Simplest marketing question may be the most difficult

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By Jeffrey Slater, {grow} Community Member

There is a simple question I ask almost every day about any new marketing project I work on with my team. It seems so simple but in reality it can be an organization’s most critical struggle:

How will we measure success?

Not only will I ask my marketing team this question but I also check in with other departments such as sales, finance, and IT.  I want to know what it would look like to them if a marketing effort worked. How will we know to do more or stop doing it at the end of a certain period of time? How would they judge this as worthwhile? Before jumping into tactics, we need to have a very clear agreement on success.

Gary Vaynerchuk the social media guru and owner of Wine Library spoke at a conference I organized in Napa Valley about two years ago for the wine marketing industry. He was asked by a winery owner to answer the question, how do you measure success online with Facebook or Twitter? He chided the crowd by answering “What’s the ROI of your Mom?”

Now, I think his point was that some things are difficult to calculate as you try and measure time and money spent versus the return on that activity. And he was making the argument that investing in relationships can’t easily be described by an equation. Although Gary is quite a thought leader, he obviously doesn’t live in the corporate world of marketing.

Today’s marketer better be prepared with some metrics.


I like this question I use about measuring success because it forces a marketing team to think through where we are investing time, money and energy. And since all three of those are often in short supply, you better make sure you are focused on meeting your company’s larger strategic goals. And bringing along others from outside the department can be helpful in building consensus on what success might look like for your work.

Here are five examples of how I have measured success during the last year.

EVENT MARKETING: To make our conference successful, we need to have at least 10 senior brand executives from our top strategic customer accounts attend our forum and be activity engaged with us for five hours each. So success is 50 hours of time spent with senior leadership.

EMAIL CAMPAIGN: Our conversion rate on our email campaign must generate 4 times gross revenue as the program cost. Simple math: the campaign cost $10,000 and we must generate $40,000 within 8 months from the start of the project.

PUBLIC RELATIONS OUTREACH: In the coming three months, at least 25 articles online or in print must appear mentioning our new product launch from targeted publications with a reach exceeding 1,000,000 readers in total.

WEB ANALYTICS: Traffic to our new website must increase 15% year over year and with a 25% increase in the time spent on the site by new visitors.

LEAD GENERATION: We must generate at least 50 news leads each at the two new trade shows and those leads, over six months will create at least twice the revenue as the cost of attending the events.

Note that each metric or KPI (key performance indicator) includes a specific number that we can measure.  And, these goals were established by marketing with input from sales, finance and other engaged colleagues.  I do this for several reasons but when I report out our progress at the end of the quarter to our general management team, everyone has already agreed what success looks like and I can share if we achieved our goal.

Not everything can be quantified but often that is because we get lazy and we just say, “I know what it will feel like if we are successful.”  That just doesn’t cut it.  Well-defined success parameters help build marketing credibility internally which boosts confidence on those riskier activities.

How do you measure success? 

Jeffrey Slater HeadShotJeffrey Slater is the Global Director of Marketing for Nomacorc. His blog, MomentSlater unravels the mysteries of marketing based on his 30 years as a professional marketing executive and entrepreneur. Follow Jeffrey at @Moments_Later.

Illustration courtesy NASA free photo site.

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  • Claudia Licher

    If it’s about proving that your (marketing) actions have a certain outcome, there’s always some room for interpretation.

    If someone clicks a link in the email you sent, goes to your webshop for details, then leaves without making a purchase, that’s not the result you want. But that may be me deciding (or planning) to get on my bike and visit your shop. Because it’s only 10 minutes from my home.

    Worse: I only check your emails once a month. Any one of your emails may have triggered me to visit your shop. Because it’s 10 minutes from my home.

    If anyone breaks the online chain before making a purchase, the only thing you see is: you sent your emails, you got a number of clicks (possibly mine too) and you sold X extra items afterward, within a timeframe you specified in advance.

    Proving that one single email (or social media message) did a certain job is probably a lot tougher than if you run a campaign over several months.

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  • jeffyablon

    Here’s a problematic discussion this point creates:

    While, yes, we need measurements and metrics, when it comes to social we start out by identifying the places “worth using” (there are too many to use all of them … duh … ) and then we measure … what? Whether we picked the right ones?

    Or … we assume we picked the right ones and we measure … what? Whether the people working them are succeeding?

    In other words, there’s a procedural disconnect.

    I ‘KNOW’ I’m using (twitter … facebook … whatever). The phrase “I know” is based on my belief that I as the leader (or whomever makes such decisions) can make the right choices. And of course even that is open to ongoing reevaluation.

    Now it’s simple; I measure results defined by … well again, whatever. And effected by … whomever.

    Simple, nothing. What if you made the wrong choices before the work got started? What are you metrics worth then, and is the problem that you made the wrong choices or that you have the wrong people working them? Or for that matter, maybe you defined the wrong metrics.

    Facebook is a no-brainer. Or is it? Twitter too, right? What about rich-media choices like Instagram/Pinterest/Vine?

    Again: the problem, as much as I agree that there needs to be a measurement protocol, is that if you measure results from a flawed assumption base you’re measuring the wrong thing. And IMHO, many, MANY people are making the wrong assumptions, colored by an incredibly broad set of assumptions leading to an incredibly narrow set of conclusions.

    Metrics aren’t useful or repurpose-able unless the variables can be adequately and confidently defined (commercial; that;s what my company does (HA!) ).

  • Jeffrey Slater

    If I don’t have the right metric in place, I can correct and refine as I go along. One of the best marketing/life lessons is to be heading in the right direction and to try and get “close to the pin”. If I want to influence key decision makers, I need to spend time with them. So spending 50 hours is better than not connecting at all.
    I’m sure Occam had it right. The simplest solution is often the right answer. Thanks for these comments on my post. And thanks to Mark for publishing this on his blog. Cheers.

  • I think the discussion of ROI is an important one. However, it appears to me that we often get caught up in the complexity of a problem and forget that a simple answer many times holds deep truth.

    The success of my “Social” media campaigns can easily be measured by the number of social interactions that lead to the outcome I had in mind when I initiated them. If I’m looking to create evangelists, how many do I have after a set amount of time.

    Ultimately, your success is only as great as the number of people who care about your product, service or cause. People will share a funny photo or comment on something that makes them angry but how many people can your message provoke to pickup a phone?

    If you can truly connect with people, your metrics will take care of themselves.

    Just ask Zappos.

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  • ROI measurements are a tactical measure that tell you how well something is working, but not whether it is the right tactic. In order to know you are on the right track, you also need to do strategic assessments. This can be as simple as having clear criteria for what you want to accomplish, and then evaluating performance against the same criteria. It’s important to note that Jeffrey goes this extra step in defining the goal as not merely 10 senior execs for 5 hours, but execs from top strategic accounts and mentions in specific targeted publications. Seems obvious, except too many leaders focus just on the number and not on the context.

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  • Yes and ‘context’ is the one thing Gary V. talks about all the time. Thanks Bruce for your insight it is a good add to what Jeffrey related to in his article.

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