Don't Let Metrics Kill Your Marketing

09/12/2017 01:57 pm ET

Anyone who’s seen “Mad Men” will recall the classic, season-ending scene where Don Draper dreams up the Coca-Cola ad campaign. Sitting cross-legged on a grassy cliff, mid-Yoga session, the idea hits him for the iconic 1971 ad, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”

Don’s wistful “aha” moment is a stark reminder of the most critical, yet recently overlooked aspect of marketing: creativity.

The shift to digital and online in recent years has completely overhauled the marketing approach, leaving marketers under tremendous pressure to execute on ideas quickly and prove value through clicks, views and downloads. In one 2017 survey, marketers reported their top two challenges as generating traffic numbers and leads (63 percent) and proving the ROI of marketing activities (40 percent). This mentality has led to an obsession with numbers that is killing the creativity at the very core of our profession.

We’ve become manic about metrics. It’s not uncommon for marketers today to change their campaigns based solely on whether they’ll contribute to pipeline, demand or lead generation – over half rely on total lead volume as a top metric – or how they will measure specific success. What happened to the days of dreaming up ideas and not frantically worrying about whether you can measure it or tie it to a deal within 24 hours? Let’s not lose magic in marketing because at day’s end, marketing is about people, and people are moved by ideas.

Part of the obsession is spurred by genuinely helpful new technologies. Within the past few years, business analytics and marketing intelligence have become real possibilities – supplemented by the explosion in automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) that are uprooting the way marketers approach their craft. Over half of companies are currently using marketing automation on average, with more than half of B2B companies planning to adopt it. It’s now possible to get insights into our marketing data at choice points along the entire buying journey and truly measure marketing’s impact on the bottom line.

But automation and creativity are not mutually exclusive. Automation should free marketers to dream big. And in today’s social and political climate, appealing to emotion is more important than ever. Consumers today are overwhelmed by a flood of content daily, from ads, social and marketing messages to emotionally charged news events and media content. Marketing tactics that grab those emotions will stand out – and that requires creativity and the human touch.

Nobody can deny the need for data and metrics in marketing. But the problem arises when we focus too closely or solely on the almighty number, and not enough on the impact and the journey. You can measure clicks, views and likes, but how do you put a number on creativity and ingenuity? How can you measure how deeply your campaign resonated, beyond just how long they stayed on the page?

It’s time we take back our creativity. Here’s how to walk the tightrope between creativity and metrics:

Break the status quo. It’s easy to get caught up in, “We’ve always done it this way before” or “That’s too aggressive for us.” Instead, always have your eye on something big. Marketing is about standing out, not doing what everyone else is doing. Look for ways to avoid group think and actively encourage new ways of thinking and ideas. Having the conversation will make you better marketers, even if it ultimately doesn’t lead to a campaign.

This includes building in productive brainstorming – there’s not enough of that happening in the industry today. It’s popular to trash-talk brainstorming these days, but brainstorming is not just about coming up with ideas – it’s also about encouraging your team to consider all viewpoints. Diversity of thought is the lifeblood of good marketing, and brainstorming encourages everyone to think critically, whether or not it’s the most efficient way to get from point A to point B.

Stay close to your customers. Data is concrete and emotionless. People are where the inspiration lies. As marketers, we often forget the magic that comes from simply talking to people, rather than sitting behind a screen in a spreadsheet. One study found C-suite level commitment to customer-centric strategies is low and needs improvement – and interacting with your customers is a good first step.

View your customers as an essential part of your creative team. Customers should be involved in the entire creative journey – not just the end result – influencing your ideas, campaigns and content at every point along the way.

Kill the metrics that don’t matter. Certain metrics are invaluable – particularly those that focus on the customer, such as examining the top of the funnel and first touches, the customer profile and lifecycle that led to the sale. Sales effectiveness – win rates, quota attainment, length of deal cycle – and progress against total addressable market (TAM) are also critical to measure. Everyone loves to talk about TAM, but few measure their progress against it.

What isn’t valuable are metrics focused on sheer numbers or output. Social media is fundamental to any marketing strategy, but does it truly matter how many likes you receive on a Facebook post, clicks on a blog or even website visits? Popularity doesn’t matter unless you can show what they did on your site or how they turned into customers. Marketers also obsess over share of voice (SOV), but SOV is often an inexact science and means little for your business if you aren’t focusing on article quality.

And what about that Net Promotor Score? Finally, net promoter score (NPS) and brand reputation surveys are generally of little value. While companies like to hang their hats on top NPS scores, traditional NPS surveys can often be based on simplistic, flawed math or easily worded to skew results. Firing up brand surveys seems like a great idea, but focus groups and small pools of people do not a reputation make. You’re better suited to figure out the reputation of your brand by talking to people on the trade show floor.

Metrics will always be critical in marketing, but we don’t want to turn marketers into machines. Think about the most impactful pieces of content or commercials you’ve seen – chances are they made you think or stuck with you, not the click-bait one you opened once and never thought about again. By taking steps to build back in creativity, you can provide campaigns that both move audiences and get the results you need.

Sherry Lowe is the vice president of corporate marketing and communications at Splunk, with more than 15 years of experience leading marketing teams at large enterprise technology companies. She is a former award-winning print and broadcast journalist.

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