5 Things You Can’t Measure That Matter


One of the main reasons clients give for wanting to invest in digital is that they can measure everything.

I have mixed feelings about this. For a start, it’s not actually true – there are loads of things within digital you can’t measure.

But more importantly, it suggests that a channel’s ability to be measured increases its value. Being a contrary bastard I’d propose the opposite to be true – that precisely because marketers are drawn to channels that can be measured easily it means those channels are invariably more saturated.

So here are 5 things you can’t easily measure, that absolutely matter:

  1. We’ll get the obvious one out the way first – most forms of offline marketing. The interesting thing here is that while it is a relative pain in the ass to measure, it doesn’t mean that offline marketing can’t be measured. And when it is, it turns out that it does really rather well. Printed ads, billboards, direct mail, when executed with diligence and imagination, these channels frequently outperform their more spritely digital siblings. Of course none of this should be a surprise. These things worked for a hundred years before the internet. The only difference now is that there’s way less competition.
  2. A huge proportion of app and email activity – often the most important online interactions take place under the radar. You don’t know what’s being shared on WhatsApp or Facebook messenger or email. Does that in any way reduce its value or mean that we shouldn’t take measures to encourage it?
  3. Social stalkers – I’ve recently had several prospects refer to videos of mine they’ve watched on LinkedIn that apparently led to them making contact. The interesting thing is that none of these people have ever engaged with that content, so there are 2 conclusions I can take from this – either that people are embarrassed about showing their public approval of my stuff, or that this actually goes on rather a lot. For the sake of this video and my rather delicate ego we’re gonna assume it’s the latter.
  4. So many areas of SEO – How do you gauge your brand association with certain keyword sets now that keyword data is so limited? Not easily. There’s also almost no sentiment signalling within SEO. In real life, you talk to people and get their feedback. Even on social media you see their comments, likes, etc. Now people will say website engagement is an indication of organic landing pages that provide a good experience, but maybe dwell time is high precisely because the user couldn’t find what they were looking for. Organic search is a veritable black hole of audience insight.
  5. Finally, almost anything when your audience is super niche – if your audience is comprised of 100 specific human beings, nothing you do is statistically dependable. I once sent out 30 handwritten letters to cold prospects for an event and more than half accepted and turned up. That sounds brilliant and it’s certainly an indicator that the idea had legs but in no way can I infer a meaningful conversion rate from that information. Perhaps it was a positive anomaly, perhaps it was a negative anomaly. With that dataset I have no way of knowing and I can’t scale the activity to find out because that was the audience.

The point of this is not to argue against the value of KPIs. We should obsess over that stuff, when it’s available. But the problem is that by attaching so much importance to it, at some point we begin to prioritise our ability to measure our impact over the impact itself. And when that happens, we should remind ourselves of Goodhart’s Law – that “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

See you next time.

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