How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 3)

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

(This is part three in a four part series on how to simply measure the success of a marketing campaign. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

Regardless of what metric(s) you choose to use, the thing you have to look at with them is volume and velocity.

When I get asked whether or not a campaign is working, those are the two things I look at.

Let me explain.

I was writing what we would now call “viral” content back in the early ‘00s. I was lucky in the sense that places like Boing Boing, College Humor, Fark, Something Awful, Gorilla Mask, and a whole bunch of other link aggregators would link to different comedy articles I would write.

But back then you didn’t have a good metric to measure things. You had website “hits,” but hits was always a bullshit metric. You had unique views, but even today that’s not the best metric either because the traffic can be faked. For example, you could just buy traffic and then turn around and say, “Hey! Look at all these unique views I have!” Don’t think for a second those days are over because ad fraud costs companies billions each year, and much of that is caught up in fake traffic through bots and other sketchy sources.

The other thing is that unique view doesn’t matter if those viewers leave (or “bounce”) quickly and never return. That’s what I’m always telling people about places like Buzzfeed. Sure they get a lot of traffic ( a lot of which they were paying millions of dollars for Facebook ads for at one point), but if you’re an advertiser for Buzzfeed, and all the traffic they send you bounces within seconds of arrival and never returns, what’s the point? Why are you paying for that? All those unique views they have? They don’t matter if that’s the case.

So back then I came up with metrics of my own to figure out how I was doing: Volume and Velocity.


I knew something I wrote, like The Universal Breakup Card or a column called “What Would The Hulk Do?” performed well based on the volume of emails I received.

Today, you don’t necessarily need to go with emails as the metric; I prefer it because I don’t have to sweat the algorithms and wonder whether or not my emails are reaching my customers (and vice versa), but regardless of the metric you pick, you want to look for an increase. The bigger, the better during the campaign you’re running.
So if “What Would The Hulk Do?” got linked by College Humor, I would immediately see a huge increase in the number of emails I was receiving from people who liked the piece.

That’s volume. Is there a spike in the metric you’re following during the campaign you’re working on? IF yes, then you know it’s working. Is that a perfect measurement? Nope. Not at all. There are always variables outside your control that could influence performance, but is it an acceptable flawed metric in a world filled with deeply flawed metrics? You bet your ass it is.

Plus it’s easy for anyone to measure. The increase in in-store traffic? The increase in emails? The increase in sales? The increase in Twitter followers? The increase in press coverage and mentions? Increase in potential business opportunities coming your way? Pick whichever one you want. It’s dead simple, and anyone can happily and easily use this as a simple metric to measure their campaign’s success or failure without getting caught up in all that MBA bullshit of measuring things to death and finding things to complain about in order to protect someone’s ego or play office politics.

By the way: When people like to complain about marketing, advertising, and other fields where they can’t readily quantify them, they like to break out this old chestnut, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” The quote is often attributed to John Wanamaker, who was an early pioneer in retail and advertising. What often gets lost to history by the assholes who use this quote is that Wanamaker put a TON of money into advertising to promote his stores. So the remark, as funny as it is, doesn’t reflect the reality.

Wanamaker, like a lot of early advertisers, used volume and velocity to measure their success. If they ran an ad and saw an increase regarding the metric they were using’s volume and velocity, they knew the advertising worked. If Wanamaker sincerely believed he was wasting money on advertising, he wouldn’t have been a leading pioneer in the industry.


As you might have guessed from the name, this one is all about speed. During the campaign, the speed in which you’re getting email signups, or in-store traffic, whatever it is you’re measuring, is the thing that matters most.

Because speed will tell you one of two things; If the campaign starts off red-hot regarding the volume of whatever it is you’re measuring, but then falls flat on its face, you need to go back to the drawing board. Something is flawed in the campaign. The goal of any campaign is to generate long term results that sustain themselves. Short bursts of activity are nice but expensive and not practical for any of us to pursue.

You don’t want to rely on viral hits. It’s not sustainable. It’s REALLY nice when it happens, and I’ve been lucky since I was 18 to have a string of them, but you can’t count on it. There are too many variables beyond your control to consistently replicate a viral hit. You might get one, two if you’re lucky, but after that, unless you’ve got the money, press connections and business relationships, it ain’t happening after that.

So you look at velocity. If you start off hot and then the campaign fizzles, you know you have to rethink it.

If you launch a campaign and it stays hot, and the volume of whatever you’re measuring continues to grow at a faster and faster clip (because success breeds success), then you have a hit campaign on your hands.

So, I know. This is probably sending quantitative people up a fucking wall, but I don’t care. I think for the past 20 plus years we’ve allowed the MBAs, tech people and some enablers in the advertising and marketing industry to pollute the waters and give us all these dumb metrics to pay attention to. I’m asking you to do something big.

What I’m saying to you is to try something, pick the metric that matters most to you, talk to your customers about whether or not that something you’re trying is working, and then look at the volume and velocity surrounding the metric you selected.

If there’s a lot of activity and it’s sustaining itself over time, then you have a hit campaign on your hands. If it doesn’t, and your customers are NOT citing the campaign as the thing bringing them in store or to whether it is you want to drive them, then you know you need to retool things.

Is this common sense? Yup. But as you might have heard me say over the years, common sense isn’t so common. And thanks in no small part to the years of bad advice we’ve all received, I think it’s important someone advocate a very simple, back to basics approach to determine what works and what does not.