Measurement Week Interviews: Mark Stouse

September 26th, 2014
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Last week was AMEC’s International Measurement Week, and to honor it, we reached out to some of the top measurement experts to get their take on measurement dos and don’ts, common mistakes, and how they found themselves a member of the Measurati. We got such an enthusiastic response that we’re extending our celebration to include all their answers. We’ll be running their answers all this week, and be sure to check out our latest newsletter for measurement insights from 11 other experts in the field.

Let’s hear from today’s featured expert, Mark Stouse, creator of the Influence Scoring System.

What is your “measurement moment,” the time you knew your career was becoming measurement-focused?

My “measurement moment” happened in 1992 when I left the profession and agency life, a departure I assumed at the time was forever. I moved into a series of business roles, including sales, product development, and ultimately leader of a new business that I created in the defense sector.

Looking back, it is clear to me that this decision to join the business was the best investment I ever made in my marketing and communications career. Its impact on me has proven as indelible as any tattoo.

I got a very intense education in what it means to be in business. For example, I gained a new appreciation for what it meant to make quota, not just in the conventional sales sense, but also as a leader who had to make payroll. My vision of things became significantly enlarged. I began to understand how hard it is for a CEO to balance everything that a business is, particularly all of those often zero-sum investment choices that must be made in a rapidly growing enterprise.

I began to see life through the eyes of a business leader, because that’s what I had become. Today, that perspective still is very present in my conversations with CEOs and other leaders, even though I earned it years ago in a much smaller company.

I sold the company in 1999, and I re-entered the profession on the agency side. But I had changed dramatically. From that point forward, I operated as a business leader who happened to specialize in marketing and communications. The result was a completely different approach, one that focused – above all things – on connecting marketing and communications investment to business drivers.

Today, I’m pleased to say that we’ve done it.   We have a proven methodology, manifested in a cloud-based platform that correlates investment in Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) channels to both functional outcomes and business impact, including revenue, margin and cash flow. But to be honest, I doubt very much that I would have pursued those connections to business impact if I had not first discovered what it means to be in business instead of just being in a business.

What is your proudest measurement moment?

In 2008, it became clear that the Influence Scoring System (ISS) actually worked, not just at the marketing and communications level but with the CxOs that was designed for in the first place. The system showed for the first time that it could tie investment in both Earned and Shared programs to both functional outcomes and CFO-certified business impact.

It didn’t take long for ISS to start receiving tangible recognition. Based on its data, we received large increases in our budgets during the depths of the recession. Later, it won a BMC Innovation Award – it was the first time that anything outside of the company’s product line had won the award. In 2014, ISS was recognized as the Innovation of the Year in Marketing and Communications, and then it received the Holmes Report Diamond SABRE Award this past May in New York City. We had come a long, long way.

What is your most important piece of measurement advice?

There are several important pieces of advice. First, start with the business KPIs and drill down into your function. Anything else is classic “inside-out” thinking and will not get you where you need to go.

Second, remember that the C-suite only cares about the past if that data strongly suggests what’s going to happen next. If it doesn’t do that, you’re wasting their time and yours too. Third, get clear on what ROI is and is not. By definition, ROI is a cash-on-cash number, so it applies to business metrics like revenue, margin and cash flow. The number of impressions you racked up last quarter is not the ROI on the investment you made to get them.

What’s the most common measurement mistake you encounter?  

Reporting out again and again and again on metrics and KPIs that business leaders don’t care about. When they see that you actually use them to run your function, it dawns on them just how disconnected you are from everything about the business. That’s why you have no “seat at the table” during normal business hours.

Tell us a breakthrough story, in which you took your company from metrics to KPIs.

I joined BMC Software in early 2006 to lead Communications. The team was the “tail on the dog” inside the company. We were order takers and the last people in the company to know anything. The team’s only metric was a quarterly clip book, and even that was not exactly anything to brag about.

Soon after, however, we replaced the incumbent agency with Waggener Edstrom, and we immediately began to publish a standard report of coverage and the common metrics we all know so well: volume, tone, reach, share of voice, etc.

In early 2007, I presented my thinking about a new system to the executive team, one that would begin to connect the dots and demonstrate progressively stronger correlations between their investment in Comms and our business impact. They gave it the thumbs up, though even they didn’t see how it could be actually implemented.

But by the end of 2008, we had moved well past the retrospective view into the ability to accurately forecast of our future performance. We also showed an ability to understand, calibrate and manage our opportunity cost, ensuring that a lot more of the money we were spending “ended up on the screen,” as they say in Hollywood.

As the data rigor in the system began to deepen and strengthen, our conversation with the C-suite and the sales teams began to change rather dramatically. By 2009, we were launching nascent connections between ISS and sales data. Our first success was in demonstrating how, why and to what extent we were helping to drive faster sales velocity. Everyone looked at the logic path and the data connections and said “Wow!” Actually, it was more colorful and emphatic than that, but you get the point.

And from that point forward, we were off to the races.

What do you see as measurement’s biggest challenge ahead?

It sounds like a simplistic answer, but we have too many people in marketing and PR who chose the profession because they were not good at math. We spend time asking “Is the PR profession creative enough?” when we should be asking, “Do you understand how your business makes money?”

I see a lot of people in marketing and communications today who are real scared of measurement and the accountability that goes with it. This aversion to data and the language of the business world is the single most destructive thing in our profession today. It’s time to do what is necessary to get over that fear.

There’s been a lot of work done at the tactical end of things to try to standardize marketing and communications metrics. But the only standards that are determinant here are the standards of the business. Several years ago, a really famous tech CEO said to me: “Your colleagues need to understand that we (business leaders) expect marketing and communications to understand our standard of proof and meet it, not develop their own.”

Bonus question: You just won the lottery. What’s your dream job?

I’m an innovator. I’ve been one all my life. My 8th grade teacher wrote “Innovator = Big Helper” next to my name in the yearbook, and that’s really how I think about it.

One day, I’d like to apply that bent – and all I’ve learned about how to innovate – in the service of humanity. For that reason, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a very special attraction for me. Not only for the work they do, but for the way they have disrupted philanthropy by driving a very strong tie between their investment and real impact on the ground.

When I look at what they’ve accomplished, it pushes all of my buttons.


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