Delivery is not success - activation is

Joe discusses the pitfalls of vanity metrics and how we measure successful campaigns.

Back in the day I had a client who we produced and designed a magazine for. At the end of the year I sat in the stakeholder presentation on the years marketing successes. The magazine was a key part of the communications mix. It was, I heard, successfully delivered to over 200,000 customers. The objective at the beginning of the year was to deliver to 150,000 customers.  However, the magazine was so well received (‘natch) that an extra 50,000 were printed and distributed. This was presented as a 25% over achievement on target! 

I slunk out the back, bemused. Our objectives had been to re-invent a tired and old-skool brochure so that we could genuinely connected the audience with authentic content to drive behaviour change and ultimately sales. So we pitched the idea of a magazine. Not the usual written by the marketing exec magazine with wonky images taken by their wedding photographer uncle but the type of magazine you'd coo over in an independent bookshop, managed by a professional editor with content commissioned by leading journalists and imagery created by professional award-winning photographers, experts in their field. It was a great success and now everyone in that particular industry produces a ‘magazine' rather than brochures. A bit of sideways creative thinking, in retrospect pretty obvious (but aren't they always) that was disruptive, award-winning and game changing for the client.

My slinking out was caused by the sheer chutzpah of marking success by the number of magazines that were printed and sent out unrequested. I mean, with that measurement the print run could have been doubled and the target beaten by 100%! 

I knew that there was research that showed improved conversion and direct correlation to sales. But it was a bit messier to present than the easier headline figure. It's more difficult to explain how someone goes from reading a magazine to three months later becoming a customer. Messy because its human and so complicated. But the proof was there, it happened, it was real. So the print run became the success metric rather than the activation of consumers because it sounded good. Such jiggery pokery is not uncommon.

I see the same sort of thing today with digital marketing. View through rates, engagements, impressions are the bywords for a successful campaign. But they only really measure delivery.

Don't get me wrong I love the ability to measure that the digital environment enables. Yet we do need to remember that it is a binary interface with messy, complex humans. Measuring delivery provides a security blanket that something is being achieved. Especially so as this delivery data it is presented by the martech companies in beguiling colourful reports with pie charts, percentages and pivot tables.

So, we ask “what value has been added to achieving the objective?” If your objective is just delivery then you're more or less done. Turn of that laptop and go home. 

If you're interested in activation you need to try and measuring the end-result, the objective. Even if it is messy and has to draw on multiple sources beyond the digital it will be much more useful in genuinely helping you understand where you are in achieving your objectives.

Last Updated: 22/08/2019
Author: Joe Chetcuti

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