One of many possible answers for this issue is, “people don’t know about the programs.”
How is that possible? You sent out 20,000 postcards to customers in December, followed it up with an email campaign in January, bill inserts in February, radio ads every other month, billboards, online ads, social media contests, etc., etc. But how are you measuring the effectiveness of these marketing and outreach efforts? Are you testing messages and engaging with your customers to find out which messages get through, and which ones inspire action? Are you adjusting mid-campaign to utilize the messages and media that are most successful? Are you researching your target audience to fully understand their key methods of communication, motivators, lifestyle, and countless other contributors to their decision making process?
A marketing campaign will be more successful when metrics and measurement strategies are identified before campaign launch. This will help you assess and improve over time, and will provide invaluable data for your evaluation team. And just to clear up any confusion, metrics and measurement strategies are not the same thing. Metrics are quantitative values of outcomes or activities (e.g., number of hits to a landing page, number of rebate applications submitted, number of heat pump clothes dryers installed). Measurement strategies are the actions taken to get your data – what data will be collected, who is collecting it, how often, etc.
Having these metrics and measurement strategies in place allows you to evaluate your campaign effectiveness in real-time and make necessary adjustments along the way. It becomes easier to hit your marketing and outreach goals (which roll up to your overall program goals) because now you’re applying lessons learned to foster continuous improvement of your marketing efforts – helping avoid strategies that don’t produce results or prove to be too costly.
In addition to helping you tailor your approach mid-campaign, it helps your evaluators as well. An assessment of program marketing and outreach is often included within the process evaluation scope. For example, RFP’s will request, “Review marketing and promotional efforts,” or “Provide an assessment of program marketing and outreach efficacy.” Knowing whether or not your marketing campaign is successfully driving participants to your program is certainly valuable, but…how do [or don’t] process evaluations help program staff understand the effectiveness of their program marketing campaigns? We argue that more often than not, process evaluation fails miserably to help with this understanding. Here is just ONE reason why:
Process evaluations are too often a singular snapshot in time – and usually a retrospective, year or more later, snapshot at that. Assessing the effectiveness of a campaign that occurred far in the past is just plain folly. At best, it is a frustrating waste of a respondent’s time to answer survey questions and, at worst, stale and un-insightful data is used to MISinform marketing efforts going forward.
To truly understand your marketing effort and your customer experiences for designing future outreach, you must measure key customer interactions along the way. A good example of this is from Clean Energy Works Oregon (now Enhabit).
Some notable things about the approach diagramed…first, program participants are asked how they heard about the program soon after their decision to participate. The value in that one is really easy to see.
Second, participants are asked about their journey as they move through the program. How does this information help marketing? We are glad you asked! Besides providing happy quotes and testimonials that you can use in your marketing collateral, it can find problems with your marketing and outreach effort. For example, asking folks who had expressed interest in participation but didn’t follow-through might reveal that the customer simply did not understand how to take the next step – leading to marketing language changes that better describe the “how you can participate” step.
The main point is that for useful insight it is critical to measure, assess, and ask questions along the way – NOT wait until a year or more after a campaign launch or a customer has submitted a rebate form.
Is this the only reason process evaluations fail to provide? Of course not and we will explore other reasons in future Guest Rant – Marketing Gone Wrong…and Right editions. Send us your examples to be featured in an upcoming Rant (we’ll protect your anonymity). As a thank you, we’ll send you a Starbuck’s gift card (Starbuck’s coffee is Jeff’s drink of choice…well, one of them anyhow.)
Photo Source: Clean Energy Works Research Planning, Will Villota, CEWO, 2012 cited here, https://rpsc.energy.gov/handbooks/marketing-outreach-%E2%80%93-develop-evaluation-plans#tabs=2