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The Metrics Conundrum: Move Markets By Balancing Data Analytics with Qualitative Understanding

If your marketing strategy is strictly metric-based, you may be missing an opportunity to excel. This guide is for you!

A job or two ago, I had a leader who was continuously involved in marketing program metrics. She was critical of programs that did not show quantifiable lead generation and even more critical of programs when the leads they generated didn’t result in immediate closed deals. We had a constant battle about what marketing metrics mean, what kind of metrics are appropriate for different kinds of marketing programs, when it’s appropriate to use metrics (or not), why sales metrics on marketing programs don't always make sense, and how to make decisions about which programs to keep, grow or scrap.

For any of you who have had to defend your program strategies against metrics (or those of you who may be over-using metrics), here is a short explanation about why we should not lean too heavily on metrics and, more importantly, what we can do instead.

In the ever-evolving landscape of product marketing, metrics have become both a blessing and a curse. They provide valuable insights into campaign performance, but they can also lead to a tunnel-vision approach that hinders innovation and growth.

Metrics are undoubtedly a powerful tool in the product marketer's toolkit. They offer quantifiable evidence of a campaign's success or failure and enable data-driven decision-making. However, excessive reliance on metrics can have unintended consequences, particularly for people not yet comfortable with marketing or not yet familiar with their market space.

Metrics can be a tempting crutch when decisions about investment must be made and justified. Don’t fall into this trap! Take metrics for what they are, a useful but myopic vantage.

Keep in mind what metrics are and what they aren’t. Consider other methods to complement your metrics and flesh out the big picture, so you can make more informed marketing decisions.

1. Metrics Can Put Your Programs Into A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy One pitfall of relying too heavily on metrics is that they can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we invest heavily in a particular program, that program tends to perform better than lesser-funded programs. Increased investment leads to improved results. This does not mean the program is better! It just means the program is better funded. Relying too heavily on metrics when comparing across programs can lead you to allocate resources to programs that may look good on paper simply because they have a history of high investment. However, this doesn't necessarily mean they are the right programs to pursue.

2. Metrics Offer An Incomplete View of the Customer Journey Another limitation of metrics is their often incomplete visibility into the entire customer journey. Many marketing efforts involve a series of touch points, each contributing to the conversion of a lead into a customer. However, metrics, including attribution models, tend to focus on the last touch-point, giving it undue prominence. Programs that are designed for prospects when they are earlier in the funnel or that provoke thought but not yet a conversion often look bad in metrics but are not, in fact, failing to perform. Knowing the right metrics to use at different times in the buyer's journey is critical. And, let's face it, the earlier in the funnel it is, the harder it is to use quantitative metrics.

A Balanced Approach: How to Appropriately Use Metrics While metrics are essential, they should be part of a broader strategy that includes qualitative insights and a human touch. Here are some strategies for using metrics more effectively:

Metrics Are Very Useful Relative to Themselves If you've been practicing in your market for a while, you probably know what works and what the "price to play" programs are. The ones you have to do if you want to compete - these are non-negotiable tactics, channels, and programs. What do you do when you have a "must-have" program but it just doesn't look good on paper? Think about what it means to be a poor performer on paper! Rather than using metrics to kill underperforming programs, what if we used them to identify what is going wrong with the program and make informed adjustments? Maybe certain channels or messages are not resonating with the audience. Maybe you need to refresh the program in some way. Metrics can provide the necessary guidance for fine-tuning your approach within a program.

The bottom line here is that you should never let data be the sole driver of your program strategies. They are data points used to inform decisions. They are a key bit of information you should be able to assimilate into your thinking to come up with new ideas, but they should never dictate your approach.

Complements to Metrics: Tools For Making Informed Decisions So what does that mean? How do you learn about what motivates your market if data is not enough? Here are some ways to supplement metrics and make well-rounded marketing decisions:

1. Ask Your Target Audience Directly Direct feedback from your audience through surveys and focus groups can provide valuable qualitative insights. Understanding their pain points, needs, and preferences can guide your marketing strategy effectively. Be very careful in qualitative research to ensure you're not leading your audience. Have open, honest conversations in a controlled way so you can understand the trends that matter for your target segments. Be sure to do this regularly - it can change rapidly in today's market environment. Document these discussions - if you have a metric-obsessed colleague you need to influence, it will be invaluable to have a transcript, recording, or at least a report of findings.

2. Engage with Prospects and Customers and (gasp) Your Sales Colleagues Engaging in direct conversations with your prospects and customers can yield invaluable insights. Their opinions and experiences can help you identify opportunities and challenges that metrics alone might miss. And your sales team, if you have one, is an extraordinary source of information. Ask them too. When using this approach, do not take shortcuts! You must talk to enough people that you can be relatively sure you are hearing about general trends. It's very easy to talk to one account or one sales representative and take your marketing programs on a useless joy ride based on an outlier. Much like your market research, VOC (voice of customer) should be documented so you can leverage it internally if you need to.

3. Engage In Ongoing, Constant Competitive And Related Industry Analysis Study your competitors and their strategies. Check out adjacent spaces to see what is working for them (in medical devices, I often look at biotech and pharma). Figure out what's working for them, and where are they investing their marketing dollars. While not a direct replacement for metrics, this can provide a broader perspective on industry trends and opportunities. Further, if you can get their metrics side-by-side with yours, that can tell you a lot about how your programs should be performing.

4. Listen! Set Up Social Listening, Monitor Industry Media, Participate On Trade Sites

Pay attention to what your customers are talking about. An easy way to track that is social listening, tracking industry media, and watching blogs or other spaces where your customers meet. Always be refining your social listening queries and keywords; try to avoid limiting your queries too much as you may miss critical trends; be part of the conversation so you can stay fresh and informed. Like the rest, document everything!

You Can Understand What It All Means

Take all of these sources of information (metrics and qualitative data) and compile it into a story that will drive how you adjust your promotional, awareness or educational strategies, where you invest, etc. Putting the story together will also give you an easy tool to share with and influence your colleagues if they can't see past the metrics on their own. Most people who have become overly focused on metrics don't actually know what other qualitative data is available or how to use it, but if you have it in hand ready to share, the majority can get there.

In the world of product marketing, metrics are undeniably vital. However, they should not serve as the sole compass guiding your marketing journey. To avoid the metrics trap, strike a balance between data-driven decisions and qualitative insights and keep all of the data (metrics and others) in mind as you make decisions. Remember that behind every data point is a real person with real needs and desires. By combining the power of metrics with a human touch, you can create a marketing strategy that's not only successful but also innovative and customer-centric.

(Stay tuned to learn about matching metrics with stages of the funnel and buying cycle)


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