For anyone who’s dabbled in data analysis, it’s no secret that some metrics are more useful than others. Successful marketing doesn’t equal tons of likes or follows on social media. Similarly, collecting a slew of random leads at a networking event won’t always help you measure your marketing success.
The crucial difference marketers must distinguish is between outputs and outcomes. It’s a common mistake to judge your effectiveness by looking at outputs, but true understanding comes from observing your outcomes. So what do these terms specifically mean?
Outputs are essentially the avenues and activities you use to reach out to customers. Print advertising and retail stores are two traditional avenues for marketing your business. Content marketing outputs have exploded over the past decade, making blogs, social media, videos, surveys, and other online tools incredibly valuable. The trouble arises when businesses try to measure their effectiveness based strictly on these outputs. Unfortunately, the amount of time and effort involved does not guarantee any degree of marketing progress. You can have infinity outputs, but if they’re ineffective, they have absolutely no value.
Outcomes are much more reliable area of focus. They are the result of the hard work you expend through your outputs. So let’s say you use your website to gather email addresses. Then you send out relevant newsletters to those who opted in. The outputs are your website and your newsletters. But what matters? The outcomes: How many sales were made as a result? How has the newsletter changed public perception of your company?
Oftentimes, marketers will fall into the habit of measuring outputs rather than outcomes because it’s much easier – it takes less effort. With the rise of digital marketing, it’s even easier to get sucked into the trap of measuring outputs because that’s how platforms are framed:
How do social media platforms measure things? Likes, follows.
How do email marketing platforms measure things? Subscribers, open rates.
How do website platforms measure things? Page views, clicks.
No wonder businesses are confused about outputs and outcomes. Many of the available metrics provide data that doesn’t matter much. These surface-level measurements are a good start, but they won’t provide the understanding you need to meaningfully move your business forward.
So what’s the solution? Ideally, you want to focus on metrics that relate as closely as possible to sales. How close is a Facebook “like” to a sale? Not very close. Anyone can like your page without ever having invested interest. But what about email subscribers? Now you’re getting a little closer to a sale. And what about a marketing campaign that drew thousands of people to your landing page, resulting in X number of sales? Through that metric, you can observe a direct link between the marketing campaign you ran, and the number of sales that resulted from it. Your metrics should be as close to “point A to point B” as you can possibly get (point A = the marketing activity, point B = the sale or another desired outcome).
To avoid getting lost in the depths of jumbled data analysis, determine your revenue goals before even glancing at any numbers. What are the things you hope to accomplish with your business as a whole? What do you hope to accomplish through x, y, and z marketing outputs? If these questions are clearly answered, it becomes much easier to decipher whether your strategy is working. You can see the true value of your website, for example, when you know what your website’s job is.
Once you are clear on your revenue goals, the tension between your budget and your marketing strategy eases up. Marketers have an easier time justifying money spent on various marketing expenses. They can explain the value of those expenses in light of the larger goal. For smaller companies or entrepreneurs just starting out, this can also mean less anxiety and less wasted money.
Ultimately, how can you be sure you are on the right track with your marketing strategy? A few things will be true:
- You’ll be budgeting based on the impact of a certain marketing activity instead of blindly guessing/chasing surface-level success.
- You’ll have individuals designated to each important project; they’ll understand what they are doing and why.
- You’ll recap at the end projects to determine what went wrong, what should be repeated, etc.
In short, to get the most out of your data and your marketing attempts, you have to dig deeper. If it were all about chasing Twitter followers, successful marketing would be a breeze. Instead, it’s reserved for those clever businesses that are willing to observe, understand, and act.