The King of the KPIs

Throughout the course of my week, I come into contact with dozens of marketing solutions that propose to use quantitative approaches to deliver measurable results – lower costs-per-x, better conversion rates, higher LTVs. These are all well and good, and most services deliver on what they promise. But as I get further into my career, I can better recognize solutions designed for the wrong problems.

KPI stands for key performance indicator, but since we deal in KPIs (plural), as opposed to KPI, I’d like to focus on just my favorite one — engagement.

Here is an analogy I enjoy thinking about. We can think of a customer interaction like a phone conversation (remember those?). Marketing tools that try to optimize the performance of my phone conversation, can inform me of the best time to call, best number to dial, how many voicemails to leave before giving up, and maybe even how to open the conversation. But there is no substitute for stimulation, or for the purposes of this example, a stimulating phone conversation. For a phone conversation to be great, lots needs to go right – tone, topics, pacing, balance between talking and listening, just to name a few.

What makes marketing (and talking on the phone I suppose) challenging is there are many different ways to stimulate. Someone or something can shed light on new information, challenge a closely held belief, scare us, excite us, comfort us, intrigue us. And our emotional reactions in these instances are what keep us engaged.

So if we follow this logic, it’s not a click or a tap that precedes engagement, it’s a feeling.

When taking on new a new project, I always make it a point to begin by looking at engagement, and working my way outwards from there. This is a departure from traditional funnel analysis that starts from the most general level of awareness (top of the funnel), working downwards towards some “north star” KPI.

Understanding engagement and working outwards allows me to think about the many different ways a customer interaction can be memorable, stimulating, even perfect. I think about the many ways a phone call can change the course of one’s life — good or bad. I don’t think about engagement like a counting stat on the back of a baseball card or a series of user-initiated taps, clicks and gestures. I think about engagement emotionally and multi-dimensionally.

I’ve had many phone conversations in my life. I remember some of them. And if we estimate that number somewhere around 1 for every year of adult life, then consider all of the things consumers see, touch, and taste in everyday life, it becomes easy to see how difficult it is to truly change hearts and minds.