What would Google do? What digital transformation tells us about evaluation

I just finished conducting an in-session focus group at the Association of Energy Services Professionals National Conference about customer engagement in the digital age. While I was preparing for this event, I kept thinking about an article I co-wrote last year on the emerging need for real-time evaluation. It occurred to me that the digital revolution we’re experiencing provides further support for increased investments in real-time or continuous feedback.

Digital innovation poses two challenges to professionals in the energy sector: First, how can we take advantage of these resources in a systematic and meaningful way? And, second, how can we collect deeper insights and information in an equally timely manner?

Enter real-time evaluation. Like traditional research and evaluation approaches, this process begins with a solid understanding of your target audience, premised upon market research techniques such as segmentation, persona building, and journey mapping. Then, it introduces the idea of evaluation during program or campaign design, rather than waiting until the program has been underway for some time.

Considering evaluation at this stage has many benefits. It forces us to identify key performance indicators and establish tracking systems before we launch a program or campaign. It also enables us to embed small experiments or other data collection techniques directly into the implementation process, rather than investing in more time-consuming and expensive post-implementation efforts. And, lastly, it allows us to gather insights in real-time so we might continuously improve our efforts and better serve customers.

When it comes to traditional program research and evaluation there seems to be a beginning (market research) and an end (process and impact evaluation). Real-time evaluation forces us to focus on what goes on in the middle—and that’s where the real action occurs.

Digital media and web-enabled technologies provide what is, perhaps, the best example of how this approach can engage customers and influence behavior. Thanks to built-in analytics capabilities, digital platforms offer ready access to new, real-time data about products and consumers—and the tech giants are using these insights to shape how we think, act, and make decisions. It seems to me there’s a lesson to be learned here about making measurement a part of your product or, in this case, program.

Thus, my challenge to you is this:

The next time you are designing a program or marketing campaign, ask yourself, “What would Google do?”. The titans of digital media understand the importance of tracking data and insights in real time, so they might continue engaging customers and shaping the future. If we want to likewise influence how people behave in relation to energy, we must take a page from their book