Industry standards are a waste of your time

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One of the most asked questions I get is about industry standards. “How do we compare for likes, retweets, email open rates, website visitors, and every other marketing metric versus industry standards?” The answer is: it doesn’t matter at all. Not one bit. Why? Because industry standards have nothing to do with you or your business.

For example, Snickers bars and broccoli are both products in the food industry. Can anyone argue with a straight face that the engagement of fans of Snickers and Green Giant broccoli will be at all comparable?

Smallville Credit Union and Golden Slacks MegaHedgeFund are both in financial services. One serves a small town of 300 people and keeps Grandma from storing her nickels in a mattress. The other serves only people with 10 million dollars in disposable fun money. Do you think their website traffic or email list performance will be even close to the same? Yet they’re both financial services, and they’d both be lumped into some foolish “social media industry standard for financial services” report.

Imagine a fitness company published a report saying that the average runner ran a 12 minute mile. If you’re an expert runner, you simply ignore that because you’ve already got it beat and you’re working on improving your own times. If you’re a novice runner, all it does is discourage you and makes you feel bad. That bit of information does nothing to help you substantially improve your running. What does? Beating your previous times. Going for a new personal record, which is the only metric that actually matters.

The same applies to your marketing and your business. Pay no attention to what others are doing with their metrics as a basis for comparison for your own company. What should you pay attention to? Continuous improvement of your own metrics. Launch a website. Send an email. Tweet something. Then measure. The next time you do the same action, try to improve upon it. Get 1.1% open rate instead of 1.0%. Get 1 more visitor to your website today than yesterday.

Build your business by always working on beating yourself, and if you stay focused, you’ll be beating everyone else, too.

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4 responses to “Industry standards are a waste of your time”

  1. Chris, I agree 100% that people need to focus first and foremost on their own metrics. Establishing baselines and trying to improve from there is really the only way to set goals and measure your improvement.

    That being said, to go along with your running analogy, if I were running a 10 minute mile, I may want some data to understand if my pace is novice level, expert, or somewhere else. Along with that, what if I were actually measuring my time in KM/hour, but calling it miles, because it’s pretty close. Now we have a problem.

    I’ve been on industry standards boards before, they don’t always accomplish a lot. But I do see long term value in helping an industry ‘mature’ by having some level of established metrics and ideas of how different segments of the market tend to perform.

    1. I’m with @covati:disqus on this one. You know my stance on “best practices” … but there is *some* value – just not the end all be all.

  2. Agree Chris. In fact I think you have a competitive advantage if you stop dwelling on standard measures and focus on anything that is a meaningful indicator for your business. More and more in this fast-paced digital world, I see “standard” anything as a detriment to progress.

    1. One of the best quotes I ever heard on standards as they relate to case studies is that waiting for a case study about the industry leader guarantees you won’t be it.

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