It’s John Wanamaker (1838-1922), a successful US businessman, who is credited with coining the phrase
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.

Certainly, when I started my career in marketing, it could feel like that at times.  So we bought the whole back page of our industry journal to launch a new product; we know what the circulation numbers are and we know how many sample requests we got but was the latter definitely the result of the former…? Definitely, maybe…

Clearly, one of the many benefits of the plethora of digital marketing tools is quite how measurable they all are.  Today, for example, we probably wouldn’t have just bought the back page of the journal, we’d have bought a banner on their website too, so we could track link clicks to our online sample ordering page; we could measure our impact and our ROI.  So, marketers today need to be using all the information they can get their hands on to help us make smarter marketing decisions.  Here’s my thoughts on how we can do that.

The starting point for measuring anything has got to be knowing what you’re trying to achieve.  Set yourself some goals or objectives so you know what data you should be collecting – and how often you should be collecting it.  For some activity, of course, there will be figures you can only collect after it’s happened.  For example, if you’re running an event, you’ll only know how many people have attended on the day.  Therefore, it’s important to identify some ‘tell-tales’ or KPIs that you can measure in the build-up to give you a good indication that you are on the right track; for an event, that could be the number of RSVPs, mentions of the event on social media and so on.  If people aren’t responding or talking about it, you need to adjust your marketing activity while you’ve still got time.

Something else data is good for is identifying patterns and trends, to work out what your customers respond to, so it’s important to be consistent over time with what you’re measuring. If, for last year’s Christmas sales, you totalled daily purchase value but this year you’ve collected daily footfall, the two numbers won’t relate; you won’t be able to say categorically if what you did this year worked better than what you were doing last year.

I am sure many organisations, and the different departments in them, are collecting data that marketing teams don’t know they are collecting so my next suggestion is this: leverage what you’ve already got.  If your samples are ordered and processed through a different piece of software to your sales orders, you won’t easily be able to tell if those who have received samples have gone on to place an order – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a little effort finding a way to work that out!  Think about all your colleagues who interact with your clients and find out what they can tell you (and often).

Now is perhaps the place to remind ourselves of the distinction between data and information. In this age of ‘big data’, it’s really easy to assume that the more numbers, the better; the reality of course is that they are only better if those numbers can be converted into useful information.  Be a little discerning in what data you collect (and I’m not just referring to GDPR here!).  To quote mountaineer, George Mallory, this is not a time to collect data “because it’s there”; you will end up with your own Everest to climb if you do!

Finally, only measure what you can do anything about.  How many times have you been on a course and the review form at the end asks you what you thought about the training room?  Are they really going to redecorate if you say you hated the magnolia colour on the walls? Perhaps this comes back to the difference between data and information; make sure what you’re measuring is actually useful.

Having said all of that, I would argue that there is still a place for some guesswork and gut instinct in marketing; after all, what marketer doesn’t enjoy a bit of A/B testing now and again?  However, we should be using the data available to us to ensure that our guesses are a qualified risk, rather than an out-an-out stab in the dark!

Update: if you’d like to read my blog on the top five reasons why I think you should be measuring your metrics, visit “Marketing metrics – why measure?” here.