The more I study marketing metrics and share, the more this fundamental principle seems to be getting lost among marketing practitioners:

Metrics can tell you what happened.
Metrics cannot, most of the time, tell you why.

Look at any set of metrics and ask yourself if you have a clear idea why you have those numbers, why they changed, and why those changes happened. The numbers themselves can’t tell you. Only thinking, insight, logic, and the time-honored method of asking people can tell you why something happened. For example, look at your email marketing open rates. They’ve likely gone up a little recently. That’s what happened, but do you know why? The answer lies not in the numbers themselves but in context outside the numbers – namely, that summer vacation ended and lots more people are back at work.

Blue Sky Factory User Conference 2010

Developing that context requires you, as a marketer, to talk to people directly. Ask yourself if you’ve done any of these things recently:

– Read and responded to an email in your company’s customer service inbox
– Answered the general phone line at your company
– Responded to complaints about your company in social media
– Talked to a happy customer about why they’re happy and how you can make them more happy
– Talked to an unhappy customer about why they’re unhappy and how you can fix things
– Attended a gathering or event and talked to prospective customers about what they want

If you’ve done none of those things recently, then you’re lacking all of the inputs and information you need for context. You can have all of the analytics tools in the world, the best in class, and you’ll still have almost none of the information you need to put marketing metrics in the right context. Measuring the results of decisions that customers make is easy – understanding why they made those decisions in the first place is the hard work. Know that and you’ll win.


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