Break the Vicious Cycle of Middle Manager Metrics
The difference between loving what you do and being stuck in a dreary work situation is taking a hard look at the things around us that we accept and take for granted. The enthusiasm that drives those leaps to greatness starts with questioning why we’re even doing what we’re doing in the first place. We have to ask, “is this working?” for everything. Yet when we become complacent and accept things without thought, we head first into lazy-minded traps that make us fall out of love with what originally drove us.
Maybe there are too many “yes” people around. Perhaps the fear of questioning what is “working” or “good enough” is overwhelming the love it takes to push to the next level.
This attitude manifests itself regularly in marketing departments and ad agencies. Mediocre results and incremental gains are sometimes the only success people know. If they’re not inspired by what a leap to greatness can do for their brand, they will continue to accept the pedestrian–the “just good enough.” But that’s, well, just not good enough.
There’s a joke about five monkeys in a cage. A bunch of bananas is hung high in the cage out of the reach with some boxes placed at the bottom. The monkeys pile the boxes, climb up, get the bananas, and are sprayed with cold water. One monkey is removed from the cage as he figures out the boxes and the rest of the monkeys beat him up. Eventually, no monkey in the cage is sprayed with cold water for reaching the bananas, but any time a new one enters, he is beaten for trying. Why? Because that’s how we always do things around here.
If you and your team–your agency, partners, and loved ones–are not constantly questioning, then there’s no opportunity to evolve, to reflect, and to learn.
With the average tenure of a CMO at just 18 months, the pressure to show short-term success has never been greater. Unfortunately, this puts the liaison between an agency and upper management in the awkward and unwieldy position of delivering results to the client that often look good on paper but are, in fact, worthless.
We had a large client that was a division of an international concern. It had a diverse product line and needed to create a digital campaign that not only raised awareness of the products individually in the US, but also cross-pollinated them across different social media channels. We developed an integrated campaign that included both events and social media.
A lower-level client soon intervened. “We need to put a URL on our homepage in every single post,” he demanded. We immediately questioned this request, explaining it was not the best practice–certainly not in line with any of the goals initially agreed to upon. Social posts are meant to be informative and conversational, not a channel to spam fans with advertisements. When we asked about the purpose of a URL in the posts, he replied, “because hits to our website is the only metric by which I am judged at the home office.”
We dug deeper. At dinner one night, we asked, “Why would the home office demand hits to the website as a metric to success? Your brand sells through retail channels. There’s no e-commerce on the site.”
He replied, “When I started the job, increasing hits to the website was the easiest metric to improve. I told my bosses this was how they should judge me; but now it’s harder and harder for to increase traffic. I was hoping this campaign would do it.”
Unfortunately, this is the case with many brands. There’s a disconnect between what upper management views as successful and what actually works. The short-term pressure to show “hockey stick growth” charts trumps anything that builds a valuable brand down the road while ringing the register right now. If this person truly loved the brand he represented, and loved what he did, he would have questioned the futility of wasting resources driving a data point that only contributed to an infinite loop of dysfunction.
Just like eating junk food can give you immediate satisfaction, these metrics can be a short-term feel good for an internal marketing department. However, just like junk food gives us long-term health issues such as obesity and diabetes, vanity metrics will eat away at marketing health.
There are some metrics that are easy to increase, but are rather meaningless:
Likes on Facebook: It’s ridiculously easy to fake success here – from blackhat techniques of outright buying thousands of fans for pennies, to procuring ads on Facebook—that is, doing anything but narrowly focusing efforts on the most passionate and engaged brand advocates. Techniques like contests and coupons tend to attract low-quality fans who only want the opportunity to get something for nothing, not because they love your brand. Simply put: they got into the relationship for the wrong reason.
There’s also no real benchmark of what constitutes true success in this area. It’s easier for brand managers to say “we increased our likes by 20%!” when it means a bump from 1,000 to 1,200 fans. From a brand perspective, this is negligible. With Facebook charging to amplify brand posts beyond a fraction of their audience, the more “dead weight fans”, the less effective a budget is. Now brands are forced to pay 90% of their budget to show 10% of its fans something that interests them.
Number of comments: While more meaningful than “likes” on Facebook, many comments are the result of spammers, trolls, and people with agendas other then amplifying your brand. Increasing comments should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, one retailer who closed dozens of stores received an overall bump engagement of 50% based on negative comments. Looking at numbers alone will not tell a true story of one’s digital footprint and success. Number of comments is also easy to increase based on basic social media tactics such as asking users questions.
E-mail open rate: Just because someone has opened an e-mail doesn’t give you an indication of how they responded. Simply looking at open rate without conversions does not tell the complete story.
Twitter Followers: Having many Twitter followers is fine. Unlike Facebook, you don’t have to pay to engage with your fans- it doesn’t matter as much as you think. What matters is how many followers behave like true brand advocates. Buying bulk followers or simply following thousands of people in the hopes that they’ll follow back does not delivering meaningful results.
If love is blind, meaningless middle manager metrics has pulled the wool over our eyes. It takes inspired people to move beyond their comfort zone to a place where enthusiasm, courage, love, and understanding can’t be measured. But at the very least, you have our support. Are you with us?