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Make Imperfect Metrics Work for You

Make Imperfect Metrics Work for You Kathy Sharpe

The decade-long rant about the issues surrounding metrics in this most measurable of media has reached a new fever pitch. The inconsistent discrepancies between comScore and Nielsen boggle us. The inability to accurately mesh site server metrics with ad serving metrics drives webmasters and advertisers to the edge. We can't even seem to decide what an impression is, or the value of a page view especially with the advent of Ajax.

Suffice to say that very little of this is going to be solved next week or more critically in time for the '07 shopping season; a season that promises to once again set online shopping records and with those, online advertising spending records. What's a responsible metric-committed marketer to do to insure success, or at least manage expectations?

1) Determine what you can measure. This sounds like letting the tail wag the dog, but the best laid marketing plans can be laid waste by the limits of a web server. Have a conversation with the web master to find out what's measured, how it is measured and then listen to her complaints for a minute. Something shocking will happen. You will discover common dissatisfactions and, as you share your needs, you will find a way to get more of what you want. The earlier you start talking the better the chance for success.

2) Decide what you need to measure. Now that you know what is in the realm of the possible, you may be overwhelmed with possibilities. Focus on what goal is most CRITICAL to your brand and company. Then get consensus from all parties, including your agency and media partners.

This critical decision will drive everything you do. So think a long time. Are you willing to give up the fun of doing a podcast, creating mobs or building on Second Life if they don't meet your metric for success? These tactics drive "buzz" but buzz is one of the toughest goals to measure (pace Buzz Metrics), and almost impossible to sustain at any valuable level.

Two metrics that are much more quantifiable and will lead to a better meeting with your or your client's CFO are sales and customer relationships. So old school, but really would you rather be justifying a bonus with your "buzz scores" or an increase in sales? Sales may not be a possibility for every online marketer, but building customer relationships with the brand is, so look closely at the metrics that measure success in this area.  

3) Build the program around the metrics. Never, no never, let the program drive the metrics onto the path toward destruction or at least inconclusive results. Why else did you determine how to measure your success ahead of time? Let your goals and how you measure them become your North Star, the program your servant. Thousands of decisions will confront you and to keep from going a little crazy, evaluate each decision based on how it can measurably meet the goal.

4) Develop and implement an optimization plan. Even before you actually start, decide how you will improve on the run. Look at what will be actionable during the program: media selection, changes in creative, adding or replacing a landing page, everything. Then set the schedule for how, when and who will do this. It's very easy after the jubilation/exhaustion of a launch to just want to let go. Don't. You still have the ability to help the program improve. The on-going over-sight of metrics gives you that. 

5) Live and learn. It's the end of the program. You met your goals. Congratulations. How did you do that? What would you change? How will you do it again as these media evolve? Where is your case study? And what can you contribute to help fix the issues of interactive marketing and metrics?

The importance of our industry rationalizing the metrics we use on a daily basis cannot be under-emphasized. It's critical path and will strengthen everything we do as well as deliver an unprecedented return on investment.

While we are waiting for that metrics' nirvana we also can't allow the current limitations to paralyze us or to undermine the power of measurement, imperfect that it is, that digital media gives marketers today. 

Kathy Sharpe is CEO, Sharpe Partners. .

One of the true pioneers of interactive marketing, Kathy Sharpe endured many long hard winters providing big Brands with old advertising solutions. When the spring thaw arrived in 1994, she began to explore emerging forms of marketing and...

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