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Designing Marketing Metrics – The 3 “A”s


How to avoid metrics that don’t align to business objectives

Unfortunately it is all too easy to slip into what Eric Ries calls ‘vanity metrics’. Charts and lines that go upwards and to the right but don’t inform sensible business decision making.

As relevant for marketing as for product management, as inspired by Eric Ries‘ great book ‘The Lean Startup‘, this article looks at the three “A” characteristics of good metrics; actionable, accessible and auditable from a marketing view point.

Test your existing metrics against these three criteria.

A = Actionable

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.”

The head of research at a former employer used to ask; ‘when you know the answer to that question, what decision are you going to make?’ Asking yourself this question is 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 site double, what are you going to change? If most new leads come from social, what are you going to change? 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 different sources if possible. For example in social media marketing, I like to couple Google Analytics and information from the specific social network.

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 digital marketing metrics to use the information that is readily available

One of the joys of digital marketing is the lag between action and results can be as little as minutes.

StumbleUpon paid discovery, for example, provides the ability to spend the daily budget ASAP or spread it out over the whole day. You can see, literally, what the likely results are. Twitter cards and real-time Google Analytics and others 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 digital marketing metrics to enable quick decision making

A = Accessible

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 mayb 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


Picture of “Mark Twain at desk”

“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 speciality.

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

Bad news 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.” ― Daniel KahnemanThinking, Fast and Slow

“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.

Test your marketing metrics against the three “A”s of actionable, accessible and auditable.

Jane Morgan helps clients to grow their business online.For assist establishing or reviewing marketing metrics you can reach her at JEM 9 Digital Marketing Consultancy

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