Measure Twice, Cut Once

By Michael LeBeau
CEO, Managing Partner, Founder

There is no shortage of experts promoting agile marketing.

But how many have put it into practice? Talk is easy. Agile is rigorous. The difference between the practical and theoretical is why you are seeing such widely differing definitions of terms like “agile metrics.”

Always a proponent of KPIs (key performance indicators) tools and program metrics, I never embraced regular measurement until agile methodology evangelized me. Who hasn’t done a recap report because it was on your to-do list? We’d find the figures that best proved how our wildly successful program performed in-market, highlighted the lessons, then circulated the report among senior managers so they could see how smart we were. Traditional metrics often were icing on the cake.

In agile marketing, however, metrics get baked into the recipe. Nothing is measured just because you can. Agile metrics are much less of a rear-view mirror on what happened than a real-time barometer of field testing you implement, modify, or retire. The agile mindset of focusing only on those activities that really matter is fairly radical.

Agile stresses rapidity, flexibility, communication, collaboration. It values timely market feedback rather than traditional market research. Agile deploys ideas every two weeks, then field tests them. Old school is where you’re in a conference room for three months debating what will work; agile is finding out how something works in practice, i.e., how quickly can you get concepts out the door and observe them in action.

Agile marketing has a simple criterion for metrics: If you won’t be taking corrective action based on plus or minus results, don’t measure it. In this scenario, action is defined as killing a hypothesis that doesn’t work, or scaling and further testing hypotheses that do work. This adds great discipline to your metrics syllabus because it forces you to track only those things that will inform improvements to your program.

You can’t act on just any measurement. You need to ask yourself why you are measuring it in the first place. For example, maybe you’re looking at the ratio of customer lifetime value. So what are you going to do about it when you have those data? Will they change your planning? In an agile world, you’re measuring behavior, using customer feedback to play the formative role in what you’re testing. What you need to ask yourself is, Are we effectively modifying behavior?

As you might imagine, your answer may result in more factors to measure. To keep things simple and organized, try to differentiate between “macro” and “micro.” Macro indicators tell you how a program is progressing relative to your agile objectives. Micro measurements occur at the tactical level, helping to reveal when tactics need to be modified or retired. Keep in mind, however, that your micro measures eventually need to ‘ladder up’ the macro metrics.

Agile practitioners are often asked, What do your standard metrics look like? The answer may surprise you: There is no one-size-fits-all formula. Agile means customizing the metrics to meet the specific parameters of your campaign. Whether it’s engagement levels, cost per lead, visitor-to-lead and lead-to-customer conversion rates, collateral conversions, pipeline contributions, or some other metric, the only ones that count are those which are actionable. There are no universal agile metrics.

This brings up what some term “vanity” metrics. These include such measures as awareness, purchase intent, or web traffic. They’re called vanity metrics because they’re not actionable. For example, how useful is it to your client’s business if “intent to purchase” is high, but the program you just rolled out produces no incremental sales volume? Are you really moving the ball forward in sales because a gazillion people visited your client’s website or liked the Facebook page you built?

Agile metrics are data points that generate useful intelligence. Vanity metrics make you feel good. Agile metrics are in place at the start of a program so that data can be gathered at intervals in real time throughout the program. Vanity metrics occur at the end of a program. Agile metrics are a rudder to steer how a program grows and evolves. Vanity metrics are backward looking. If you were a carpenter, you wouldn’t saw a piece of wood, then measure it. Measure twice, cut once, right? It’s the same with agile metrics — you want to track only those data that show you where to cut the different hypotheses you are testing. Only then will you learn what consumers like — or dislike!

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