Thursday, December 29, 2011

End of Year Musings: Outputs or Outcomes?

What kind of outcomes did you generate this past year?

To me, it's a red flag when a marketing consultant, department or any marketing/PR professional stresses "outputs" of their service offerings - meaning the volume of programs they help generate (number of press releases, amount of creative materials designed, volume of marketing plans delivered, volume of outbound direct marketing programs executed, number of web sites launched, number of tradeshows managed, etc.)  

While marketing output serves as a way to measure activity, it is usually a poor measure of performance. 

Outputs represent the programs or services produced and not the results generated from those outputs. 

In marketing and PR, one gains insight when seeing how folks might describe themselves. The following types of output-based statements serve as an example: 

  • A PR specialist positions her performance by the number of press releases she writes,or amount of speaking engagements secured.
  • A web developer describes his performance by the number of websites launched over a certain time period.
  • A marketing consultant stresses a laundry list of service offerings such as volume of plans delivered, number of social media programs managed, number of campaigns launched.

What's the Result?
What is far more important is to consider the outcome – the impact or results from those outputs.

  • A PR specialists might stress  performance over the past year by how press activities increased media placements, increased web traffic, or changed attitudes of audiences. Outcomes from speaker placements might include closed sales or more qualified lead generation. 
  • A web developer demonstrates how launched websites improved key metrics like time on site, reduced bounce rates, or increased page views. 
  • A marketing consultant's services quantify the metrics showing increased direct marketing open rates, engagement via social channels, expanded business development, increased quality of the pipeline, and ultimately increased sales. 

In Relation to Grant Writing
This perspective is familiar to me from the years writing and obtaining grants for various clients.   

Output vs. Outcome positioning is quite common in the grant writing projects I’ve done for business clients and non-profits.  This focus is paramount because grant making organizations don't evaluate a grant application based on outputs.

Organizations award grant money for programs most likely to produce measurable outcomes.  They must be sure that grant dollars result in true effectiveness in terms of outcomes, or results. 

Considering Content
The "output vs. outcome" topic is also critical for anybody in content marketing.  
It's a challenge to create marketing collateral that stresses how a product or service results in positive outcomes.  

Take a look at a company's b-to-b marketing content (such as advertising copy, case studies, web copy, eNewsletters, direct marketing).  Very often the content stresses outputs (number of people served; number of years in business; laundry list of product features), but that's not the value proposition that motivates the prospect.  

A prospect  evaluates a product or service based on what it can do for them, or what result can be achieved.  

A previous post refers to this marketing content as "we we" text... To paraphrase that previous post, marketing content must stress the outcome or value provided. 

A Bias for Outcomes
When it comes to marketing, let’s not focus the New Year on outputs or deliverables.

My hope is that 2012 be the year of "outcomes" or the results and value our outputs truly achieve. 

Happy New Year!

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