Social Media and Social Eating

Somewhere in the middle of a Dim Sum eating frenzy last Sunday at Rol San in Chinatown, my friend Elliot pointed out that five of our group of seven sitting around the table worked in marketing. Despite the fact that marketers can be creative and some in our group of seven are rather artistic, we’re nothing at all like Canada’s renowned Group of Seven painters. After our efforts last Sunday though, I’d say we are a group of seven skilled in the art of social eating.

Elliot’s comments came during a discussion about how a certain academic institution appeared to be measuring the success of a controversial event they had publicized through their website and social media.  In response to criticism of this event, they pointed to their number of subscribers, as if that somehow indicated a level of support for their controversial point of view.

Of course, just being a subscriber doesn’t automatically imply agreement with every point of view expressed. In this case, the number of subscribers was irrelevant. It would be more relevant to know the ratio of subscribers for vs. against the event taking place, and/or the point of view being presented.

Around the table we began discussing how to measure social media and quickly agreed that volume or Activity metrics aren’t as relevant as metrics that track customer Engagement. Even more important to track is a third group called Conversion metrics. To illustrate, let’s look at these three types of metrics in the context of measuring social media and also our customer experience at Rol San.

Activity Metrics

  • Social Media: Examples include number of subscribers, followers, followers/following ratio, tweets, fans, and links clicked. You can get a sense of what people are doing, but less about why or how they’re feeling.
  • Dim Sum Customer Experience: Examples include the total plates ordered, the average items eaten per person, and the average revenue per person. These metrics would tell Rol San how much we ate, but they wouldn’t know whether we were satisfied customers.

It is generally more relevant to look at:

Engagement Metrics

  • Social Media: Examples include forwards, mentions, likes, comments, retweets and the sentiment of comments, tweets and blog posts. These types of metrics can provide more insights into what your customers are thinking and feeling about your brands and marketing programs.
  • Dim Sum Customer Experience: Rol San might want to know if that second order we placed repeated any items from our first order. (It was hard to tell amidst the flurry of plates and chopsticks.) Did anyone tweet or blog about our meal, or post a review somewhere? Were the comments or reviews positive or negative? Are the people who posted comments influential with the right audience?

It can be hard to tell what customers think and whether they are truly satisfied. That’s why so many eating establishments include a customer satisfaction survey with your bill. Many of these direct you to a website to give your feedback, which can then be linked to your transaction (what you ordered, your server’s name, etc.) to help round out the customer experience picture.

Still, engagement metrics and customer satisfaction scores have their limits. What customers say can often be different from what they actually do. Attitudes and opinions can help to predict behaviour, but all that investors, shareholders and bankers really care about is profitable customer behaviour, and how that behaviour converts into value for the business.

Conversion Metrics

  • Social Media: The greatest Conversion metrics of all are revenue and profit. Other examples include qualified leads generated, content downloads, registrations, reservations and orders; basically anything that might track key steps in acquiring, keeping and cultivating profitable customers.
  • Dim Sum Customer Experience: Rol San should care about whether we come back as a group, or individually with more friends, and whether we recommend to others to dine there. In a retail business, these metrics can be hard to track, which is one of the reasons loyalty and viral marketing programs exist, to both incent and track profitable customer behaviour. It’s also why hosts or greeters sometimes ask “Is this your first time here?” or “How did you hear about us?”

I can’t speak for the others in our Group of Seven Social Eaters (G7SE?), but I think I will probably return to Rol San someday.  How’s that for mildly positive sentiment and uncertain repurchase intent? Rol San could invest a lot of money trying to predict my behaviour, but even I can’t predict what I’m going to do. They’d be better off tracking what I actually end up doing.

Conversion metrics are the most important metrics to track and they should be more heavily weighted on your scorecard. At the same time, don’t ignore Activity and Engagement metrics, as they are predictors of conversion. They can help you to identify where programs are succeeding and failing in creating the customer behaviour that leads to profits.

Why am I hungry?

What’s Stopping You?

Nine years ago, on a winter evening in downtown Toronto, a conversation in a bar with a complete stranger changed my life. I was at the Reservoir Lounge for some live jazz, leaning against a pillar that offered a perfect vantage point to the stage, and I was talking to a woman standing to my left.

We had established that while we both appreciated musical talent, neither of us played an instrument. I asked a hypothetical question, “If you could play any instrument, which one would it be?” to which she responded “the saxophone” and explained why she loved it so much.

After explaining, she turned my question around on me and asked which instrument I’d most like to play. I said “the piano” and explained how I always found myself watching and listening to the piano players. Then she followed up with the question that changed my life, “What’s stopping you?”

I was stumped. I had no answer, or more to the point, no good answer. I knew that playing the piano was a good idea and that I would find it rewarding, but I had serious doubts that I could ever learn to play well enough for my investments (time, money, effort) to be worthwhile.

Realizing that I didn’t have a good answer to her question, I made peace with my doubts and got started. I found a great teacher, started taking lessons and never looked back.

I say this changed my life because of all the fun I’ve had, the amazing people I’ve met and the great experiences that followed, including recording a four song CD. It was an investment in my creative side that has paid off in many ways, including some I never anticipated.

So, here’s my question to you. If you’re not already measuring your marketing, what’s stopping you? While you’re thinking about that, here are the most common reasons I’ve heard for not measuring and some related thoughts.

  • Measurement is too complicated. As marketers, we know that customers make very complex buying decisions for reasons that are difficult to isolate. Knowing that, it’s easy to believe that measurement must also be pretty complicated and just might be too big a challenge to take on. Fortunately, measurement is not an all or nothing proposition. Your choice is not between doing no measurement whatsoever and a laboratory full of supercomputers and marketing scientists in white coats. There are a whole range of options between those two extremes, and by measuring the things that matter through a simple process you can learn a lot that will help improve your marketing. Yes, customer decisions are complicated, but measurement doesn’t have to be.
  • Marketing can’t be measured. It can be, just not perfectly, meaning you’ll never be able to conclusively tie every dollar spent on marketing to the incremental profit generated.  Luckily, you don’t need to measure perfectly in order to perfect your marketing. All you have to do is focus on measuring whether your marketing achieved its objectives and created value for your business.
  • We don’t have the resources (time, money, expertise, people). This is related to the first two reasons.  Don’t create that measurement laboratory or try to measure marketing perfectly. Instead, have more modest measurement ambitions that align with the resources you have available. Set out to learn what you need to know to make better decisions, such as which marketing tactics work best for you.

If the only possible reason for me to play the piano had been to try to become the world’s greatest pianist, I never would have started. That objective would have seemed unattainable, and not worth pursuing. Thankfully, I had the option to learn how to play just well enough to have fun. With that attainable objective, I was able to get started with my limited resources (time and especially skill), which opened the door to all the benefits of playing piano.

Marketing measurement is much the same. The most important thing to do is to start. That will open the door to the benefits that lead to improved marketing effectiveness. Later, once you’ve built your measurement skills, you can set more ambitious goals for your measurement efforts.

To become the world’s greatest measurer of marketing would require a massive investment of time and resources. That’s something very few companies can undertake and the payoff from that effort will likely suffer from the law of diminishing marginal returns.

For the rest of us, with more modest budgets and resources, we can set more modest goals. You can make great strides (piano pun intended) with relatively small investments. Start measuring and you will learn something that helps you to make better decisions, which is the whole point of measuring. Now, tell me, what’s stopping you?


Marketing Measurement and Unarmed Battles

This month’s blog post talks about the importance of making sure your marketing measurement process gives you the data you need to compete for money at the budget table.

I don’t know about you but I seem to be in front of my computer screen more often than I’d like.  Unlike my three nephews, who would do almost anything to get more screen time, I’m usually looking for ways to get less.

One way I reduce my screen time is to invite a colleague out for a coffee, or lunch.  I think there’s no substitute for a face to face discussion, and I’m also happy to disconnect electronically for a while, even if the freedom is fleeting.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, when my need to disconnect aligned nicely with a spectacular autumn afternoon, I chose another strategy.  I put on my hiking boots, grabbed my camera and drove off in search of fresh air, nature and autumn colours.

Escarpment Trail - Crawford Lake

I decided to walk in the conservation area around Crawford Lake, a rare meromictic lake atop the Niagara Escarpment.  Some of the hiking trails intersect with the Bruce Trail and while I didn’t take many photos, I enjoyed the hiking and the fresh air.

As I hiked along, taking in the fresh air and fall aromas, aside from wondering what the hell a meromictic lake is, I thought about how the fall can mean different things to different people.  For kids and parents, fall can be about back to school time.  For sports junkies, fall is the time when all the major sports are in full swing.  For many in business, fall is the time for strategic planning and budgeting for the coming year.

Marketers have an important seat at the budget table, as the company looks to marketing (and sales) for revenue projections.  In addition, marketing must also battle for its share of the expense budget in order to run the right programs to help meet those revenue projections.  Everyone at the budget table understands this and will ask marketing “If we give you the money you say you need, what are you going to do with it and what will the company get in return for that expense?”

This is where the discussions get interesting.  The planning and budgeting process is a negotiation over limited funds.  The battles can be won with data, or lost due to a lack thereof. Consider the battle between operations and marketing.

The head of operations might ask for a million dollars to improve operational efficiencies and supports this request with data that shows by what percentage this will reduce operating costs and how quickly  the resulting profit increase will recover the million.  Everyone at the table can easily grasp the concept, do the math and approve that expense.

When marketing gets its turn in the hot seat, fighting for its million, it needs to be able to talk about more than new customer insights or breakthrough marketing programs.  These things help, but marketing needs data.

Marketing measurement is at least part of the answer.  If you don’t already have a marketing measurement process in place, it may be too late to arm yourself with data for this year’s budget meetings.  However, it’s a great time to add creating a measurement process to your strategic plan so you can start collecting data. These are some of the elements you’ll need to consider.

  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. While it would be great if you could accurately quantity Return On Investment for each marketing program, that very complex and costly undertaking is best left for the most sophisticated marketing driven organizations, with big budgets and tons of data.  Focus instead on creating a measurement process that identifies the most effective ways to market to your customers.
  • Set clear and measurable objectives. In the planning process, hold each marketing program up to a simple test.  Ask “How will we know we have succeeded, and what business outcomes would make us happy?”  If you don’t have good answers to those questions, maybe those programs don’t belong in your strategic plan.
  • Create a measurement process you can execute consistently. I create a standard scorecard to measure every type of marketing program.  A standardized scoring method gives you a way to rate and rank all your marketing programs according to how well they each met their objectives.
  • Involve the right people, get them on side. For your process to really work, it needs to be embraced organizationally, especially by those who sit around the budget table.  If they had a hand in designing your measurement process, selecting metrics or providing data, then it’s more likely that they’ll believe your data when you’re asking for money.
  • The most important thing is to start. Marketing measurement is a journey, but if you don’t get started, you won’t get very far.  You’ll make mistakes along the way, but you will also learn things that help you to make better strategic decisions.

The deep waters of measurement can be murky, much like those of some meromictic lakes, but with a little effort you can get some clarity.  In a world where everyone’s got data to support their position, marketing needs to go to the table with marketing effectiveness data, otherwise it can be like going into battle unarmed.