How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 1)

Photo by B.J. Mendelson on New York City's UES

I like to mock the MBAs and startup people for their obsession with useless metrics. So the question I usually get then is, “OK smart ass, what should I measure instead?”

Some people may not like my answer, but I’m going to give it to you anyway:

1.You have to decide the metric(s) that matter most to you.
2.You have to talk to your customers.
3.You have to look at volume and velocity surrounding your metric(s) of choice.
4.You have to give it 90 days. Anything less is dumb and irresponsible.

Let’s start with that first one today …

1. You have to decide the metric(s) that matter most to you.

For me, I love the offline stuff. There’s nothing better. The sin of our time is that we continue to push further and further away from it, and for what? Because you can’t measure the offline stuff? We’ve allowed more than a few multibillion dollar industries to form around what is, basically, an elaborate dick measuring contest.

“My metrics are better than your metrics!”

It’s bullshit.

So I’m proposing something counterintuitive. You pick the obvious metric: Money. Specifically, profit, as in “Did you make a profit during this campaign?” That’s one we can all agree on because regardless of who you are and what you’re doing, you need to be bringing in the cash. Bands got to eat. Not-for-profits need donations. Small businesses need to turn a profit to keep the lights on. Big companies need to please their shareholders, and all those shareholders care about is the bottom line.

But for some people, this metric isn’t good enough on its own. (Seriously. I’ve had this conversation more than once over the years.)

So what OTHER metrics should you pick to determine whether or not a campaign was successful? Well, what matters the most to you?

Let me give you an example. When someone who has read Social Media is Bullshit calls me at 518-832-9844, I’m excited. I almost always call them back as long as they leave a voicemail.

(If you don’t leave a voicemail, I won’t call you back. That’s because I live in an area that has terrible Verizon reception, so it’s often hard for me to answer when you call. Plus, so many people call me that it’s hard to keep track, so if you leave a voice mail, I’ll know who I’m calling back.)

I tell you this because one of the metrics I used to measure success for Social Media is Bullshit was the volume and velocity of the phone calls I received from readers.

Does that scale? No. But is that metric relevant to me? Yes. Why? Because why I do what I do is because I want to make everyone on the planet laugh. So if someone from Australia calls me to tell me they had a great time reading the book, then I feel like I’m accomplishing what I’ve set out to do.

You might have an entirely different project with totally different goals than my own. So the particular metric may differ, but the point is, aside from looking to see whether or not you made any money, you have to pick the metric(s) that matter to you. You can’t get hung up on shit like Instagram followers.

Other metrics I like are new, validated email addresses. I also think RETURNING unique visitors IN CONJUNCTION with high time spent on-site is also important. But again, this is something you need to determine with your stakeholders.

Just one thing on “time spent on your website.” The car dealers I’ve presented this to have pushed back on this specific metric. So I want to expand on it before we move on:

The car dealers said that people could spend a lot of time on the website because they’re lost and confused. Therefore, it’s a bad metric to use.

Don’t Make Me Think

I disagree. As long as the website is optimized regarding the user experience, then there’s nothing wrong with this metric.

Because if the website IS optimized and tweaked to provide the best user experience, meaning it’s dead simple for them to figure out where they need to go without thinking about it, then there shouldn’t be a problem.

This is easier said than done because let’s face it, a lot of websites are not well designed. So here’s a simple trick for those of you looking to get your website redesigned or have a new one built to solve this problem: Ask your designer if they know who Steve Krug is. If they say no, don’t hire them. If they say yes, but haven’t read Krug’s book, “Don’t Make Me Think,” don’t hire them.

You should read that book as well. It’s pretty great, but you get the idea: Only hire designers that are familiar with Krug’s work and understand the importance of usability.

Another way to solve your website usability issues: Get a tablet, load up your website, and go to a bar. Some of the startup people reading this will know what I’m going to suggest next since this has been floating around Silicon Valley as a trick for a while now. Find someone who looks like your ideal customer and by them a drink. Then ask them, after they’ve finished the drink, to use your website to find something you asked them to look for. Then watch them do it. You’ll learn a lot. (This is also true for apps, by the way.) Why? Because the way a drunk person uses the internet is the same as a sober person.

It’s true. With all the distractions we have bombarding us as we use the web, it’s easy to get lost and confused. The same way a drunk or buzzed person might.

That aside, yes, I think time spent on-site, particularly for returning visitors, is a valuable metric for you to consider.

(Returning visitors are more valuable than one-time visitors, especially these days where we celebrate places like Buzzfeed for all the traffic they get, but say little about the traffic they send their advertisers who quickly bounce from the site they’re going to and never return.)

All that said, Ray Kroc best summed up my attitude on what metrics matter in describing his fight with people within McDonald’s that were against advertising. Kroc said that any money that they spent on marketing, things that were in the short term intangible, he’d make back in the long run regarding increased customer traffic and satisfaction.

This is hearsay today because we’re obsessed with data and have allowed short-term thinking shareholders, MBAs, and tech people to pollute our culture. So I’m going to suggest something controversial and tell you that Ray Kroc was right, and these people today are wrong.

While there ARE metrics you can measure NOW; I think the real test of any marketing / PR / advertising campaign comes down to one simple question: Did you see an increase in the number of customers during the time of this campaign?

If yes, and assuming you read the next point here tomorrow and don’t just storm away because you’ve fallen into the trap of our metrics-driven, “Big Data” obsessed culture, then you can say the campaign worked.

One Last Thing To Consider

Did you see an increase in current, and new, customer satisfaction during the time of the campaign? Because people don’t realize this, but your current customers are your best advocates. So sometimes you do a new campaign not necessarily to attract new customers, but to make the current customers feel like they’re part of something, and that in turn empowers them to tell others about you.

This isn’t rocket science or rocket surgery as Krug likes to joke. Marketing isn’t bullshit, but it is easy enough for your dog to understand and act on. The problem is that we make it seem so much more complicated than it is.

So pick the metric that matters to you, in addition to whether or not you’ve made money from the campaign, and rest easy. The rest is just noise made up by people looking to justify their existence. And in some cases, by people seeking to exert control over something they don’t understand for selfish reasons.

I believe we need to move past all that. If we’re going to empower people to succeed in selling whatever it is they want to sell, then we need to throw away years of garbage and nonsense and focus on the basics. Did you make money? Did the metrics you care about most increase as a result of the campaign?

Then awesome! On to step two tomorrow …