Do Your Metrics Reflect Value or Vanity?

Measurable, reliable, quantitative data is constantly being sought after by marketers. In comparison to relatively more concrete elements of a business, such as finance and operations, marketers often feel pressure, whether real or perceived, to provide some sort of measurable return on investment for their efforts. Sure, your new website design looks great, but has it directly contributed to increased online sales? Unfortunately, for many marketing efforts, it can be difficult to convincingly tie a dollar spent on marketing to dollars earned in new business.

This pressure is evaluated in a Harvard Business Review article by Eric Ries called “Entrepreneurs: Beware of Vanity Metrics.” Vanity metrics, Ries explains, look good on paper but are ethereal. Consider an increase in website traffic. More in-depth analytics that can tie that traffic directly to purchases is useful, but by itself, the increase in website traffic is basically useless. Who cares how many people stop to look at the merchandise in my beautiful store-front window if I don’t know how many of them come in and buy something?

To ensure that your metrics are useful and not simply vanity metrics, Ries recommends applying what he refers to as the “three A’s of metrics.” Make sure your metrics are:


Actionable means that the metric is reproducible. You should have an idea of how to reproduce the results in a report. This is a common and essential element in the hard sciences, with the goal being to show causation and not simply correlation.


Let’s face it; despite the value of concrete, quantitative data, reports can be boring. Few people have the time, patience or interest to dig through a maze of complex data. Key data, Ries says, “should be available to any employee, anytime, in a matter of minutes. In order to achieve that goal, the reports themselves have to be extremely simple.” Everyone in the company should be able to access and understand your metrics, or their use will be severely limited.


Depending on the incentives, goals and personal motivations of the key decision-makers in your organization, whatever metrics you provide may not necessarily receive a friendly audience. What if your data shows that your boss’s pet project isn’t profitable? Debate may ensue, and your data may be challenged. With this consideration in mind, make sure that your reports are auditable, meaning that anyone reviewing your results can easily dig down into your primary data to verify for themselves how you reached your conclusions.

Marketers often have a hard enough time proving how their efforts and the resources devoted to them contribute to the all-important bottom line without having their research and data seen as “vanity metrics.” Sticking to the 3 A’s can help add some concrete credibility to any marketer’s results.

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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