How Do I Measure The Success of What I’m Working On? (Part 4)

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

This is the last installment in a four-part series about measurement. I get asked a lot by people how to figure out if their marketing efforts are working or not, and so this is my answer. You can catch Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Give it 90 Days

You might be wondering, “OK. I know what to look for to measure success, but how do I know if the campaign is a failure or not?”

No volume, no velocity. Sure. Obvious signs of a failure, but what about this patience thing? How long should you give any campaign before you decide to pull the plug on it?

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote a concurrence in Jacobellis v. Ohio. In the case, the Supreme Court was attempting to define obscenity because the state of Ohio was trying to ban a film from being watched because the state said the film was “obscene.”

In the concurrence, Stewart was trying to explain how he knew something was pornography or not, and he said, “I know it when I see it.”

I know our data-obsessed culture isn’t very big on gut instinct and feelings, but that’s what I go with. You should always trust your gut.

I know. Like the rest of this advice, that’s easier said than done, but it’s the truth. And look, I don’t always follow the obvious advice either. Nobody’s perfect. We all fuck up. Just recently this company wanted me to work for them, and I met one of their executive team members and everything in my gut was screaming, “You’re not going to get along with this person, don’t work with them,” and I said yes anyway. It was a huge mistake. I should have trusted my gut, but I didn’t. So I know when I say stuff like that, it sounds obvious, but the challenge for you and I is to be mindful of what we’re doing every day. If our gut is telling us, something, you have to stop and listen to it over all the other noise that bombards us on any given day.

Of course, if you design the marketing campaign correctly, it should NEVER get to the launch phase where you have doubts about it. That’s a post, or maybe a book, for another time.

But let’s say the campaign somehow gets past the planning phase and you still have your doubts. Then you see people aren’t responding in the way you had hoped. Or how about this. Given that this world is wild and unpredictable let’s say something happens which just completely blows any chance of this campaign working, no matter how well planned or executed it was.

What I suggest is this: You launch the campaign and give it 90 days. A month is not enough time to carefully evaluate anything. Diffusion among people regarding ideas that stick and resonate with them takes longer than that. (My hunch, not yet backed up with data, that’s why I’m researching for the book right now. I suspect the research will show that I’m right on this.)

At the end of 30 days, if something needs to tweaked, you can make those tweaks on Day 30, which resets the clock. So that brings you to Day 60, where you can recalibrate again. If after the second recalibration things aren’t working, then you can safely kill the campaign. I think that’s more than fair. 90 days is plenty of time to test, evaluate, tweak, and test again while also giving the campaign enough time to diffuse among your target audience (and the people you want your target audience to share the campaign with.)

Just Do It

I’ve spent most of my life broke. My family wasn’t poor, but we were broke. And then I went to college just as the dot-com Bubble Burst, and then got married just months before the Great Recession started. (One of the key reasons we got divorced was money. The other was that I was an asshole.)

I tell you that because when we talk about promoting yourself, your business, your cause, whatever it is you’re looking to share with the world, I know these things cost money.

And don’t buy into that crap that you don’t need to spend money on marketing, PR and advertising. You do. The game you’re playing is rigged. You may not need to pay for those things if you were accepted into Y-Combinator and had access to all their resources and connections, or if you went to Harvard, but for the rest of us? You gotta put money into this, and that can be scary because we don’t have a lot of it to work with.

So when I talk about volume and velocity and talking to your customers, and picking the metric that matters most, the suggestion I want to make is this: Be patient. I don’t believe any campaign is a success unless it makes its money back. Or, the campaign pays off in some other way. I should be clear here: Not all marketing and PR campaigns are done to make money. For example, your goal may be to get something, like a deal with a record label, or to show people within your industry that you know what you’re doing and can walk the walk.

You may, also, not make money back in the way that you think. I made more money speaking and consulting than from book sales, for example., So it’s possible that if you do make your money back, it may not come from the source you expect.

Now that being said, you have to give it time. That’s not something our metrics obsessed culture is comfortable with. Good marketing, advertising, PR, sales, it all takes time. That’s why the velocity metric is so important. You might get real hot out of the gate, but then that’s all the activity you ever see. The only way to know for sure is to allow for these campaigns to breathe. Set the budget, and then let it go to work for you. Don’t second guess it or get bent out of shape if it takes a while to see results.

You may find that the volume increases slowly over time, and then the velocity of that activity spikes and then stays spiked because success breeds success. But you can’t get to that point if you panic and cut the legs out from your campaign because the MBA types get nervous.

That was Ray Kroc’s attitude with McDonald’s. He knew he’d make the money they spent on marketing back. Can any of us argue that he didn’t?

So set the money aside for the campaign, take a deep breath, and do it. If you did everything else right (and we’ll talk about “everything else” soon), then you won’t have anything to worry about.

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