Five Meaningless Marketing Metrics

I have a CEO friend who uses the expression the “anxious parade of activity” to describe the way marketing people often present results to him.  I’m sure you have seen this before.  “First we did this tradeshow, then the agency made this pretty brochure, then we ran this ad in Magazine x….”  The entire thread is usually devoid of any connection to the impact these programs have on tangible business results.

As 2009 budget season approaches, conversations inevitably shift to “what did we get for all the money we spent on marketing this year”.  These discussions can be much easier with the right marketing metrics in place.  I often find that the trouble with metrics is separating the meaningful from the meaningless.  OK, meaningless is probably too strong a word. For the sake of this post, let’s use the terms “activity-based” and “result-oriented”.

I have created this list of five meaningless marketing metrics to illustrate the differences between the activity-based and result-oriented measures.

  1. Page views: Web traffic is a leading indicator but it is conversion that really matters.  Google Analytics makes it pretty simple to add conversion tracking to any website or blog so there is no excuse for not tracking web results.
  2. Leads: These are also a directional indicator. The challenge is that until you move them along the purchasing cycle this number doesn’t tell you much.
  3. Impressions: They are the fuel for our marketing machine but don’t give you any idea of how you are performing.
  4. Events attended: This also misses the point.  Did you have specific goals for the event like getting firm commitments from prospects to trial your product? Did your rainmaker sales guy close any big deals?  I was recently accused of being “anti-tradeshow”.  Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen a steep decline in the productivity of events. I reality, I am skeptical of programs that are difficult to measure or have weak ROI.
  5. Email open rate: I certainly want people to read my emails but it is more important to get them to take action.  Clickthroughs are a better measure and conversions are the best.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list.  As always, I would welcome any additions.

Author: Frank Days

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  1. Great list! I would say though that for #5 I agree only to a point.

    The problem is most email marketers aren’t even at the point where they can think about optimizing for better click throughs. Some have no idea about optimizing against image blocking and spam filters. So I would say open rate is the first metric they should concern themselves with. Once they nail that, then worry about click through.

  2. The all time worst metric is measuring the “value” of multi-channel shoppers as opposed to single channel. You always hear that multi channel shoppers are 2-3X more valuable than there single channel counterparts, but it is almost the equivalent of saying that multi-buyers are more valuable than an average buyer.

    This major problem ends up being an irrational desire to coerce customers into another channel thinking that they will magically become better buyers upon doing so!

  3. These metrics are indeed out-and-out junk, to which I might add column inches of press coverage, but don’t forget about the potentially fatal condition of Dashboard Bloat. That’s when your allegedly at-a-glance dashboard metastasizes into a dumping ground for every number that can possibly be generated, as a figure, a percent and a rolling average for good measure. Be sure to include several metrics that are tightly correlated, too. When you have dozens of KPIs, you have to wonder exactly which are truly “Key” anymore.

  4. Very thoughtful post, and I love the “anxious parade of activity” comment. I would characterize your five measures as incomplete rather than meaningless. Campaigns produce data, and data must be measured. The real challenge is connecting upstream activity data to downstream results. Easier said than done, I know.

  5. Thanks for the compliment but I can’t take credit for the line. That goes to a former boss who had a great sense of humor and infectious laugh.

    You are right in that they are incomplete measures. Sadly many inexperienced marketers, however, will often present them as results rather than raw data. It is the challenge of the CMO or Director of Marketing to educate people how to “connect the dots”. I agree that it is easier said than done. The difficult thing is that many of the conversations about results don’t happen until after the campaigns are over and it is to late to do anything meaningful.


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