Brands are getting interested in ‘efficacy’ – how digital media helps firms get what they plan for

In recent weeks the concept of “efficacy” has become something we have been thinking about more and more. In conversations with clients and prospects, the ability for them to ensure a desired or intended result with the services and products they supply has been high on their list of concerns.

How do we – the conversations go – ensure we produce stuff our customers really want or need? How do we ensure a great reception for the things we produce or the programmes we run?

Increasingly, the answer is to establish a better understanding of the customer – and the way to do that is to talk to them more directly, more personally, and in an overall smarter way.

For firms used to throwing the same message at all their customers, that’s a tough ask. Fortunately, they now have digital technology on their side. The digital age has made personalising communications easier than ever before and from that enhanced level of conversation comes a greater understanding of the things the customer wants – or so the theory goes, in reality it’s tough to get it right. So who are those firms that are making it pay?

If you’re Tesco, efficacy is nothing new. The supermarket started to look deeply at the behaviours and habits of its customers in 1995 with the launch of Clubcard, and that desire is something the firm is keen to transfer seamlessly to digital.

Simon Hay, chief executive of Tesco’s data unit, recently outlined how he wanted to take the relevancy, targeting and personalisation of Clubcard mail-outs and transfer that to the digital customers.

“Assuming they [customers] had given prior permission, someone within 50 metres of a Tesco shop on a cold, rainy lunchtime could be sent a mobile voucher for soup with bread, based on data about the weather and the customer’s previous food purchases.”

The educational publisher Pearson last year announced plans to spend the next five years developing a framework to measure and publicly report its products’ efficacy and impact on learning outcomes.

John Fallon, Pearson CEO, called the project ‘Efficacy 1.0’ and said his company would no longer approve investments over $1m unless they had a clear path to efficacy.

In 2011, Starbucks responded a public desire for a fast, no hassle service by accepting mobile payments through an app that allowed customers to pay for in-store purchase by holding their phone up to the cash register.

Recently, Starbucks also launched a Twitter campaign called Tweet-a-Coffee. It allowed customers to buy coffee for anyone by tweeting @tweetacoffee and a person’s Twitter address. The process connected a Starbucks accounts to a Twitter account then provided a $5 gift card. Within six weeks, more than 27,000 people tweeted a coffee generating more than $180,000 in sales.

The Tweet-a-Coffee campaign was successful because Starbucks knew their audience. They know what they like and how they use technology.

These are just a few examples from a handful of firms that are using knowledge of their customers to get ‘efficacy’ right. They’re adapting their own programmes and processes to suit the new behaviour of digital customers. But for every one firm that has adapted, there are hundreds more that have yet to change.

For many businesses it’s not the case that they don’t know a great deal about their customers, it’s simply that they’re yet to make sense of the information they hold and put it to significant use.

That, however, is about to change.

Over the last year, the word ‘efficacy’ has been featuring in an increasing number of job designations. And do you know what? Like any good media headhunter should, I’ve been keeping count.

A year ago, my research told me that around 20 senior roles in significant Educational, FMCG, and Retail businesses listed ‘efficacy’ as a core task or responsibility. Today, the number is in the low hundreds.

Can you imagine what that figure might have risen to in a further 12 months?

Efficacy is on the march as a core business competence and, increasingly, firms will use their knowledge of their customers to ensure they get the outcomes they want.

It all sounds dangerously efficient.