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Blinded by the Numbers? Marketing 101

May 1, 2010

from Tim Berry

I guess it’s ironic that I’m worried about people losing track of the big picture for focusing too narrowly on marketing numbers. Ironic because I think of our overabundance of numbers these days as a great luxury, compared to what it used to be. 

Think of this: you can fool yourself with words, and you can fool yourself with numbers, but it’s harder to fool yourself when you have words and numbers together, and they match. This general idea is particularly true with planning. The words (well, let’s call them concepts) and numbers ought to match. 

I love the change in marketing since I started in the early 1980s. Today we get metrics all over the place. We’re immersed in numbers. We have page views, visits, conversion rates, clicks, email opens, friends, followers, retweets, participants, attendees, registered users, recipients, subscribers, and — oh yes, the more traditional ones, like sales dollars, leads, and so on. In the old days, before the web and analytics were everywhere, marketing involved way more guessing. We did the ads and hoped they worked. Sure, we asked callers where they heard about us, but less than a third of them had any idea.  

Metrics drive planning. You set the goals, establish the metrics, then track progress towards goals, review, revise, and manage. That’s what planning is supposed to be. The metrics keep it from being pure blue-sky conceptual without any concrete measurable core. And the regular review makes it steering and management instead of static or sterile. 

But I’m starting to worry about the danger of marketing plans blinded by the numbers. Do you track the numbers you can get, instead of the numbers that match your strategic goals? Do you build your plan around the wrong metrics? 

Take Twitter, for example: We get instant metrics like followers and retweets. The temptation is to focus on increasing those two numbers and call that successful marketing. But if you look deeper, do these metrics match marketing goals? Is Twitter about leads? Brand awareness? Customer service? 

And isn’t it possible to increase followers or retweets without having that do anything for your marketing goals? There are algorithms that will do it for you. Or jokes, or quotes, or other means, some of which are actively bad for your long-term branding.   

We can ask the same questions about most of the analytics we deal with in social media marketing, or web marketing. Granted, unique visits and page views are very powerful metrics, and so are LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends. But are they enough to drive strategy?

My suggestion: Why not pause first, step away from the numbers, and consider your strategic goals. Then, with goals in mind, work through metrics that actually measure progress towards the real goals. And if you don’t see those metrics immediately, think about it for a while. Sleep on it.

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