Metrics vs Gut: Should You Measure All of Your Digital Marketing Efforts?

Metrics for Measuring Content Marketing Success

17 KPIs You Need to Measure!

What Metrics Should I Track?

3 Metrics You Must Measure In Your Digital Marketing!

Does any of the above headlines seem familiar to you?

Let me tell you, each of them is a headline I took from quite popular articles published on the major business and marketing outlets.

More and more, we get bombarded with the calls to measure everything and have an adequate metric for each of our actions.

Marketing and sales are most prone to metrics overload. 

Most marketers believe that you can succeed only by measuring all your efforts, campaigns, and actions.

At this point, you may think – Yes, that’s exactly right!

And let me tell you right away, I’m not going to doom metrics or the approach of measuring marketing campaigns or tests. 

On the other hand, what I would like to tell or rather suggest is that too many metrics can cause more harm than good. And nowadays when there’s software that lets us monitor everything we can imagine, we’re more prone to such an overload than ever before.

So maybe it would be better to stick to our gut and experience than to measure everything?

Let’s check!

Table of contents:

  1. Do metrics matter?
  2. What is better: metrics or your gut?
  3. What to avoid when applying metrics

Do metrics matter?

First and foremost we have to do a fact-check on whether metrics should be used. To do that we have to take a moment to explore why we use metrics and what is their main use case.

Here, of course, most of us, marketers, would say that metrics are used to measure our efforts in order to be able to judge what is wrong and what is right. Or rather to check what we’re doing wrong and what we’re doing right.

Besides measuring the standard metrics that help you with day-to-day activities, some of them help to get an overview of A/B tests that we carry out.

This way we can not only see if our business is doing right but also choose a better variant of whatever we’re currently testing.

Reading the above explanation we may – I guess – 100% agree on that metrics are great and should be applied in each and every business (maybe besides our competition, let them sink.)

But there’s another side of what metrics are used for.

We not only use metrics to judge the outcomes but also the people. If someone is responsible for something then the easiest way to assess how good of a job they’re doing is to apply some kind of metric. 

This way we can judge their work by looking at the graph, a single number, or some fancy percentage.

Yet, such an approach can lead to horrible results and can completely diminish what one’s job is about. This can be oftentimes seen in enterprises where, because of how many employees a firm has, there’s no way to directly check on every single one of them.

As Nassim Taleb said: “The employee has a very simple objective function: fulfill the tasks that his or her supervisor deems necessary, or satisfy some gameable metric.”

In such a bureaucratic environment people can simply do their best to hit the goal (metric) which doesn’t necessarily mean they do the best for the firm.

How can that be?

Do you know what’s the easiest way to make $100000 (besides stealing it)?

Choose a product and spend $100000 on Facebook ads. Good luck!

Did you hit the goal? Yes.

Did you make any profit? No.

As Nassim continues: “Metrics are always always gamed: a politician can load the system with debt to “improve growth and GDP”, and let his successor deal with the delayed results.”

Luckily, entrepreneurs and small startups are not likely to fall into the trap of solely measuring their employees by metrics. Yet, there’s still a chance that they can over-measure their efforts which instead of helping them make progress, stalls the process.

As we can see, metrics just like the moon, have their bright and dark side.

Yes, they are helpful and can help us stay on the right track, as well as, choose the better-performing variant while carrying out A/B tests. But they can also cause a lot of harm when we distill employee’s performance solely to numbers and graphs.

Next, we’re going to take a look at the titular question. Namely, what is better: metrics or gut?

What is better: metrics or your gut?

As there are some drawbacks to metrics (or rather the way we apply them) a good thing would be to look for an alternative.

The most obvious one would be what we relied on before metrics were even a thing. Namely, our gut.

As the usage of metrics is prone to so many errors then why not simply tell your employees, as a business owner or manager, to do a specific task without specifying metrics or KPIs.

Let’s assume you want your team to create an app. Therefore, you need your design team (or teams) to first create mock-ups of that app. And let’s say you want to focus on user experience as we know that’s one of the most important things when it comes to software nowadays.

You and your designers know that to make an app that places importance on the UX you have to remember for it to be clear, intuitive, and simple.

Okay, so assuming you have two designer teams you give both of them a week to work (quite generously) on that task and let them showcase their work during the next Monday’s meeting.

Here it is. Monday. The meeting.

Both teams show what they’ve created. Of course, both of them will say that their project is the most UX-oriented. But how do you know that?

At this point, we can go each way and a) trust our gut and choose what we feel like is the most UX-optimized app or b) set metrics which will determine whether an app is well-designed in terms of UX.

Both approaches are prone to some errors but we can safely assess that metrics are more controllable and will help us get a middle-ground when it comes to the judgment.

Of course, if you have a true expert on board who has worked with Fortune 100 companies and has created dozens of apps for them then his assessment is likely to be right. Sadly, most of us don’t have a privilege to work in such a company, thus we have to find some other way to assess whether things do meet requirements.

As long as you work as a solo founder you can rely on your gut. 

Maybe not at every point of your journey but because you’ll have plenty of decisions to make, sometimes it’ll be just better to go with the gut rather than analyzing each and every detail.

Yet, as soon as you have other peers who make decisions with you, the gut won’t play such a significant role.

That’s because each of us has a different experience and a different way to judge things. Plus, we may rely on various studies, analyses, and reports. Thus, trying to find a middle-ground with no pre-set requirements for what is right or wrong will become nearly impossible.

Here come the metrics.

Instead of guessing what is UX-oriented and what is not, it would be much handier to just set a couple of metrics that will help us define what UX-oriented means.

This way you can get all the brawling aside and boil it down to simple discussion over what metrics to include. And then, after the projects are ready to be assessed, compare them in terms of metrics you chose.

Of course, both your gut (relying on experience) and metrics are prone to error. Yet, the latter helps you make decisions faster when you’re working in a group. Plus, you have to take into account the design teams. If you rely on gut and plead your experience, they can also invoke their own and say why you’re not right.

Concluding, the gut (think: personal experience, opinion) is too personal of a thing to matter in the long run while metrics aren’t prone to such an error. Thus, metrics is the better choice when it comes to objective judgment.

Plus, even if metrics are false they’re also unfoolable, as… these are simply numbers and percentages!

What to avoid when applying metrics

Now that we know metrics are a way to go, it would be smart to cover the best and worst practices when it comes to applying them.

As I’ve mentioned before, metrics are not 100% error-proof. What’s more, they can easily fool you and trick you into thinking that everything is going according to the plan, while your ship is soon to crash into an iceberg. 

I guess I’ve heard that story before… 

Nevertheless, I’ll try to list the most crucial practices to help you make your plan titanic. 😉

Focus on what’s important

It’s so easy to apply metrics for about anything you do.

Remember that each metric you apply slows down the process and creates unnecessary friction and distortion. Thus, instead of bombarding all your efforts with numbers and charts focus solely on what’s important.

First, you have to assess what’s really crucial when it comes to your business.

Oftentimes, we focus on what’s merely vital instead of things that really bring in value.

Social media posts is an easy example. Too many marketers and business owners focus on posts’ impressions and their reach. But what if none of these people convert or visit your website? If that’s the case, what is the real value of these impressions?

With today’s software, you can measure everything, but that’s not necessarily a good thing if you can’t make the right choice. 

So make use of this abundance and focus only on what’s valuable to your venture.

Match metrics with adequate outcomes

Besides focusing on unnecessary metrics, we are also prone to matching certain metrics with outcomes that don’t necessarily correlate.

Here, social media posts are again a great example. And I’m not done roasting the number of impressions you get on your posts.

For every business owner ROI is what matters. Whenever you put a certain sum into your efforts you want to get a multiplied number in the result.

Let’s say you take impressions on your social media posts as the metric that should show whether a certain sum that you put into promoting it was worth it. Taking impressions as the main metric shows that you link it with the result this post brought you.

But does this metric directly impact the result?

Maybe taking the number of likes would be a smarter move?

Or a number of visits?

Even better, the number of conversions.

What I’m trying to say, is that you should do your best to properly match metrics with their outcomes. This will help you save some money, as well as, get the right overview of whether you put effort into the right actions!

Be skeptical and use counter metrics

Whenever you decide to apply a metric, be skeptical about its results. 

Don’t take everything for granted and assume the correlation you see is all right. Instead of relying on your gut, apply counter metrics.

What counter metrics do, is they help you take a second view on, what you might assume, works well. 

That’s because even if a specific metric shows the results that look good, another metric regarding the same action can unveil its weak side that diminishes the impact of the first metric.

For example, when it comes to email marketing – instead of solely looking at the open rate, take into account the unsubscribe rate. You might think it’s a good thing that most of your list opens your emails, but what if that, in fact, makes you lose most of them?

A catchy subject line might skyrocket the open rate but if most people feel disappointed or tricked after they see an email’s body they may unsubscribe.

Thus, whenever you decide to measure your efforts via a specific metric choose another one that can show whether the results you got are actually worth it.

Don’t just accept metrics and metrics goals without understanding them

The last bad practice that marketers and business owners do is applying metrics and assessing metrics goals without fully understanding them.

This can lead to serious damage and taking actions that shouldn’t necessarily be taken. After all, metrics are there to help you measure your efforts. Thanks to this, you know when it’s the right time to take a turn and which direction to go.

Yet, if you don’t understand what you’re optimizing for then you might end up thinking that you’re making right moves while wrong metrics goals make you go baldheaded.

To choose the right metric it’s important to do proper research. That’s the first step. Rely on quantitative data that can show you the correlation between actions and results. 

This will help you choose the right metrics and assess what you should be optimizing for.

But the journey doesn’t end here.

You have to keep an eye on your metrics goal and monitor whether the metric moves accordingly to what’s happening with your product/service. 

It might happen that what you’re doing yields good results but the metric you chose doesn’t show any progress. Contrary, the metric might move like the S&P 500’s chart over the course of the last year, but your venture doesn’t seem to progress at all.

In any of the above scenarios, you have to take a deep, judgmental look at your metrics goal and assess whether you can do a better job about it. 

Try optimizing for something else and see if that makes a better job of showing your product’s progress and actually correlates with your and your team’s actions.

Wrap up!

Well, that’s a long road behind us!

I hope this piece will help you bring clarity to how you measure your and your employees’ performance, as well as, focus on what truly matters.

Remember that metrics are a great way to measure your efforts but just like the surplus of anything, too many metrics can make your business messy and uncertain.

Thus, focus on what matters, judge people’s work, not the metrics themselves, be judgemental about your decisions, and, most importantly, stay awesome!

Jakub Kliszczak
Marketing Specialist at Channels
Hey there! 👋I’m Jakub Kliszczak, Marketing Specialist at Channels, a data-driven phone system that power up customer conversation. My daily goal is to spread the word about Channels and help online businesses power up their customer support. (No more interview-like customer calls!) When I’m not writing for our blog, I write on my personal site, play football (aka soccer 🇺🇸), read non-fiction, or try to deconstruct what life is about.

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