Measuring marketing effectiveness: Calling Mr Vain

Measuring marketing effectiveness: Calling Mr Vain
Photo by patricia serna / Unsplash

Most marketers are conditioned to measure their performance. By that I mean that most marketers know that they need to demonstrate they've used their budget wisely against some predetermined target or benchmark. Think about when you were younger (although perhaps this still happens you lucky thing!) and you were given some pocket money to spend. No doubt your generous benefactor would have later checked-in to ensure you spent the money wisely - perhaps with a book rather than cigarettes; a nice top rather than a mini-skirt. In the same token, marketers also have people monitoring them; that is, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) and the rest of the C-Suite.

These pressures render the need for marketing metrics, and when we make our case with numbers it appears as more compelling and others are convinced. And so, this basic arithmetic guides us to what would seem a sensible conclusion - measure what you do and use the result to justify your existence (or at least your control of the budget). Happy days.

Nonetheless, the above logic has fault lines. The primary issue stems from marketer's (and non-marketer's) need for self-affirmation as well as the desire to tread the path of least resistance. You see, in these situations we are more likely to select metrics that confirm that we have done well, rather than measures that really matter in driving outcomes we and others care about. These so-called vanity metrics look great on the surface but do not hold up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Take Lamborghini as an example. A client-side marketing exec might rejoice in raising engagement for the brand on Facebook and Instagram. Indeed, let's say that engagement rose 10% in the last quarter. Wonderful news if the executive worked for Citroen or VW. But how many of those engagements will ever be in a serious position to buy or recommend a Lamborghini? Most likely a nanoscopic number. Trying to justify our decision making in this situation will do little more than provide a tidy massage of our own ego at best, and at worst, ruin our reputation. Refrain from vanity metrics at all costs.

For those who like a little theory to hang your their hat - this scenario is called the Spotlight Effect. A lovely little folk story makes it easy to remember: A policeman sees a man looking for something in a car park underneath a street light. He walks over to the man and enquires what he's doing. The man tells the policeman that he lost his keys and is looking for them. In his willingness to help, the policeman responds by asking if the man can confirm that he dropped the keys where he is currently looking. The man turns to the policeman and says: "no, I didn't but there more light over here". The moral of the story - do the right things and look in the right places rather than take the easy option.