5 wrong ways to measure marketing success

by Greg Kihllstrom - iMediaConnection

A good marketer will always be measuring the success of their efforts, regardless of the channel and medium. In addition to this, we are all under an increasing amount of pressure to prove the ROI of what we do for the brands we represent and the ways we spend our marketing budget. Despite many well-intentioned efforts, however, many marketers are paying attention to the wrong numbers or sometimes paying attention to so many metrics that the important ones are not given the attention they deserve.

Remember, just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should use it as a judge of success. A real measure of success is directly tied to a key performance indicator (KPI) of your business, not simply a number that indicates short-term popularity.

If in doubt about how to make sure you’re tracking the right things, below are five wrong ways to judge the success of your marketing efforts. Keep these in mind when planning your next campaign or when you are preparing your next report.

Metrics that are easy to measure

It can often be hard to put in place the measurements that will give you the information you need to make the best marketing decisions. Just because it is difficult to correlate certain data points or tie numbers from two systems together, don’t settle for the “easy” numbers that your analytics and reporting applications may give you with little work or customization.

The problem with using these easy numbers and stock reports from your reporting platforms is that they are often not informed by the metrics that are directly tied to your business. Take the time to ask the right questions and find out what you really want to know instead of reverse engineering your reporting to only include what you are able to easily see.

Vanity metrics and other indicators

As we discussed in the last point, there are a myriad of metrics with which you can create reports, track, and follow from day to day. You can get these from your web analytics, your social media accounts, and many other reporting tools you may be using.

A common example of this is to use indicators or “vanity” metrics such as social media “likes” and follows as a measure of your marketing success, when the real conversion is a sale. Don’t confuse indicators or steps in your sales funnel with hitting your goal. Also, if you do consider these indicators as your end goal, take a minute to consider if it is truly the metric that is driving the needle, or if popularity on social media is simply a step on the way to a larger, engaged audience.

This can apply to many things, including using website traffic as your marketing success measurement. Success isn’t about how many people see something, but rather about the conversions that you are able to achieve through a marketing or advertising tactic. So it’s about how many people see something and then take a desired action.

Awards and critical acclaim

It’s great to be applauded by your peers and experts in the industry, and winning awards can raise an agency’s profile in the world of marketing and creative. Don’t confuse this critical acclaim with true marketing success, however.

Just think how many Oscar-winning movies failed to connect at the box office. Similarly, an advertising campaign with great creative and a boundary-pushing strategy might win over the critics, but may also fall flat with audiences.

Even if the campaign gets a lot of buzz with consumers, it still isn’t a success unless sales increase. There’s unfortunately no way around this — marketing needs to result in sales or else it isn’t doing its job.

Short-term growth without a long-term plan

Don’t get me wrong. A short, highly effective campaign can have great brand lift for any product or company, but unless you are thinking about how to translate that quick win into long-term success, your success will be short-lived at best.

Some of these short-term successes may be self-created (a well-planned campaign) and some may be opportunistic (an unexpected public relations win). In order to consider them a true success, however, you need to find a way to translate that quick win into sustained opportunity and growth.

As good as it is to get a short-lived bump in your marketing or sales numbers, it’s nowhere near as beneficial as finding a way to get a sustained impact from some unanticipated good fortune.

Think of ways to capitalize on a sudden influx of traffic, visitors, and awareness so you don’t fall victim to being an overnight sensation that fails to catch on in the long run. It is best to try to think of this before something happens so that you have some mechanisms in place to take advantage of an opportunity. This means that a sudden spike in traffic can have a “long tail” of engagement and action if you are able to sustain it.

Efficiency, not effectiveness

We all want to make our time and budgets stretch as far as possible, and get the best deal for everything we do. Make sure you aren’t sacrificing marketing effectiveness for a slight increase in efficiency.

For instance, you can cut down the time it takes your team to perform any number of marketing-related tasks, but if those tasks aren’t the best method to help market your product, you’re simply doing the wrong things quicker and easier. Whether you have a small or large team, that is never a good thing, as it is wasting resources on a strategy or tactic that is not working.

If you are able to marry effectiveness and efficiency, you will begin to see that your cost per acquisition (CPA) decreases. More often than not, this decrease in CPA is an indicator that you are on the right track, and that can be a great measure of your success.


There is an old quote that says “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” While it’s been said this saying has been misunderstood, there is still value to the idea it touches. Make sure you are measuring the things that are closely tied to business success and filtering out the numbers and metrics that may be taking your attention away from what is truly important.

By paying attention to the right metrics and taking the time to build your reporting in a way that is meaningful to your business goals, you will not end up measuring your marketing in the wrong ways. True marketing success is both measurable and drives your bottom line. Anything else may be a distraction for you and your marketing team.

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