What Are the Right Metrics Around Customer Engagement Data?


Focusing on so-called vanity metrics is a guilty pleasure of even the best media buyers and marketers. But you need not bear guilt for metrics that may be pleasingly large or easy to measure, if they're still the right metrics. After all, vanity is only vanity when empty.

There's nothing wrong with tracking "vanity metrics,' such as likes, tweets, shares, impressions, clicks, etc., as long as you're aligning those metrics to some implication for your customer's business. If that implication is simply that a certain ad received a certain amount of attention, and the metric is designed to act as an indicator of activity, that's OK — as long as everyone knows that the implication sits at that level.

However, some reporting practices should elicit real guilt. For instance, stretching a metric into something broader or more meaningful than it actually is is not OK, and it won't help you retain clients. It's too easy to pick the most attractive metric, make a case for its supposed impact, and then pivot when you deliver your next report. It's much easier than focusing on what you tried to do, what you actually did, what you learned, and how you will make changes in the future. But that's the important stuff if you want to dial in on what will mean the most for the organization(s) you serve.

So, are you measuring the right metrics today? Is acknowledgement of customer engagement data enough for your clients?

Proving Media Buying Success

You don't have to always prove the immediate success of your campaigns using customer engagement data. For some clients, though, it might be enough. Because of a shared understanding that such data represents simply "engagement," and not a tie to desired business outcomes, there is no facade about the metric's representation of success. The client asked for impressions on, say, an infographic, you deliver those impressions, chalk it up as a win!

Otherwise, though, customer engagement data via vanity metrics can appear to function more along the lines of magic than of reporting strategy. If you don't prove some connection between the metrics you're tracking and the actual results they represent, then the desired outcome is merely something that appears on the other end of the stage, no true connection to the wand you're waving — and your clients aren't going to benefit from pure spectacle.

Imagine being a client, for example, drawn in by the appeal of a high volume of page views for an asset you assume will be showcased to your target audience. For you, it's all about the right people viewing the page. You get a report, though, showing that, yes indeed, you did receive a high volume of page views, but that's it... there's no further insights. You have no idea whether those viewers were bots, random responders, or the actual intended targets in your buyer collective. You wanted value via the right people viewing your page, but what you got were page views of an unclear value.

So, proving success is about much more than dressing up old-school marketing tactics in a new-school costume. There should be some connection between the events of your magic show and the magic of your client's increasing bottom line.

Asking the Right Questions

What risk do you run when you make your customers happy by giving them exactly what they ask for? An immeasurable one.

If you don't ask the right questions to allow your client to articulate the business outcome the requested metric can translate to, you're making a bet on whether that metric does, in fact, translate to value. What happens when they come back to you in six months with the oh-so-cheerful tiding that they haven't closed more deals as a result of your buys? What if they tell you they don't see the value in something like this when budget is always tight? If you don't clearly define how metrics tie to value, these scenarios are all-too-common endings to what could have otherwise been long, healthy relationships.

The risk, for you, in short, is the unexamined reporting request.

Pushing back on metric requests is an opportunity to differentiate yourself. That's not to say you should blindly recommend metrics as counters to your client's request. You wouldn't be wise to prescribe without understanding the customer engagement data environment, their tracking capabilities, and how they report. But you can ask the right questions to ensure you're on the same page about what customer engagement data means for success, and, more broadly, what success means, period.

Those questions include:

- Does / how does this metric translate into sales revenue?

- What's the next stage of reporting on this metric? How will you track it to conclusion?
- Was this metric a mandate or have you always measured it?
- How long have you been tracking this metric?
- Do you have benchmarks?
- What is the context around tracking this metric?
- How does this metric translate to value for your business?

Treat the reporting aspect of your role as a piece that provides extra value, rather than as a transactional request and service — and you can guarantee strong results there every time.

To Each Their Own

Of course, reporting as a media buyer today isn't especially scalable. In many cases, you're considering your customers' interactions and even your customers' customers' interactions — and every single client is different from the next. Their reporting needs can vary as widely as their budgets. With such daunting variety, it can be all too easy for you to get sucked into a "scalability vortex," of sorts. As goals get bigger, and things move faster, you can find yourself grabbing onto whatever repeatable processes you can reach. In such a fray, if you don't already have a handle on the right foundational metrics for common, well-known marketing efforts, any available metric can look good enough in the moment. 

Tethering your performance analyses to common-scenario best-fit metrics, though, keeps you out of the vortex. You retain a level of agility to cater clients from situation to situation, but you remain scalable by retaining repeatable formulas. You can safely bend to box-in customers' immediate needs into the best-fit metrics to check off. In so doing, you're accomodating further scale through efficiency by making the long-term, retention-oriented conversations with customers easier and more direct to have. "Here's what we agreed to do. We did it, and here's how we can do it better..." If you aren't asking the right questions and devoting attention to each client's specific needs, you are missing your best chance of building the healthiest relationships you can build on data and performance.

So forget about academic marketing designations like the "vanity" in vanity metrics. In the real world, what matters about metrics is that they translate to real value or insight. As stated, vanity is only vanity when empty, and metrics are only empty when they're without meaning. As long as the customer engagement data you report translates to value for your customer, you know you are doing the right thing as a media buyer and as a marketer.


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