In our conversations and interactions with stakeholders and clients, we often find a fixation on quantitative metrics. This is a double-edged sword when it comes to public relations and communications.

Quantitative metrics provide clear-cut numbers and tangible outcomes.

So what’s the problem, they ask?

In my opinion, an over emphasis on quantitative metrics can lead to a myopic view of a brand’s performance.

The tangibility of such metrics, such as sales leads and website visits, often takes precedence, leading to a potential oversight of the nuanced, qualitative aspects that lay the foundation for these conversions.

When stakeholders become fixated solely on quantitative metrics, they risk missing out on critical insights that proxy metrics – often qualitative – can provide.

These proxy metrics, though less tangible, offer a deeper understanding of audience sentiment, engagement, and perception – all of which are fundamental to driving successful conversions.

It’s not just about getting brand new glasses, hoping to see something different with the same (data) input.

When a brand’s focus narrows to quantitative metrics, it neglects the nuances that lie beneath the surface.

Qualitative metrics can serve as vital indicators of a campaign’s efficacy.

These include a spectrum of subjective indicators, from sentiments and engagement levels to brand affinity and narrative resonance. Dismissing these qualitative aspects can hinder the brand’s ability to gauge true audience sentiment and adapt strategies accordingly.

Would you assess a painting merely by how elegant or exquisite its frame is, without diving into the intricate brushstrokes and colors that make up the masterpiece?

In PR and communications, bypassing the qualitative nuances means missing out on the relationships nurtured, the narrative crafted, and the brand sentiment cultivated – all of which are instrumental in driving eventual conversions.

proxy metrics

Trust and reputation are not built over one campaign

Embracing both qualitative and quantitative metrics empowers communicators to paint a comprehensive picture of a brand’s performance.

Proxy metrics unearth invaluable insights into audience sentiments, preferences, and trend patterns. This deeper understanding allows for the refinement of strategies, ensuring they resonate authentically with target audiences. By blending these metrics, communications efforts can be fine-tuned to elicit more meaningful engagements and drive quantitative conversions with greater precision.

Especially for PR and communications campaigns, that often use reputation as a foundation; demonstrating proficiency in proxy metrics showcases a brand’s commitment to cultivating authentic connections.

It signals an understanding that relationships are built over time and are not mere transactional exchanges.

This nuanced approach fosters trust and credibility, two cornerstones of a resilient and enduring brand image.

Proxy metrics can go beyond traditional conversion-oriented approaches.

We share two simple use cases that underscore the nuanced power of qualitative indicators, showcasing their pivotal role in influencing brand perception, community engagement, and thought leadership recognition.

Through these applications, proxy metrics serve as precursors to conversion events and stand as credible metrics, offering a deeper understanding of audience sentiment, preferences, and advocacy potential.

This broadened perspective redefines how we assess impact, emphasising the intricate interplay between qualitative and quantitative metrics for a more comprehensive and insightful evaluation.

Communicators should feel empowered to craft strategies that resonate authentically with audiences, driving not only conversions but also long-lasting relationships and fortified reputations.

Enhance brand perception through thought leadership:

Being recognised as a thought leader in a specific industry or field holds immense value.

Qualitative proxy metrics such as the quality and relevance of content, audience engagement levels, and sentiment trends can provide crucial insights into the impact of thought leadership initiatives. This can be one-time, or over a series of audience interactions, for example at conferences, closed-door roundtables, and in industry meetings.

By analysing these factors alongside conversion metrics, brands can refine their thought leadership strategies to not only garner attention but also to influence perception and drive conversions.

Quantitative metrics such as customer attendance (and drop-out), onsite interactions and post-event appointments can be layered into the combined mix of measurements.

Community building and advocacy campaigns:

Building a loyal community around a brand is a powerful way to establish trust and drive long-term success.

Qualitative metrics such as interaction with user-generated content, testimonials as social proof, and community engagement levels serve as valuable indicators of a campaign’s efficacy.

When combined with conversion metrics – such as uptake of services, organic brand mentions of initiatives – these proxy metrics can highlight the depth of brand loyalty and the potential for advocacy-driven conversions.

proxy metrics

Sidebar: Our brains have been hardwired to prefer numbers.   

Our preference for quantitative measurements can be attributed to the psychological phenomenon known as “numerical cognition” or “numerical bias”. This cognitive tendency is rooted in our brain’s capacity for processing and categorising information efficiently. Numerical data, being precise and easily quantifiable, aligns with our brain’s natural inclination towards structure and order. This preference is supported by studies in cognitive psychology, such as those conducted by Dehaene (1997) and Gallistel and Gelman (2000), which highlight our innate numerical processing abilities.

Additionally, quantitative measurements provide a clear sense of certainty and objectivity. They offer a concrete benchmark for comparison and evaluation, reducing ambiguity and subjectivity in assessments. This aligns with the psychological concept of “cognitive ease” proposed by Kahneman (2011), which suggests that our brains tend to prefer information that is easily processed and requires less cognitive effort.

Understanding qualitative measurements requires a shift in cognitive processing. It involves engaging in more nuanced, context-dependent analysis and interpretation. To enhance our grasp of qualitative data, we can employ techniques from cognitive psychology, such as “chunking” and “pattern recognition”. Chunking involves breaking down information into meaningful chunks, which aids in processing and retaining complex qualitative data. Pattern recognition, on the other hand, allows us to identify recurring themes or trends within qualitative information.

Furthermore, adopting a mindful and empathetic approach to qualitative data analysis is crucial. This aligns with the principles of empathic listening and observational skills emphasised in psychology. Actively engaging with qualitative data allows us to tap into the emotional and subjective dimensions, providing a richer understanding of human experiences and perspectives.

Here are some ways to integrate proxy metrics into your campaigns.

Achieving a balanced approach between proxy and conversion metrics requires a thoughtful integration of both qualitative and quantitative data throughout the campaign’s lifecycle.

This strategic blend allows for a comprehensive evaluation of a brand’s impact, capturing not only the tangible outcomes but also the underlying factors that contribute to success.

When in doubt, always start (or return) to the basics.

  1. What are the outcomes we are trying to achieve with this campaign?
  2. How can I reverse engineer my measurements to provide me with clear, unambiguous data that the execution is working?
  3. Are the measurements and outcomes in support of my business goals/s?

At various steps of the campaign, here are some recommendations on how to integrate proxy metrics into your campaign.


Planning and operations:


Measuring the campaign outputs:

Reporting to stakeholders:

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