Friday, July 06, 2012

Metrics are Descriptive not Prescriptive

I know a marketer who spent a lot of time developing metrics to drive up sales. She was successful at driving up the metrics, but the sales where slow in coming—at least as a direct outcome of the metrics. She was impatient and wanted results she could show senior management. And she did well. She developed impressive numbers. But, marketing is more than about the numbers. Numbers can indicate success, but they don't drive success.

Success is when we solve a problem. And the problem is not the metrics themselves. The problem should not even be about making a few sales. For instance, a sale doesn't necessarily spawn more sales. But a customer who values your solution above anyone else will not only buy from you again, but influence others to do the same. This doesn't mean that sales are unimportant. It's just that making sales becomes part of the overall solution.

So, there's a choice. One approach is to drive up metrics. Another approach is to become the de facto source for business. Which problem are we trying to solve?

Metrics as Prescriptive

Defined as the enforcement of a rule or method, many people use metrics to either justify their solutions or make them the solution themselves. They will devote most of their thought to the metrics, and not to creative problem-solving.

For instance, some web designers may discover that a certain group doesn't like to read and they hate to click more than two times to get information. The designers will design the website by minimizing text, and build the homepage as a site map to satisfy the one-click goal. Is this a good way to design a website? Shouldn't the goal of the website itself drive the design decisions?

Metrics as Descriptive

Approaching metrics as a description of the current state of something is a more accurate way of handling metrics. Data on group behavior is just that. A description of the way some groups of people do things currently—or compared to the past. It can indicate certain trends, assumptions, and habits. It can be helpful in predicting future behavior or a response to certain stimuli. However, it doesn't solve a problem. People who use metrics as a description of a certain state tend to do a few things:

  • use the data to find boundaries for solutions
  • use the data to break assumptions (disruptive)
  • use the data to discover where the needs are that can be met

Metrics are not a solution. Metrics are a snapshot of a current state. And snapshots are very different than movies.

Photo courtesy ppdigital of

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