The qualitative-vs-quantitative conundrum for digital marketers

Chances are, if you are the
founder of a company, a marketing executive at a brand, or anyone who’s ever
done anything remotely associated with decision making within a company of any
kind, you’ve run up against what I’d call the “PR quant-qual conundrum.”

That’s a really fancy way of
re-stating this question: how the heck do you measure the value of a largely
intangible, qualitative, elusive activity like communications?

A couple of weeks ago,  AirPR hosted a series of events in San Francisco to address this issue. As part of these activities, high
tech marketing “pioneer,” technology investor, and author Geoffrey Moore (Crossing
the Chasm
, The Gorilla Game, Inside the Tornado) gave a keynote on
the future of communications.

The most “tweetable” sound bite
from his presentation was the following:

“We have to have a quant front-end
and a qual back-end. Because life is still about storytelling.”

The communications folks in the room were
nodding vigorously and tweeting with wild abandon.

If quantitative data were the only
kind in existence, the world would be a very flat, ultimately unfulfilling
place. To be sure, we’d know the exact traffic patterns required to efficiently
get us from point A to point B in record time (great, so we’re at the movie
theatre 37.4 minutes early. Now what?), and perhaps the number of minimum licks
to get to the center of a lollipop (so we can lick with wild abandon as we wait
for the movie to start)…but we’d be bored as hell. 

B-O-R-E-D.

Qualitative data on the other
hand, which can also thought of as anecdotal or observed data, requires a level
of creativity and inference that give “color” to the equation. “Quant” gives us
the fundamental truths, but “Qual” brings those truths to life and makes the
actions digestible.

To use the oldest joke paradigm in
the proverbial book, if Quant walked into a bar he’d be asking how much
for the best beer on tap…oh, and how many actual ounces will he get for his
money?

Qual would be asking the bartender his
opinion about the best beer on tap and how quickly will she get buzzed from
said beer? Then, roughly two beers in, she’d probably get up on the bar and
have herself a dance.

In all seriousness, this challenge
– the “quant-qual conundrum” if you will – is possibly the most frustrating in
terms of PR metrics and success-driven outcomes.

For example, it’s hard to measure
(to the exact decimal point) the value of a relationship. If your PR consultant
introduces you to an investor, who in turn writes you a check for $1M, how does
she win? You may pay her 5k/month but she certainly gets the raw end of this
deal.

Or if your PR firm invests (yes,
INVESTS) seven years cultivating a relationship with Walt Mossberg from the
Wall Street Journal  – and this can range into the thousands of dollars if
you think about “time as money” – how much is it worth, quantitatively, if they
secure a story for you? Really, how much?

Clients often derive or infer
value only from hard data.

This is an unfortunate and
narrow-minded way of thinking. But they haven’t got a clue about how to think
any other way because PR simply has not been set up for success in this area.

The role of next gen PR technology
solutions (and agencies/execs) will take into account both the qualitative and
quantitative data. A number or data set may be assigned to the outcome…but it
is not simply based on a quantitative source. The qualitative source (or to use
Mr. Moore’s example…the “backend”) – influence, sentiment, and content quality
– is just as important as the outcomes we derive from quantitative data.

So here we stand at the great
convergence point.

And at this point exists the best
tasting, best bang for your buck, buzzworthy beer.

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