Wednesday, July 1, 2009

measurement, metrics and morons

early last century, when mark twain popularized benjamin disraeli's famous "lies, damned lies, and statistics," i doubt he had any idea about just how frequently that phrase would come to be referenced by marketers the world over. today it seems that every conference, every webinar, every agency pitch has a bevy of charts and graphs included, seemingly with the intent of making it clear that they've found the holy roi grail and claimed it in the name of all that is right, good and worth paying more for.

those of us of more mature standing certainly remember a time when pr firms counted and physically measured news clippings, and then performed column-inch calculations to quantify the value of "free" news coverage in terms of the cost of advertising space in those publications. as one who was, as a junior account person in a large agency in those halcyon days, tasked to spend hours with ruler and calculator, i recall thinking, among other things:

"this is $*%&W$* stupid."

even to me, a pr neophyte at the time, the idea we would be trying to make an roi argument based on the expense of another medium vs. the true outcomes of our work simply didn't make sense. sadly, though, this kind of moronic thinking is still with us, as we see what i think is undue focus put on the level of activity measures -- everything from HUT levels to impressions to CTRs and even web "stickiness" minutes -- and not nearly enough on quantifying the relative impact that each of those engagement types has, and even more importantly, how they collectively meld to affect the target's perception.

this is important because (and it's amazing how many marketers miss this simple-but-not-easy-idea) customers do not buy based upon what you do. customers buy based upon how they think and feel as a result of what you -- and your competitors -- do (and sometimes, what you/they don't do).

if you believe, as i do, that people will act based upon their perceptions, then the most important thing to figure out is why they think the way they do, and what actions you can take that will have the highest likelihood of either reinforcing their positive assessments of your brand, or changing their minds if they have a neutral or negative mindset.

that's why ongoing tracking research is key. sometimes changing the customer's or prospect's mind is the most difficult thing in marketing (as it is in all relationships). it takes careful planning, concerted effort, and sometimes a fair amount of money because people don't often change their minds without clear rationale, personal experience, their boss's pointy finger, or some other compelling reason. and it almost never happens overnight.

what should you track? that depends upon your customers, your category, your brand, and a host of other factors. but i would say there are minimally 3 questions to which you should know the answers at all times:

1) what's important, and how do you do on what's important, relative to your competitors?
2) what must change for you to be perceived as different and better?
3) how can those changes be made in a clear, credible, compelling way?

note the inclusion of "perceived" in #2. you may in fact actually already be different and better, you're just not perceived that way. this is why activity without an understanding of relative impact on perception is useless. if you just keep doing the same stuff -- or even different stuff -- without tracking its impact on how people think, you're wasting your (and your customer's) time.

it won't necessarily be easy to figure out how each of your marketing efforts is changing perceptions -- this is, in fact, the holy grail as far as i'm concerned -- because they often act in concert and it's extremely difficult to control for the impact of one versus the others. but i think it's worth trying. it's only with this kind of insight that marketers can get beyond the old "column-inch" thinking and onto the things that really make a difference in attracting and retaining customers.

1 comment:

Brent Kaufman said...

A great reminder to us agency folks that meterics need to be a core part of our service offerning for clients. Fun read too!

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