Inputs & Outputs

One of the challenges in writing a monthly newsletter is writer’s block. It generally hits me in one of two ways. Either I have no idea what to write about, or I have an idea, but no story or setting for the idea.

I have two approaches to deal with writer’s block. I find that going for a walk in nearby Monarch Park is a great way to clear my head and then somehow the ideas come to me. Finding a story or a setting for my idea can be harder. Something has to happen so I can connect the idea to a story. Usually, I need to read something or get out and do something. Through interacting with a new person or situation, a story sometimes emerges.

Monday evening, faced with neither an idea nor a story for this newsletter, I ventured out to a McGill Alumni event at the Carlu where I could mingle and meet people. Among those I met were two relatively recent graduates (relative to me, that is) with whom I had a very enjoyable, wide ranging conversation. Unfortunately, nothing in our conversation triggered an idea or a story for this month’s newsletter, although I was happy to learn about “The Undercover Economist” Tim Harford, whose writing I’m already enjoying.

On my way home, I thought about other people I’d met lately and then the idea came to me. I realized how a discussion a couple of weeks ago with a highly skilled and experienced market researcher related to how marketing scorecards are an effective way to organize diverse types of data.

We discussed how the various things that can be measured about marketing are either inputs, the things that influence the desired customer behaviour, or outputs, the results of that customer behaviour. This concept can be very helpful in determining how to organize the marketing metrics on your scorecard, and in deciding how to weight them within your overall scoring system. Let’s look at some examples.

Marketing Input Metrics

First of all, there are two broad categories of inputs; those you control and those you don’t. Inputs under your control are generally related to how well you execute the program you are measuring. Examples could include:

  • The percentage of the in-store displays or signs you printed and distributed that were actually and properly put up in store
  • The percentage of all the promotional labels or neck tags your merchandizing partner actually affixed to your products
  • The number of and cost per impression of all your on and off-line marketing communications related to this program

Inputs outside of your control that might impact the success of your program could include:

  • Competitive activity – they dropped or increased their price, promoted heavily while your program was in market, had a PR disaster on Twitter, etc.
  • Weather – no one showed up at your well promoted event because of a massive snow storm

Marketing Output Metrics

There are also two types of outputs, but they are defined a little differently. The first are those outputs or results that are directly attributable to your marketing program. Examples might include:

  • Number of unique visitors to a landing page on your website built for this program
  • Click through rate from your landing page to the buying page
  • Number of new customers who bought using your promotion codes

The other type of outputs are those that are potentially but not definitely or entirely attributable to your program.  These are typically key business performance metrics that can be influenced by a variety of inputs. Examples might include:

  • Revenue for the brand being promoted
  • Market share of that brand
  • Average price per unit sold during the program

Grouping your metrics in this logical fashion on your scorecard can make it easier for you to select your metrics and make decisions about how to weight them by group. Inputs directly under your control and outputs directly attributable to your program should be more heavily weighted than outputs potentially attributable to your program. This is especially true if you tend to have a lot of programs in the market simultaneously. Whatever weightings you use, be consistent over time to ensure you can meaningfully compare programs to each other.

Exclude those inputs outside of your control from your overall calculations. It would be very hard to set objectives and to score against those objectives, or to know how much of an impact they really had. We know that a blizzard of the century will keep more people home than a light dusting of snow, but the amount of snow that makes people decided to stay home is different for everyone. Still, note whether you think external factors significantly impacted your results.

As I wrote this, I realized my opening story does connect to the idea for this newsletter, after all. My story was about an input, an activity under my control, in this case networking and meeting people. That created an output that was at least partially attributable to my networking efforts. I may have still come up with the idea without going to the Carlu, but I might not have found my story!


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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