Counting or Measuring?

I recently attended a marketing industry event in Toronto where a presenter made a statement about marketing measurement that got me thinking and eventually inspired this month’s newsletter.

While talking about current trends in marketing, the speaker identified marketing measurement as one of the top issues currently facing marketing executives. He talked about how technology and big data have become pervasive in marketing, while also suggesting that as an industry we have yet to figure out how to measure marketing properly and make sense out of all the data.

This got me thinking because I realized an aspect of this point of view was consistent with the mixed messages I have been noticing in marketing measurement circles. Measurement is a hot topic and a growing industry. Yet, for all the talk and activity, and the apparent progress we’ve made, there still seems to be a strong point of view out there that marketers aren’t measuring as well as they would like.

Measurement is Everywhere

On one hand, it seems as though wherever I go, whatever I read, whoever I talk to, measurement keeps coming up. With all the buzz about data and analytics tools, you would think that everyone is measuring effectively.

I also keep hearing about new and/or improved marketing analytics tools and approaches. This is especially true regarding digital, social and mobile marketing as there is so much innovation happening in these channels. As new platforms emerge with new ways for brands to interact with customers, so do new data gathering and analytics tools to measure the interactions on those and other platforms.

We’re Not Measuring Very Well

On the other hand, while there certainly is a lot of talk about measurement, and probably a lot of action, I’m sensing that few companies are truly happy with their measurement efforts. There is excitement about the availability of so much data, yet there are also growing challenges related to the complexity and cost of sorting out all that data and clarifying the degree to which marketing is working.

Social media provides a great illustration of the notion that measurement is everywhere but we’re not measuring very well. There are plenty of social media platforms with which to engage consumers, and dozens, if not hundreds, of tools for gathering data about those engagements.

Yet, despite all the data that is available, I keep hearing suggestions that we’re not measuring very well. In the same week earlier this month, a digital marketing agency president told me that no one has figured out how to measure social media properly, and a marketing researcher told me her clients don’t measure social media, they just keep trying an assortment of things in the hopes that enough of it will work.

Why the Mixed Messages?

So, why all the talk but seemingly so little satisfactory action? I’m starting to think part of the problem is that we don’t all define measurement the same way. Let’s look at a dictionary definition of measurement.

  • to ascertain the extent, dimensions, quantity, capacity, etc., of, especially by comparison with a standard: to measure boundaries.
  • to estimate the relative amount, value, etc., of, by comparison with some standard: to measure the importance of an issue.

Contrast that with a dictionary definition of counting:

  • to check over (the separate units or groups of a set) one by one to determine the total number; add up; enumerate: He counted his tickets and found he had ten.
  • to include in a reckoning; take into account: There are five of us here, counting me.

Are you Counting or Measuring?

Maybe a lot of the measurement that is happening out there is really just counting, and maybe those counting are the ones feeling the most discomfort. To be fair, there’s no shame in counting well, which involves gathering data accurately, reliably and consistently. Proper counting is an essential step that comes before measurement. Good quality data makes proper measurement possible.

Still, those who are mostly just counting and who may well be gathering great data with the latest analytics tools are likely not learning enough from their “measurement” efforts. Pure counting is not nearly as actionable as measuring against something, such as an objective or a comparable benchmark, such as another marketing program.

Measurement delivers its greatest benefits when it enables you to understand which marketing programs are creating the most value for your company and, therefore, how best to deploy your marketing budget in the future. Good quality measurement makes better decision making possible.

So, what action can you take if you are feeling frustrated by marketing measurement? Start by questioning whether you are counting or measuring. Look at the important data you have about any marketing program. Taking one metric at a time, ask yourself questions like “How good is that number?” and “Compared to what?”.

If most of the time you don’t have a good answer, you may well be stalled at the counting stage. On the other hand, if you can assess how good a metric is vs. an objective or some sort of standard, or if you can rank programs according to an overall rating, then you are measuring. If you are able to make better decisions about how to allocate your marketing budgets and that leads to better business outcomes, then you may already be well ahead of the pack!

About Rick Shea
Rick Shea is President of Optiv8 Consulting, a marketing consultancy that helps small to mid-sized organizations improve their marketing impact and business outcomes through customer insights, strategic discipline and effective content. Copyright ©2016 Optiv8 Consulting. All rights reserved. You may reproduce this article by including this copyright and, if reproducing electronically, including a link to: http://www.optiv8.com/

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