Too often, marketers measure the wrong goal, measuring diagnostic metrics instead of actual goals.

My friend and mentor Tom Webster recently shared a fascinating article about the computation of the calorie.

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Already an inexact measure, scientists now suspect measuring the calorie may be far more inaccurate. Counting calories alone may not help a dieter achieve their weight loss goals.

Why do dieters count calories? For the same reasons we marketers count email open rates or clicks on ads: we seek measurements we can understand and influence easily.

Dieters need to make several changes to lose a pound of body weight, and many variables can confound that measurement. The calorie is easier to count and easier to influence. A weight loss seeker can not eat a cupcake or eat an apple instead and see an immediate change in calorie counts.

Many variables can confound a sale or even an inbound lead. We can much more easily influence clickthrough rates on our ads by changing the bid or updating the copy. We can much more easily understand and influence email open rates by messing with a subject line.

Diagnostic metrics like calories or upper funnel metrics aren’t inherently bad. Choosing to eat a salad instead of a bacon triple cheeseburger impacts our health and weight loss. We’d be fools to believe otherwise.

All other variables being equal, a 5% clickthrough rate on our ads is better than a 2% clickthrough rate. We’d be fools to choose the lower clickthrough rate with equal lower funnel metrics.

Where we run into trouble is when a diagnostic metric uncouples from our goal.

As researchers are finding, our bodies process different foods in different ways; two steaks can have the same number of calories in them from a theoretical perspective, but we digest fewer calories from one than the other. Our weight loss efforts – our goal of reducing body weight – can end up drastically different despite the same theoretical number of calories on a label. Our metric has uncoupled from our goal.

Marketers are in the same boat. Our goals of conversions or revenue can end up drastically different when our diagnostic metrics disconnect from goals. For example, we can send the same amount of traffic from an ad to two different landing pages; page A converts at 25%, while page B converts at 10%. In this example, page A’s ads can have a lower clickthrough rate than page B’s ads and still drive more revenue. Again, our metric has uncoupled from our goal. The same metric gives different results.

How do we keep our diagnostic metrics and goals aligned? All reporting should have our actual goals in it. Whether we’re doing an email marketing report or a social media report, our end goal – conversions – should always appear. We may need more sophisticated analysis tools to correctly attribute the upper funnel to lower funnel goals, but doing so ensures our diagnostics have not disconnected from our goals.

Diagnostics are valuable. We can understand them easily, change our tactics, and see fast results. We need them. We cannot rely solely on them; always keep your absolute goals in line of sight.


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