Be Careful What You Wish For

September 29, 2016 admin 0 Comments

Following the release of Weber Shandwick’s Purpose-Driven Data Report, Ian Rumsby, Powell Tate Australia’s Chairman*, considers the rationale for brands to better connect people and services in the development of more meaningful insights.

We live in strange times. Our world has shifted from long periods of historical stability, certainty and clarity, perforated by major upheavals, to one of constant volatility, uncertainty and complexity, with little relief. For anyone with half an interest is social progression, it’s exhausting.

But then making sense of the world we live in has always been the great human occupation. Our ability to make decisions based on information, insight and interpretation, filtered as much through our empathy as our rationale, is the basis upon which we have distinguished ourselves in the animal pecking order over the last 50,000 years.

And yet, notwithstanding societal variation, it is only in the last decade that we have truly been able to overcome one of the greatest challenges to our development and evolution – access to better information. At last it seems, technology has presented us with the ability to source more facts, science and data than we know what to do with. It all rather feels as if we’ve slid out of the other side of a Ridley Scott movie, without a scratch.

Except that the data we’ve always craved, as a parched survivor craves water in an unforgiving desert, has now come crashing down on us in oceans. We are, to coin a clichéd phrase, drowning in a sea of information. So much for the joy of getting what you wished for.

Earlier this week, our colleagues at Weber Shandwick released the excellent Purpose Driven Data report, the third in a series of reviews that examine innovation trends in areas of sustainability and social impact. The report provides compelling commentary on the emergence of the “Impact Engineer” – a role it defines as combining both data-science know-how and information-synthesis to deliver smarter insight around social issues.

For brands, knowledge and data management has become a serious issue. In the past three years alone, the collective focus has dramatically shifted from the ability of an organisation to identify, collate and secure relevant data to one that puts the analysis and interpretation of information front and centre of its business decisions. It is no surprise then that progressive brands are better connecting functions that do both.

In the social impact space, there is a particular urgency to get this right. We have increasingly seen governments and business partnering in an effort to resolve some of society’s biggest issues, with some encouraging results. But these two entities operate under very different jurisdictions and are inevitably populated by people with varying interests too. Inevitably, it’s rarely easy.

But just as the development of a common set of goals help define a clear reference point for action (with the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development being a case in point), so too can the collection and synthesis of relevant data help form a common view of what action is required. Simply put, governments and businesses rely on quality data and insight to affect meaningful change. Without each other, that change is harder to come by.

For brands this collaborative approach to research, strategy and action is no less significant. Be it the establishment of a macro-position on any one of a number of social or environmental issues or the pursuit of a more meaningful contribution in the local community, a brand needs to understand and anticipate the nuanced and often sensitive response of those it seeks to influence. And it needs an eco-system of connected services to do that. After all, purpose-driven data analytics is not just about getting proactive engagement right. It’s about risk mitigation too.

No more is this the case than in the attraction and retention of talent. Purpose-led brands have led the charge in establishing themselves as the go-to company for eager graduates and young executives. But with a very public articulation of corporate belief comes a heightened need to remain vigilant in the development and evolution of their stated cause-related interests. Far from existing in a perpetual state of perceived adolescence, the new breed of employee is active, vocal, well informed and connected. If a brand missteps, employer or not, internal audiences are likely to react first.

Today, effective communication and engagement is inextricably linked with access to, and interpretation of, quality data. But more than that, there is an urgency for an underpinning organisational structure and culture that promotes active curiosity too.

Brands that are as willing to question their own response to an issue as they are the issue itself, will inherently produce a healthier environment in which to communicate. And brands that can better connect people within their own organisation – aligning research, analytics and strategy – will serve that purpose well.

* Powell Tate is a division of Weber Shandwick. In addition to his role as Chair of Powell Tate Australia, Ian Rumsby is APAC Chair Strategy at Weber Shandwick and leads the agency’s Social Impact services in the region.