As a creative, digital and content agency working in the drug development sector, we are all too aware of the importance of measuring performance in a time and cost sensitive marketplace. At the start of any research project, the methodology employed would typically include defining key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to analyse and interpret the data/outcomes. These KPIs (or metrics) should be relevant, insightful and actionable. 

As we already know, KPIs are key in any clinical development setting. For example, in a clinical trial, the KPIs may be related to certain milestones, such as study site selection, regulatory/ethics submission and approval, study site activation, patient recruitment and so forth. KPIs are usually defined for various milestones throughout the course of a research project, so that you can continually measure whether you are on track or not. Data is more readily available than ever before, and there are also a wealth of analytics tools available in order to use those data in a meaningful way. 

So, that makes sense in a clinical trial setting. But, how do we apply the same principles when it comes to evaluating and measuring the performance of your marketing efforts? 

How do you set meaningful KPIs in the first place?   

As we know, clinical trial design requires thinking about the anticipated outcome before the trial is conducted. What do you need to find out in the trial? This is captured very clearly and specifically in the study objectives. It’s the same in marketing. First, you need to think about the outcome, which means setting measurable marketing objectives before thinking about performance. What are the business objectives? Is it growth? Is it awareness of a particular service, technology or product? Outline the business objectives, then form your marketing objectives around this. 

For example, if a key marketing objective is to increase the amount of inbound leads your website is producing, KPIs will include measuring conversions through contact forms, unique phone number clicks, and landing page conversion rate. If it’s brand awareness, you might want to review organic search levels, engagement rates on social media and in the trade media. If you can build your KPIs around the end goal, it will set you up for success when it comes to analysing the data to drive performance, or as with clinical trials, you can review and change them if the performance is not what you want.

Choosing a meaningful system for measuring success (tools) 

So, you have your objectives and the KPIs you want to measure. What’s next? Well, with clinical trials there’s usually a platform or company that’s going to help you track the success of the trial end-to-end. It’s the same in marketing. See a theme developing here? 

We have a long list of platforms that we use to track marketing performance. The most effective ones are those that can track multiple data sets in one place. Our favourite is Google’s Data Studio, but there’s a long list of platforms that offer similar integrations. 

We’d also recommend looking at any CRM systems you may already use (such as Salesforce, Hubspot, Marketo) as a lot of them have analytics functions you can tap into and build that are customised around your preferred metrics. 

Designing the system around the right metrics 

Selection of the target population, sample size, and meaningful, measurable endpoints are all factors that are critical when designing a clinical trial and thinking about success. What factors do you need to consider when choosing which marketing metrics to track? First things first, what do you use? For example, do you have a website that has Google Analytics? Do you have any paid marketing campaigns running like Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or media buying? Do you have any public relations campaigns ongoing? Create a list of tactics that you execute. 

Next, choose which metrics are relevant and add them to your system. For example, Google’s Data Studio allows you to integrate multiple sources and data points into one report, such as traffic levels, where they’re coming from, when they are coming and how long users are interacting with your content. Social channels like LinkedIn and Twitter provide their own engagement rates, whilst PR tools, like coverage books, can help you track reach of publications. Use every metric that offers value and insight; it should be meaningful and again, it should link back to your core objectives.

When there are literally hundreds of metrics you can track, how do you work out which ones are relevant for you? Here’s a handy list to use when deciding. 

What’s a good baseline measure?

The objectives, KPIs, chosen platform and design are all in place. But before you start analysing performance and determining success, what’s a good baseline? 

Whilst as an agency we have lots of metrics for marketing, this part is tricky. Marketing within the drug development sector is a pretty niche area to work in. And because of that, there isn’t a baseline of what ‘good’ website levels look like or what click rates on email campaigns should be. These metrics will be highly dependent on the services and capabilities that you offer. This is especially difficult as clients operating in this industry usually have a small, relevant buyer group, meaning it’s not always quantity over quality. 

So, what’s the answer? Well, for us, the baseline is all about performance of your business. In clinical trials, you wouldn’t make a decision about the success of a trial based on a small percentage of data. Similarly, if you’ve never tracked anything for your marketing performance before, we’d recommend running something for at least 6-12 weeks before conducting any data analytics. For example, if you’ve just built a website, wait a few months before digging through the data. If you’ve only just started digital marketing methods, give it time to build momentum. Then, when you have your own baseline, you can start to set growth targets, trying different tactics to see what provides the most meaningful results. 

Who needs to see the data?

We often see data presented to those that need to see it in a way that’s confusing, and without providing context to help understand what the information actually means. If using data to demonstrate marketing success, think about your audience and tailor it accordingly. 

How can you simplify the data to translate it into business language that your senior management team will relate to? How are you interpreting the data to rationalise decisions about future marketing activities? How is it linked with business development performance? 

We’d recommend a one page document that includes highlights and recommendations/learnings and that’s it. Don’t make the report too complicated by including too many data sets that won’t make sense to anyone outside of your marketing team.

Using data to drive performance, not outcomes

So, there you have it. Our top tips for measuring success. We have to finish up with a warning here. If early clinical trial performance doesn’t go to plan, the company conducting those trials won’t necessarily pull the plug. They’ll look at all the environmental factors and consider what options are available before making a decision. 

In marketing, content and public relations should be measured and considered in the same way. It takes months, if not years, to build up awareness and credibility, so data in the first few months needs to be assessed with caution. In the industry, metrics aren’t everything. A lot of the time, we see marketing efforts indirectly affect business performance. For example, when a client picks up the phone to a representative from your company because they saw an article in Contract Pharma, or when the deal finally closes because marketing hosted a fantastic networking event at CPhI.

The point is that data needs to be used to drive performance, to tweak and improve your marketing efforts, and to refine it further. Or used to gain intelligence about your target buyers or customers. 

So track wisely, analyse and synthesise the data to make it have meaningful business impact; use it to aid your efforts, not hinder them.