Four Avoidable Marketing Metrics Mistakes

by | Oct 26, 2011 | Best Practices, Blog, Blog Archive, Multi-Channel Marketing | 0 comments

A lot of marketers wanted to emulate TV’s Mad Men: creative geniuses who build brands and marketing empires. 

Instead, became math men spending their days with statistics and spreadsheets filled with complex formulas for measuring every message and justifying spending.  In fact, half of CMO’s say that justifying spending through metrics takes more than 30% of marketing staff time, and another 20% say it occupies nearly half of their time. 

The sheer amount of data available to marketers today (much of it free) would have overwhelmed Don Draper and his peers. Unfortunately, it’s pretty overwhelming to modern marketers, too. Even more unfortunately, much of the data is absolutely meaningless and irrelevant to management unless it’s put into a context that makes sense — and it’s all too easy to focus on available metrics instead of defining goals and program measurement criteria that deliver data in a context that matters. 

Is all that effort impressing management?  No.  CEO’s aren’t impressed at all with the accountability they get for marketing spending.

According to the VisionEdge Marketing Performance Measurement & Management Survey, 2010, only a third (33%) of CEO’s think that marketing does a good job of documenting its contribution to revenue and performance, while about half (47%) say that marketing programs made a difference but the contribution wasn’t measured — and 20% say that marketing programs probably had some impact even though contribution wasn’t measured.  Ouch.

What’s the problem?  Marketers and CEO’s aren’t speaking the same language when it comes to marketing metrics.  There’s no common vocabulary when one part of the team is proud of  its retweet and follow rates and the other wants to know how much a Twitter follower is worth in dollars and cents.  Chances are that the mechanisms to track the data that CEO’s really want (specific links between marketing spending and revenue) aren’t part of the hours and hours of reporting and analyzing that marketers are doing. 

Common Marketing  Metrics Mistakes

To communicate marketing successes in terms that make sense to management, avoid these four common marketing metrics mistakes.

  1. Vanity metrics:  What’s a “vanity metric”?  They’re those “feel good” metrics that focus on quantity, not quality.  One easy way to spot them is that vanity metrics measure activity instead of results. Press release impressions, Facebook “likes”,  names gathered at trade shows (lead quantity instead of lead quality),  Twitter followers and other easy-to-measure statistics without context can be vanity metrics.  Or, if put into the right context, the same data can be part of a  useful model that helps take you where you want to go.  It all depends on how you design your program goals.
  2. Soft vs. hard metrics:  Marketers think in soft metrics: impressions, organic search rankings, reach, clicks, likes, open rates, etc. This data is easy to collect and report, hard to align with business goals — and meaningless to management in a post-recession business climate. CEO’s and CFO’s think in hard metrics: YoY revenue growth, profit & loss, forecast accuracy. For them it’s about transactional data that aligns directly with business goals. Tracking and measuring the wrong metrics confuses the issue – and hurts marketing credibility.
  3. Marketing jargon:  Management doesn’t care about the open rate of the last email campaign, or how many page views your press release got – and it really doesn’t care about how many “plus 1’s” your social media campaign got.  What it cares about is customer behavior, revenue, costs, and return on marketing investment (ROMI).  Defining a common vocabulary, then translating marketing jargon into business terms that management understands is the key to budget approval and CEO confidence.
  4. Out-of-context #’s:  There are hundreds of marketing metrics to choose from, and sometimes the most useless are the defaults that popular analytics programs publish.  For example, if you look at Google Analytics, one of the default metrics is “% exits”.  Everybody exits a page sooner or later — and the fact that they exit your site from one page versus another is useless information unless there is a context, strategy, and process around that number.  Analytics expert Tyson Kirksey of Vertical Nerve says the exit rate is useless information for most marketers.  (It may be highly relevant if the page they’re exiting is a shopping cart and they’re leaving without a purchase, of course.)  Bounce rate is another metric that’s usually presented out of context.  For instance, on a blog like this one, the bounce rate doesn’t really matter if the goal is to attract readers to blog posts — most people go to a blog, read the article they came to read, and leave.  Sometimes they come to browse (especially from sharing sites like StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Twitter), take a quick look, and move along.  Does it matter?  Maybe, maybe not — Kirksey says it all depends on the goal you had for the blog post or page in the first place, so you need context before the metric is useful.


  • Set goals for your marketing campaigns, and measure the metrics that are relevant to that goal.  For a blog, the goal might be comments and subscribers.  For a website, it might be sales, downloads, repeat visits, or membership. 
  • Use a vocabulary that top management understands — and avoid jargon.  Measure only what matters to the business.  (An audit of your marketing processes to see what can be measured – what should be measured – and how it should be reported — is a good first step in aligning marketing metrics with business goals.)
  • Review the metrics you have, and take action based on relevant data as soon as possible.  (What kind of action?  Spend more on the marketing activities that work…and change the tactics that aren’t meeting their goals.)

For more information on common marketing metrics mistakes — and tips on mastering marketing metrics — download the presentation from a recent webinar sponsored by Distribion and Vertical Nerve.  A recording of the 45 minute webinar and the presentation are available here

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