Marketing and the Myth of Metrics

When your favorite team hits the field, you want them to win the game. But that’s not enough. As soon as the score goes final, you have to see the stats. What was the quarterback’s completion percentage? How many yards-per-rush did the running back earn? How did the other teams do? Did your team’s rival’s receivers get more yards? We are addicted to results.

We have become the same way with marketing.

With marketing firmly established online, we have access to incredible metrics. No longer dependent on limited focus groups and testing samples, we can monitor the actions of virtually every user who comes in contact with a brand online. We can measure the length of time spent reading articles cross referenced with the last page a user was reading. We can compare how well a green button performs versus a red button.

We are able to measure everything we do. We’re no longer using a green button on your contact form because some designer said it looks better — we have the numbers to prove it. Or rather, we love thinking we do.

Now, you might be thinking that I’m saying metrics are just some new fad, and that we need to go back to the good ol’ days of instinct-driven marketing. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The metrics available today offer invaluable insight into user experiences and consumer decision making. But there is one element that we have lost along the way. We need to trust the brand.

The temptations of bigger numbers are difficult to resist. After all, a bigger audience means more potential customers. That’s practically a universal constant, up there with gravity and the speed of light. But as we chase organic traffic, bounce rate, session duration, pageviews, and everything else that we put on those beautiful monthly reports, we collide with another universal truth — you better have something to say when you get an audience.

I know what you’re thinking, yet again. You have a great copywriter, your content is informative and relevant (and of course has just the right number of keywords). Your designers do beautiful work, and looks as good as anything you’ve run into. You’ve put hours of research into whether the buttons on your forms should say “Submit” or “Submit Now.” You’ve used heatmaps to determine precisely where your calls-to-action should go. How could you possibly not have something to say?

You’ve forgotten the brand.

The term “brand” has developed a bit of a loose definition over time. People hear “brand” and think of their beautiful logo, color scheme, and fonts. However, as important as those elements are to a successful brand, they are simply branches on the brand tree. A brand is much more than any design elements. It is more than whether your blog posts are in 1st or 3rd person. Your brand is you.

Let’s get back to metrics. All this touchy-feely talk about brands is nice, but clients want results. They’re not going to pay you to sit around and write love songs about their brand all day. They want to see their numbers get bigger. Or at least, that’s what we told them to want.

Increasing statistics for a website isn’t terribly difficult. Simply adding title tags with relevant keywords can increase organic traffic. Adding some links within your text to other relevant pages will boost your average session duration, and lower bounce rates. And again, all of these things are great. Simply by the law of averages, this bigger audience should lead to more customers. But as marketers, we’ve allowed the bar to drop to an all-time low.

We need to offer our clients more than increased sales based on simple coincidence. We need to help them create a brand worth caring about, and then communicating that message with all the right people. The next piece of content you write shouldn’t be based on the fact that it helps your SEO rankings to write frequently. The next thing you design shouldn’t just be about looking cool. Everything you produce should tell a single story. The story of a brand. A brand might be informative or it might be emotional. It may be organized or it may be abstract. What’s important is that you don’t just sell good work to get numbers. You should be selling great work that creates fans — or in the language of your client, “repeat customers.” The numbers will follow.

So the next time you’re talking to a client, don’t sell them on your ability to make the numbers bigger. That’s easy. Marketing has always been, and will always be, about selling a brand. Don’t sell yourself short for a monthly report full of upward arrows. Go create brands worth caring about. The upward arrows will follow.

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