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You’re so vain, I bet you think this metric is about you…

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
CEO
3 August 2011

Something is really puzzling me. We’re bang slap in the middle of in an economic recession (aka ‘an economy moving at a snail’s pace’) so you’d think all brands would be biting agencies’ hands off to talk about how much money they can generate for them online. Wouldn’t you?

But here’s the funny thing. A section of clients simply can’t be dragged away from the ‘vanity metrics’ they have become wedded to over the last few decade: rank for SEO clients, and more recently fans and followers for social media clients.

Don’t get me wrong, there is some value in these vanity metrics -  they’re not completely useless. Of course rank is important in SEO. But focusing on vanity metrics to the exclusion of the bigger picture is causing some brands to make nonsensical decisions about the emphasis of their campaigns.

Rank is a good example. Despite educating clients in the long-tail and which terms are actually the best converting for them online there’s inevitably a moment in any pitch when the marketing director clears his throat and say “yes but the CEO really just wants to see us on page 1 for X” (insert appropriate 1-word hero term here). Hastily adding “of course I know that X isn’t our biggest converting term and we haven’t really got the budget to compete for it – but he’s judging the success of the campaign by how we rank for that”.

What’s going on here? Haven’t the marketing team got the guts to explain to the CEO he’s hopelessly misguided? Does the CEO really not care what is actually making money for him online? I have to say I’ve never yet met a CEO whose eyes didn’t light up when I said, “I can tell you how to make more money from your online campaign”. So I sincerely doubt the latter. But some brands seem stuck in an endless cycle of “yes, BUT, we need to be on page 1 for this term”.

Several years ago when we working for a very (very) big high street bank I remember fielding a call from a harassed marketing director telling me the Chairman had asked him to “ring up Google and tell them we should be on page 1 for retail banking as we’re the biggest bank – tell Google their rankings are wrong”. This guy actually asked me what to tell his Chairman in reply! (Wish I could remember my response…) But I thought we had moved on from those days.

The focus on vanity metrics has now filtered into social media too. Some recent pitches have been focused on “how can we get as many fans/followers as Y high-street brand?” Explanations that Y may have a ton of followers but are probably not making much money out of them because it’s the level of fan engagement that’s important not the sheer volume, just fall on deaf ears. It’s nothing more than a digital marketing “my *** is bigger than yours” game.

When I raised this with a recent client who ‘gets’ it he said that “rank for the ‘hero’ term or fan numbers is just easier for the Board to see and understand”.  I appreciate they’re busy people at the top but shouldn’t they be spending just a bit more time understanding the mechanics of how their online business actually works?

I have to say we’re lucky at Tamar that the majority of our clients really GET what the issues are here. They GET that vanity metrics are just that, about vanity, and they allow us to measure engagement, conversions, customer actions onsite and ultimately revenue generated for them – and they target us on that. And for us that’s ideal. We’re continually smashing revenue targets and showing significant YOY increases across a whole range of market sectors.

So for the dogged minority of clients (and yes, even some agencies) who are stuck in a Groundhog Day of “yes, revenue is all very well but how can we get on page 1 for X?”  I want to say, wake up and smell the roses. Other brands in your sector get it.

If you keep focusing on vanity metrics you may slap yourselves on the back that you’re doing well  – reaching page 1 or hitting 100,000 Facebook fans. But your competitors, by quietly analysing the metrics that matter are actually making more money. Who’s the best-looking brand now?”

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