To Measure Success Is to First Define It

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Debbie Qaqish, The Pedowitz Group
Debbie Qaqish, The Pedowitz Group

What are the most compelling ways to measure marketing success?

In addition to being a tough question, this is also a trick question; the answer depends on who's answering. It's analogous to the story of the three blind men and the elephant in which each blind man touched a different part of the elephant (trunk, leg, and tail) and thus had a different perception of it.

It's this lack of a holistic picture of what marketing success is that makes it a trick question. Think about it. It seems that in many companies how marketing success is measured depends on who is answering the question. Sales might say, “It's brochures, tradeshows, and leads you provide me.”

Your executives might say, “It's staying on budget or driving revenue.” Your marketing team might say, “It's how many activities got done, and our email open rate and form conversion.” These varying perceptions create a measurement hardship on marketers that needs to be eradicated, now.

Action Item 1: Address the trick question

Marketing leadership needs to create a definitive set of measures for marketing success, and these measures need to align with the strategies and goals of the company. Further, these measures need to be widely shared across the company so everyone understands what motivates marketing. It's no different than sales having a quota that motivates their choices in business.

Once the measures are set, they become the filter through which all requests and marketing activities are evaluated and prioritized. Without this first step, marketing will continue to flounder in demonstrating success. With this step, marketers become masters of their own time and understand their role and contribution to business success.

Action Item 2: Add “compelling” to your measurement vocabulary and actions

OK, now that we've defined how marketing success is measured and why this is a critical first step, let's discuss what constitutes “compelling ways to measure marketing success.”

Marketers need to measure work that matters to the business, in a way that makes sense to their business in terms of numbers, and measure items the business can use in making decisions and taking action. Clearly, what you measure should be aligned to your success factors, which should be aligned to the company goals. So, if it's important for your company to make inroads into new markets, that's what you should do and measure. If it's important that your company grows revenue by 30% in the calendar year, this is what you should do and measure. To avoid being torn asunder with all the marketing to-dos, you'll have to develop a portfolio approach that balances all the required activities and resulting measures. I never said it was easy.

It's also important to develop a measurement competency so that when you share whatever measures you're tasked with, they're reliable, and, therefore, believable. Nothing is more frustrating for a marketing team than to report results and not have it believed or to have it ignored by the business.

Action Item 3: Set up dashboards

You've heard the adage “What gets measured, get's done.” I would add another one, “That which is visible, gets done.” Dashboards are the ultimate expression of a compelling way to measure marketing success. Whether it's revenue contribution, a new product rollout, customer acquisition and retention, penetration into new business segments, building brand advocacy, or growing strategic partnerships, if it's a factor of success for marketing, it needs to be on a dashboard.

Now, this brings up the question of, is everything of value that marketing does measurable? What about intangibles like thought leadership? Yes! Insert unique links into your content to track the number of prospects added to your nurturing cycle through these thought leadership articles and press releases; it can all be measured in some way. If it's important to the business and one of your key success factors, you'll find a way to measure or to have an indication of process. Otherwise, ask yourself if it's really that important.

Marketing success needs to be defined, specified, agreed upon, and then made highly visible. This process will ensure marketing is aligned with the business and will achieve measurable marketing success.

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