An Ode to Data

Some words are hard to love, and I have to concede that “data” is one of them. It doesn’t have any magic that makes the heart of a strategic communicator beat faster. But really, it’s so important that we should all learn to love it a little. Why? Because it’s indispensable to evaluating communications success—and to demonstrating your own contribution as a strategic communicator.

One kind of data you should embrace is that of baseline data: numbers that represent how your organization is performing with respect to one or more indicators at the beginning of a specified time period. The point is to assess how performance changes over time as certain variables—namely, your dazzling communications efforts—take effect.

For example, a baseline figure may be that the 2008 Annual General Meeting was attended by 100 participants. This allows an understanding of what’s been achieved by a communications campaign when it’s determined, for instance, that 300 people attended the 2010 meeting.

It’s critical to collect baseline data at the outset of a communications strategy in order to demonstrate progress. Unless there is documented evidence of how your organization performed before the strategy’s implementation, it will be impossible to show persuasively how the communications work has produced better outcomes.

Another vital set of data is what’s provided by benchmarking, which is the comparison of how your organization performs on critical indicators as measured against best practices and performance achievements among peer organizations. By following those comparisons over time, you can assess how your communications efforts help your own organization boost its relative achievements in those areas. You might benchmark your organization against peers with respect to performance in client satisfaction rates, in website functionality or in membership offerings—and then see how those comparisons change over time.

So even if you can’t love data with great passion, embrace it anyhow—and then watch while the solid evidence of your accomplishments mounts up as your strategy takes effect.