What if We Started With Metrics?

You don’t have to like glam/prog rock to appreciate Brian Eno.  In addition to such classics as “Music for Airports” (which is exactly what it sounds like) and “Baby’s On Fire” (which I hope to God isn’t what it sounds like), Eno created a wonderful tool for getting your head unstuck: Oblique Strategies.

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Screengrab from http://stoney.sb.org/eno/oblique.html

Eno, also a prolific music producer, created a deck of cards with suggestions like the one above to help him out when he encountered dead ends in his work.  He instructed users to draw a card when they felt stuck and follow the directions as they wished to interpret them.  I’ve used them too many times to count to help me solve nagging client problems.

So I created my own Oblique Strategies card:

What if we started with metrics?

As in, what if we started a new marketing project not by asking about business objectives nor by asking about marketing objectives and instead by asking “what can we measure?”

Maybe it’s the 70s synthesizer music talking, but it helped me develop a framework I’d like to run by you all.

Start with the metrics.  Before we begin a project, we usually know metrics by channel (communication and commerce) and any bigger-picture metrics such as brand strengths.  However, it helps to ask if we know how they are linked.  Cross-channel links or even guesstimates can help us understand how actions in one channel (e.g. display) might help another (e.g. SEM).  While trivial for a single-channel strategy, this exercise becomes a little tricky for multi-channel campaigns.

Starting with the metrics grounds you with realistic expectations of what you can accomplish.

Then ask how those metrics correspond to the way people actually buy/use the brand.  Crazy, I know, but it helps to understand whether digital touches actually lead to someone buying or using the brand.  As an obvious example, let’s look at a welcome email sent to a new buyer of a product.  Email interaction (opens, clicks) most likely indicate how engaged they are with the brand near time of purchase.  Interaction with this particular email does not necessarily indicate future purchase intent.  On the other hand, response to an email aimed at prospects might give an indication of purchase intent, especially if you can track post-click behavior.

Putting the metrics in the context of the customer journey lets them serve as a proxy for the health of that journey across whichever points have associated communications.

Now bring in the marketing objectives.  Naturally, marketing communications don’t happen in a vacuum.  Business and marketing objectives determine the ultimate success of any strategy.  It helps to compare the objectives to what you can actually measure.  Let’s face it, not all projects have the clarity of a Harvard Business School case study.  By way of example, some organizations used to evaluate marketers based on the size of an addressable audience rather than the activity of that audience.

Rather than skating by the issue, comparing the customer journey and associated measurements with business or marketing objectives highlights where to put the most effort.

Address the gaps.  Chances are that the objectives don’t line up perfectly with what you can measure and what matters.  Don’t panic.  You’ve found an opportunity to have a rich, if potentially difficult, discussion with the stakeholders to realign priorities, seek new channels and opportunities to meet extant priorities or to chuck everything out and start all over.

Maybe this is more of a thought exercise than a serious attempt at a new marketing strategy methodology, but as Eno sang, “That’s what we’re paid for here.”

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