How to avoid metrics that don’t align to business objectives
Unfortunately it is all too easy to slip into so called ‘vanity metrics’. Charts and lines that go upwards and to the right but don’t inform sensible business decision making.
Test your existing metrics against the three “A”s of good metrics; actionable, accessible and auditable.
Inspired by Eric Reis’ excellent Lean Startup which guards against vanity metrics, these principles apply to all business metrics. Includes examples for AAA market and marketing metrics.
A = Actionable Marketing Metrics
Much of marketing is about doing. Action is essential. As Bruce Van Horn said “Don’t be so busy learning that you don’t have time to be doing.”
And don’t be so busy analyzing that you don’t have time for doing.
The head of research at a NASDAQ market leader; ‘when you learn the answer to that question, what decision are you going to make?’ Ask yourself this question as a great sounding board to actionable metrics.
Going one step further, I suggest you speculate about the result of any given metric. Do you really need to measure in order to make a decision?
For example; if visitors to your website double, what are you going to change? If your experienced product development team can improve the user experience of a particular feature, do you need more research to make that decision? In some cases you’ll identify that, actually, you don’t need a metric to decide the course of action.
Actionable = Design marketing metrics to answer questions when the decision is unclear
In the past lagging metrics were easier to come by but less actionable. Results became available weeks or months later by which time the market … the season… the competitors <insert your industry concern here>…… had moved on.
One of the things I love is that most digital marketing channels have data that is easy to come by.
It’s good practice to compare and contrast data from two or more different sources if possible. For example in social media marketing, couple Google Analytics and information from the specific social network. In voice of the customer research you’ll ask multiple participants the same question.
Sure it would be lovely to have more keyword data from Google but there’s no point in crying over spit milk while your competitors get on with the job.
Actionable = Design marketing metrics to use the information that is readily available
One of the joys of the digital marketing is the lag between action and results can be as little as minutes. Twitter cards, real-time Google Analytics and in-product feedback allow informed quick decision making.
CRM systems allow us to see the original source of the lead and multiple touch points, even for offers with long sales cycles. Website search engine optimization is the exception. Often changes are only evident over an extended period making a change log absolutely essential.
Actionable = Design marketing metrics to enable quick decision making
A = Accessible Marketing Metrics
Do your stakeholders understand marketing metrics? People need to know what you are talking about.
In marketing it’s important to use the language of your customer. If metrics are to be actionable and gain buy in, then communicate clearly with internal people and clients.
One of the nice things about the social trend is the move away from convoluted speech.
The last thing you want are metrics that people don’t understand. Speak the language of other stakeholders in the business. As marketers you may be better positioned than other business functions to communicate clearly. For example consider using ‘site visitors’ instead of ‘web traffic’. Scour reports for abbreviation or risk losing people.
Accessible = Speak the language of business stakeholders
If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.”
– Mark Twain
Recently I came across a reference to engineers trying to BS non-engineers and make themselves look clever. That thinking represents a fundamental misunderstanding. The engineers were not trying to BS anyone. It is much harder to make information easily accessible, especially to folks outside your specialty.
This is part of the reason why product managers exist; to bridge the gap between what the customer wants and what engineering can deliver. Skilled communicators have the ability to articulate without dumbing down. Simple is harder.
To pitch your metrics at the right level of accessibility listen first.
Avoid coming across as the self-important expert wantonly throwing lingo and unfamiliar concepts around. Good leaders, and good communicators, bring their team and their audience along with them. Remember the goal is to ensure metrics are actionable. And make no mistake; your audience has a BS meter.
Accessible = When design metrics avoid “marketing-speak”
Different audiences can require a different view metrics. I think this is one of the challenges that startups and smaller business experience when they grow beyond the size of ‘get everyone in a room’. When an organization is compact, it’s easier to discussion the potential outcome of different approaches. Once you’re two steps removed from the detail it can be hard to see the relevance not to mention the unintended consequences.
Accessible = Design marketing metrics appropriate for the audience
A = Auditable Marketing Metrics
can be is hard to stomach. Be warned.
There is loads … of evidence that we are pre-wired to look for confirmation of our assumptions and beliefs. It would be nice to think we always look rationally at the evidence. Unfortunately that’s wishful thinking. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky named this phenomena “cognitive bias”.
“….. optimism is highly valued, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers.”
“That can’t be” screams the voice in your head. “Look away, look away.” And your open inquiring mind promptly starts wondering what’s for lunch.
One way to avoid decision making and meetings where metaphorically everyone is ‘out to lunch’ is to make metrics auditable. Typically this won’t mean you need your finance person at the meeting (although that helps sometimes). Don’t allow a metric to get lost in ‘excel formula wizardy’.
Transparency is the name of the game here; the Enemy of Persuasion is obscurity. Link to underlying data and make it as straight forward as you can. Use a footnote to explain if necessary. If the result of the metric is fuzzy ambiguous; say that. Sometimes things are not clear cut.
Auditable = Design marketing metrics to be transparent
When it comes to internal metrics, you want the writing to be on the wall so that business stakeholders and teams are taking sensible business decision. And if those charts happen to go up and to the right, that’s fine too. Either way you want to empower the truth tellers.
Test your marketing metrics against the three As of actionable, accessible and auditable.