Harjot Singh
Jun 8, 2022

It’s time to focus on outcomes, not outputs

There's a distinction between creating stuff and creating stuff that makes a difference. The industry needs to incline less to the former and more to the latter.

It’s time to focus on outcomes, not outputs

At a recent industry event I caught myself remarking that as an industry – operating frequently at the speed of light to meet the business needs of clients, ourselves and our people – we sometimes risk focusing disproportionately on what we do, rather than what we achieve.

It won't have escaped your attention that, increasingly, we're no longer just solving "traditional" marketing problems. As the frontiers of what we can and should do for our clients expand, it's vital that we don't lose sight of something fundamental, which is: what is the outcome of our work?

That may sound obvious, but we can be preoccupied with a growing number of "outputs". This is not semantics: there's an intrinsic difference between the two. Outputs are, to put it bluntly, the stuff we make. A film, an event, an experience. We hear it all the time: "the deliverables". We need a social campaign, an activation, an app. The outcome, which tends to be far less defined, is the difference all these things make. The benefits they bring to people. Even to society.

Naturally, as the main remit of our job is to create things, outputs tend to soak up a large percentage of our attention, especially at the beginning of a project. What should this thing – this film, this event, this app – look like in order to solve the problem at hand? Sometimes it can feel like the more things we create, the better.

But what if we asked ourselves, from the very start, 'What is the desired outcome of all these things?' and prioritised this to ensure it happened as strategically and as rigorously as possible. The study of outcomes needs to be pervasive.  As a creative industry we should always look at the long-term value of our work, securing its legitimacy, instead of focusing on the short term.

While we absolutely must evaluate the impact of our work to an extent, we may risk missing the more subtle and less tangible outcomes. Yes, we talk about sales, profit, ROI, consumer awareness. But these are commercial goals. They're statistics – in fact they're just another form of output.

Outcomes are about bringing meaning, creating relationships, making a difference. How can we help brands earn a meaningful role in people's lives? As an industry if we concentrated more on outcomes, we can have a much richer conversation around what we can achieve in this world, rather than how much money we can make.

Once we set profit to one side as an output, we can expand the narrative and explore the wider repercussions of that profit. At the end of the day, what have we done?

This may sound idealist, but in fact it's quite pragmatic. Because we're all aware that we now live in the era of the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. That's the only way to grow brands and business. We can no longer afford to have a purely financially-driven vision of effectiveness.

We can see this reflected in society and culture around us. For so long, our culture was one of accumulation – another object, another app on our phone, another overseas trip. But today we're beginning to ask ourselves why we're acquiring all these things: what will the lasting impact of them be? We're looking at the bigger picture. And consumers expect brands to do that too.

Despite this pressure, while we have plenty of ways to measure outputs – from awards shows to proprietary tools – there is much to do in finding better ways to building the best practices, tools and metrics to measure and recognise outcomes. Categories at Cannes such as Glass and Sustainability are paving the way, and we should celebrate them. But the change is still in its infancy and needs acceleration. Measuring less tangible impacts is difficult, but that's no reason not to try. As an industry, we have a long history of innovation.

Many brands and organisations already do it rather well: they're skilled at explaining how, for example, a programme to improve literacy – the output – will lift a community out of poverty. We can learn from those organisations with defined goals and clarity of purpose. Outcomes create change for the long term. That should also be our aim.

In the meantime, let's constantly ask ourselves: are we allowing ourselves to get distracted by outputs, while forgetting to question outcomes? If we deliberately and consistently focus on outcomes, and their intrinsic value it will take us to a better place.

Harjot Singh is global chief strategy officer of McCann and a juror at Cannes Lions this year for the Sustainable Development Goals Lions

Campaign UK

Related Articles

Just Published

1 day ago

The Monkeys Sydney, Ogilvy Singapore take home ...

Thai agency Choojai and Friends also emerged as industry favourites, clinching the gold for their lauded "Sammakorn not Sanpakorn" campaign, as a number of other metals were awarded across Asia-Pacific.

2 days ago

Whose idea is it, anyway?

Jindal Steel campaign that won silver and bronze at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity sparked a row over creative ideation with Wieden+Kennedy

2 days ago

SIA retains PHD as media agency of record

EXCLUSIVE: After five years of working with PHD, Singapore's flag-carrier Singapore Airlines has retained the agency for media duties.

2 days ago

Tech On Me: Can adtech wean itself off MFAs?

This week's edition: The fifth The Media Responsibility Index is out, Snap launches a real-time image model, and TikTok ads now have AI creators, among other tech news in the region.