How to Overcome the False Promise of Bad Metrics

How to Overcome the False Promise of Bad Metrics



MySpace averages about 5 million page visits a month.  

In the year 2021. 

Let that sink in. 

MySpace hasn’t had a cultural impact since low-waisted jeans, and so while it’s still an impressive number, what does this metric really tells us? 

The question raises a much larger issue that plagues most of the digital landscape: the blind pursuit of meaningless metrics. 

From websites to apps to social, the marketing landscape is littered with metrics, like reach and views, that marketers use to big up their product and KPIs or to measure themselves against competitors. 

But a quick peek under the hood often shows them to be nothing but vanity metrics that reveal little about how content affects human behavior. And without being able to demonstrate the real impact of marketing, these metrics are meaningless, despite their prevalence.  

At the same time, marketers still need data and , still need to be aware of how people engage with their efforts. So if marketing needs to be data-driven in an authentic way, how do you track what really matters? How do you measure ROI in marketing in an authentic way? 

Let’s explore these questions by looking at the case of video, whose rise to prominence in digital marketing has been extraordinary and whose marketing potential has yet to be fully explored, but that comes nonetheless with its own set of meaningless data baggage.  

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Going viral: the case of metrics gone wrong 

The current, elusive gold standard of the internet is a viral video, but it’s evident that you can’t force something to go viral. The best you can do is know your audience and create content they find relevant enough to stop scrolling.  

But even if you have a the good chance to go viral, the metrics themselves are deceptive. Let’s say you produce a video for Facebook, and within a few days, it’s reached 30 million people with 10 million views. But before you pat yourself too hard on the back, let’s break down these numbers. 

  • A reach of 30 million is mostly irrelevant, the equivalent of having 30 million cars pass by a billboard on the side of the highway. It may look great on a KPI report, but it says nothing of how many people actually look at or even retain your message. 
  • Drilling down to your 10 million views, an impressive number more “serious” than reach, but just as hollow. – Iit It only takes three seconds of watching for Facebook to count it as a view, barely enough time to blink, never mind have your message make any sort of impact.  
  • The more you drill down, the more drop-off happens, at 10 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, so that your video is only watched until its end around 30,000 times, a far cry from millions.  

These metrics we so casually throw around form a collective self-delusion that retains its grip on us, and we use them to make concrete, marketing decisions despite their inability to measure the true effectiveness of your message or the people to whom it is targeted.  

We need metrics that matter, ones that show if content authentically mattered to a viewer – only then can you say for certain that your message was sent and received.  


Authenticity is the future of metrics  

As tech giants like Apple and Google start taking privacy more seriously, upending marketing crutches like advertising opt-outs and limiting the reach of cookies, marketers can approach this shifting landscape in two very different ways. Some will cry foul, bemoan the loss of traditional metrics that made them look good and point fingers at the powers that be for hobbling their ability to gauge ROI. 

Or, they can welcome the change, because it puts an end to many metrics that, at their core, tell them very little. Without access to traditional metrics, maybe marketers will finally be less tempted to game the system with bogus metrics or duplicitous tactics, and spur them to find authentic ones that actually measure something of meaningful value.  

While this will go a long way to restoring some integrity to marketing, hard hit by a savvy public distrustful of misleading marketing tactics, the challenge remains: what and how can marketers still measure, while remaining ethical and having confidence in their data? 

Ironically, email may be one of the last frontiers of response marketing from which you can derive authentic metrics. At first blush, open rates suffer from the same meaninglessness, seen in the proliferation of all the dubious ways marketers have used to boost them; the fake subject line, the fake forward, the fake read. But with email, marketers also have a chance to both act authentically, with integrity, and measure authentic behaviors.  

If you lead with a truthful subject line not designed to mislead, each action following gives marketers meaningful information to know if their content resonated with their audience. Did they open it? Did they delete it? Did they unsubscribe? Did they go to your website? Each data point you get leads you closer to answers that reflect reality, the reality of your message’s effect on your audience. 

Regardless of media, however, the lesson here is that if marketers take authenticity seriously – their own actions, their metrics, their tactics – they will be blessed with authentic data.

But if you cynically use deceptive tactics, lazily lean on useless metrics or fail to speak your truth, you will never be able to measure ROI in marketing in an authentic way.  

Acting authentically leads to authentic metrics which measure authentic behaviors. This is how you measure ROI authentically. 


The choice is ours 

Given the marketing mindset and the massive scale of some marketing efforts, one final question comes to mind: can you automate authenticity?  

This, of course, misses the point entirely: to repeat, authenticity comes from truthful and purposeful human action, not artificial intelligence. Authenticity is scalable, of course, but the message you’re scaling, the actual content, needs to come from your heart.   

Marketers need to be suspect of vanity metrics and, doing so, perhaps the collective delusion that they measure something meaningful will finally dissipate.

By acting authentically and focusing on meaningful metrics, perhaps we can finally measure whether our content is truly resonating with our audience. The choice is ours. 

There is an opportunity right now to restore both the integrity of marketing and the integrity of data, which is critical for success; if you truly understand marketing, we all know that it’s a long game, and integrity is not a renewable resource.  


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