The Public Relations Strategist

What Is Your Relevance Fingerprint?

October 22, 2014

The average adult in any industrial or postindustrial society is exposed to between 1 million and 7 million communications messages every year: marketing messages, political messages, images, instructions, warnings, temptations, diversions, entertainments. And the vast majority are delivered without our advance permission.

Faced with this unimaginable flood of communications seeking our attention, we would quickly be driven insane if we had not developed the most important modern survival skill: the ability to block out and ignore the messages we don’t care about. Conversely, we have an almost instinctive system for allowing in the tiny fraction promising something meaningful, useful, helpful or delightful.

This is our great neurological spam filter, deleting irritating messages without being seen. We block the irrelevant and let the relevant ones pass through. But what is it about the ones that get through? What is relevance?

Measuring Relevance

Companies, governments, organizations, educators, employers and every other kind of “content creator” in the world spend literally trillions of dollars every year trying to reach people who are actively screening out what they have to say.

In an era when consumers and other audiences have much more control over the messages that come into (or are blocked out of) their lives, brands and their agencies must do a better job of understanding the factors that are most likely to add up to relevance.

Yet it’s unusual for communicators and marketers to measure the likelihood of a message, idea or brand getting through an audience’s filter. Typically, message- or concept-testing jumps right to the question of how audiences respond after a brand or idea has broken through. This is a bias embedded in almost all quantitative testing, focus groups, shopper marketing and other forms of market research.

At Golin, we’ve begun to think about what happens before an idea meets an audience’s blocks and filters. Why do some brands succeed at capturing the public’s attention while others fade into white noise? What specifically makes some brands more relevant than others?

To address this critically important “blind spot” in marketing insight, Golin has pioneered an approach to unraveling the mystery of brand relevance. Known as the Relevance Fingerprint, Golin’s new approach is a data-driven methodology for understanding the prevalence, intensity and qualitative dimensions of brand relevance.

Specifically, the Golin Relevance Fingerprint measures brand relevance:

  • By measuring the willingness of stakeholders to listen to, seek and engage with the brands they care about.
  • By estimating the intensity or enthusiasm of an audience’s connection to brands they find relevant.
  • By demonstrating which of 11 qualitative “dimensions of relevance” are most frequently associated with individual brands among the people who find them relevant. 

Exploring Relevance

In late 2013, Golin started exploring “relevance” as an emergent property of brands that succeed in engaging with their audiences. 

Our point of departure? An insight about the oversaturation of marketing messages in today’s media environment and the ever-sharpening skills we’re all learning to screen out and ignore messages that are irrelevant to us. 

We began with a series of quantitative consumer-mapping experiments to try to understand how beliefs and perceptions about various brand characteristics correlate to an audience’s inclination to listen to, search for, follow and interact with those brands.

We conducted these experiments across multiple global brands and included more than 100 positive and negative descriptors most consistently correlating to people’s willingness to allow brand conversations into their field of attention rather than screening them out as irrelevant. Pre-testing showed these descriptors tended to aggregate into related “bundles” or “categories” that eventually became the 11 dimensions of the Golin Relevance Fingerprint.

The same mapping experiments also estimated:

  1. The percentage of respondents indicating a willingness to engage with brands on some level (a relevance prevalence metric)
  2. Among the group finding a brand relevant, the energy, motivation or passion for engagement (the relevance intensity metric)

Together, prevalence, intensity and the 11 dimensions of relevance quality combine to give each brand a unique relevance fingerprint that can help shape positioning and strategy for future communications.

Even today, too many campaigns try to get to audiences by trying to bash down their front doors with saturation marketing. That approach has inevitably led to people building more impenetrable doors and a more adversarial attitude toward marketing. Being relevant, on the other hand, is like having a house key entrusted to you by your stakeholders.

By championing a focus on brand relevance, the new Golin Relevance Fingerprint also makes a statement about the importance of brand communications as a permission-based dialogue between companies and stakeholders, rather than an exercise in being the loudest or most obtrusive voice in an increasingly oversaturated world of brand messages.

Examining the Dimensions of Relevance

Not every brand is relevant in the same way to the same people at the same time. But research reveals certain universal dimensions of relevance that can help brands pass through the shields people create to screen out the thousands of irrelevant messages and images they see every day.

What brand qualities make it relevant? Golin research has dissected the broad category of “relevance” into its constituent parts. The dimensions of relevance are a brand’s ability to:

1 Classic Convey an enduring, timeless appeal.
2 Engage Inspire “buzz” and be “in the conversation.”
3 Entertain Be fun and diverting.
4 Human Reflect compassion, caring, warmth and giving.
5 Identify Help people believe “This brand is like me.”
6 Mystique Convey intrigue and mystery, be provocative, magical, sexy.
7 Noble Reflect an aspirational nature, be admired.
8 Novelty Be known for “new things.” Not just technical innovation, but new ideas.
9 Prestige Reflect high status.
10 Quality Simply be good at what one does, effective.
11 Welcoming Be accessible, approachable.

Visualizing the “Relevance Fingerprint”

Our methodology separates relevance into its constituent parts in the same way a prism separates light into its constituent colors. Our process then presents the results in an easy-to-read visualization that provides a basis for positioning, messaging and creative planning.

Developing the Relevance Fingerprint for any brand in its competitive set involves understanding the attitudes of the category’s key stakeholders, either via direct primary research (survey data) or via proxies derived from social media conversations.

For example, the graphic below shows the qualitative Relevance Fingerprint of one company in the U.S. telecommunications industry.

The qualitative Relevance Fingerprint of one company in the U.S. telecommunications industry

The analysis shows strengths in the relevance dimensions of “welcoming” and “novelty,” and weakness in “prestige,” “quality” and identification as a “classic” brand.

Comparisons with its principal competitors indicate key similarities and differences.

The qualitative Relevance Fingerprint of one company in the U.S. telecommunications industry with competitors

The comparison shows an industry-wide “relevance deficit” in the dimensions of “humanity,” “identify,” “mystique” and “noble.”

For an individual company or the industry as a whole, the relevance diagnostic becomes a recipe for action when we use it as a basis for positioning and messaging. It tells us (to take just one example) that all of these competitors are equally “weak” when it comes to establishing a human connection with consumers. Put simply, it suggests that the first competitor to begin to establish this kind of connection will begin to build a “relevance advantage” over the others. That’s an insight that can become a foundation for strategic programming and great creative.

In the same analysis of the U.S. telecommunications marketplace, the Golin Relevance Fingerprint provides an answer to the question of “how much” and “how intensely” relevance is experienced by each company’s customers and non-customers.

The relevance among its customers (blue circles) vs. non-customers (pink squares)

As shown above, each company has a predictably higher prevalence of relevance among its customers (blue circles) vs. non-customers (pink squares). Data shows Competitor A’s customers express the highest “relevance intensity” of the four companies studied. Among non-customers, relevance prevalence is expectedly lower for all companies, but Competitor A non-customers indicate a higher degree of relevance intensity than Competitors C and D (and at virtual parity with Competitor B’s non-customers).

The results are even more illuminating when we look at Competitor A’s relevance among millennials who are not already customers (green diamonds in the chart below).

The relevance among its customers (blue circles) vs. non-customers (pink squares) with millennials

Among this non-customer millennial group, Competitor A’s relevance intensity (vertical axis) is as high as Competitor B’s and Competitor D’s relevance among its own customers, so the millennial segment is extraordinarily receptive to Competitor A’s conversation. They are more “alert” to signals from and more apt to listen to Competitor A’s messages than those from any of the four telecommunications companies we examined.

Putting This Insight to Use

The Relevance Fingerprint provides a basis for setting targeting, positioning, messaging and creative strategy.

Any brand’s strengths and weaknesses become the starting point for potential positioning platforms as it engages in relevant conversations with its marketplace. Each strength and weakness suggests either an “open channel” of existing relevance the brand can develop, an opportunity to develop new relevance in areas that would set it apart from competitors, or new competitive insight into how difficult or easy it will be to outperform competitors in various pieces of the relevance playing field.

Greg Sendi
Greg Sendi leads the global planning, insight, analytics and measurement team at Golin. Based in Chicago, Greg has pioneered new approaches to communications planning and measurement and put them into place for some of the world’s most recognizable brands and companies. Twitter: @gsendi
Email: GSendi at golin.com

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