Working with digital marketers over the last 15 years, I’ve witnessed a habit where they can become all consumed with activity metrics like email open rates, website page views, number of marketing qualified leads, and webinar attendee to registrant percentage rate.
While these metrics are important in understanding your marketing processes, they can blind you and shift attention from focusing energy and resources on the factors that are fundamentally driving the success of the business.
Steps to Ensure You Are Focused on the Right Strategy and Numbers
A recent Harvard Business Review article, Don’t Let Metrics Undermine Your Business, discusses the concept of surrogation, where workers will frequently use metrics as surrogates for strategy. A simple example is when companies and managers become obsessed with a metric like customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Score (NPS) and spend much of their energy on trying to increase these scores instead of developing strategies to actually improve their customers’ experience with the company.
It is easy for marketers to get hyper-focused on the metrics that permeate their day, and provide feelings of quick wins and high fives among the marketing team. How can marketers avoid the surrogation temptation and instead better align performance metrics with the key business and marketing strategies that will drive their company’s success? Following are six suggestions:
Start at the top / Get a seat at the table: Find out what the key goals of your company are. Meet with top executives of your company or get these insights via your CMO or other marketing leadership. How are the top executives being measured by the board, by the members of the C-suite? What are the key pain points and opportunities for the company? What are the core drivers of success for the business for the next 12 months and beyond?
Ensure marketing team involvement in strategy development: One of the keys to getting marketers to focus on bigger goals and metrics, is to have them help create the strategies that they will execute against. While this might sound obvious, too often strategies are developed on high and handed to marketers, who because they didn’t participate in the strategy development, naturally focus on the tactics and metrics that measure their daily activities.
Align your marketing strategy and tactics with the business strategy and goals: Say you work for a meal kit subscription service and the top challenge is no longer new customer acquisition, but has now become customer retention.
If you are a digital marketer for the company, not only must your metrics shift, but your core marketing strategy. While you will obviously still deploy customer acquisition programs, much of your focus now might be on content for onboarding new customers, videos, tips from customers, automated email programs targeting customers likely to cancel, etc.
This shift in strategy and programs then clearly will drive a completely different type of metric, in this example, such as reorder and retention rates for new subscribers.
Create a multi-dimensional metrics framework and scorecard: Start your scorecard creation with the goals and metrics that you uncovered from your company’s executives in the earlier process. One of the keys to not being overly focused on one type of metric or the wrong metrics, is to have a measurement framework that incorporates multiple measures. The sample framework below from SiriusDecisions (with my metrics examples) is a great starting point and guide to help you map out a multi-dimensional and balanced marketing scorecard.
If you are the leader of your marketing organization, have your team members build out their own measurement framework for each of the areas they own or work on. Just the process of having them build out such a framework gets them thinking more broadly and hopefully increasingly focused on the strategies and goals of marketing activities that drive business success.
A critical element of scorecard development is an honest assessment of how easy or difficult the metrics are to capture and report on, as well as how accurate they will be? It is best to consider different metrics in your scorecard if any are of questionable quality and/or difficult to track or obtain.
Common definition and education: One simple thing that can trip up marketing teams is a lack of a common metrics lexicon. The team members probably worked at different organizations who may have used the same or similar term, but perhaps calculated them differently. Does everyone define marketing qualified lead, email open rate, active customers, etc., the same way? As an example, I’ve seen in several organizations where different teams used click-to-open rate and others used click-through rate as their core click metric.
Regular reporting and feedback: How often should your team track and report various marketing metrics? While team members will want to track the results of individual campaigns and programs, marketing and company leadership will want to understand longer-term trends — what is and isn’t working. How are marketing programs supporting overall company goals? So when designing your metrics framework, also determine the appropriate cadence needed to report for each type of metric.
Metrics are the lifeblood of marketing, but too often they become a surrogate for developing and focusing on the core strategies your business needs to be successful and achieve your goals. Use a process like the above to ensure your marketing team is focused first and foremost on strategy, which then drives the key performance metrics.
By Loren McDonald
EEC Board Member
Program Director, Market Research | Acoustic