Sunday, May 4, 2008

You Can Improve What You Can't Measure

"You can't improve what you can't measure." I've heard this thousands of times, but is it true?

Don't get me wrong--I think measurement is darn important in life and marketing, but must everything worthwhile be measured? Have you ever known someone who told you his or her marriage isn't as good as it used to be? How did that person arrive at that determination? Did they count the number of kisses per day, chart the number of minutes spent together by week, or calculate the ratio of kind words to harsh words?

The emotion of love is not objective and measurable, yet couples find ways to improve their relationships all the time. How could this possibly be accomplished without metrics? By focusing on feelings.

If "love" seems far removed from marketing, then you're jaded and need to reenergize your marketing batteries. A good place to start is Kevin Robert's Lovemarks, an inspirational book that reminds one what it takes (and how it feels) to build great brands, or as he calls them, "lovemarks." Here is a brief introduction from the Lovemarks site:

"Lovemarks transcend brands. They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. Like great brands, they sit on top of high levels of respect - but there the similarities end.

"Lovemarks reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without. Ever.

"Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately. That’s why you never want to let go."

Roberts certainly wouldn't argue you use your gut and never measure your marketing performance, but he suggests lovemarks are built using components that aren't found in the typical marketers' toolkit of easily measurable tactics: Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy.

Perhaps you may think that a flawed metric is better than none at all, but there is a danger with this thinking: marketing's dedication to "objective" measurement can get in the way of good marketing. If you believe, "You can't improve what you can't measure," then you must believe the corollary, "You shouldn't do what can't measure," and that's where we get into dangerous territory.

A very smart friend of mine with an MBA from a school I cannot afford once told me that the Web doesn't drive brand preference or purchase intent in his industry. The idea that the Web isn't a driver to his audience of wired young adults seems absurd. What I believe he was really saying was that he couldn't find a way to connect the dots between online engagement and what happens when a consumer walks into a retailer. And because of this measurement challenge, his company continues to spend considerably more on television than the Internet, even though the company's target demographic is spending an equal amount of time online as with television.

The problem isn't with measurement itself, which is vital; the problem is with our obsession with metrics that are easy, objective, and generally useless. Couples don't improve their relationships and brands don't become lovemarks by focusing only on what can be measured. Qualitative metrics are more important than are quantitative ones.

Forrester has an interesting report that attempts to reshape the obsession with hard metrics called, "Marketing's New Key Metric: Engagement." (Thanks to my close friend Melinda Krueger, better known as MediaPost's Email Diva, for sharing this report.) The report begins by making a case for the idea the traditional "straight" marketing funnel is dead. With traditional media weakening, social media on the rise, and brands becoming more transparent, Forrester suggests the new "funnel" has more twists and turn than a flugelhorn on steroids.

Forrester asks: "If the funnel no longer accurately reflects what marketers can influence, why do they still cling to it? Because they can measure it, which is reassuring, even if it no longer accurately reflects the real buying process."

Forrester believes that marketers need a new approach to understanding customers and prospects. They suggest measuring Engagement in four components: Involvement (for example, site visits), interaction (blog participation), intimacy (sentiments expressed on social media sites), and influence (product ratings and content forwarded to friends).

Forrester isn't telling marketers to ignore measurement, but they are suggesting it's time to dump (or at least supplement) the easy but ineffective metrics that merely count eyeballs. In an era of intense social participation online, marketers must shed objective measures that give the illusion of scientific-like tracking and instead begin to get more comfortable with qualitative measures. Says the Forrester Report:
Qualitative metrics like feelings, affinity, and sentiment are difficult to track. And when you can collect the information, it has historically been complicated or impossible to use with other data. But social media makes it easier for customers to offer up their opinion, and, as a result, all that data is sitting out there waiting to be mined.
In other words, it's time to begin figuring out what your customers love (and hate) about your brand and stop worrying how many people merely see your ads!

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