I ran across an article recently that said, essentially, "if you can’t track it, don’t do it." The author was writing about specific tools to help people grow their businesses. His point was that if you can track it, you can evaluate its performance and its return on investment (ROI).
In some cases, I agree with this author. But not in all situations. Not even close.
The problem with saying you should only do what you can track is you limit yourself. There are a lot of activities, tools and strategies that are not trackable. And there are many that are only partially trackable.
Whether you’re planning a new promotion or a new product or hiring a new employee, there is no possible way you can track the total results that accrue directly from one activity or one change.
In business, as in life, most things work together to produce something. Like a classic symphony or a delicious white sauce spread over a plate of fettuccine, many ingredients contribute to the end result.
For many things, it’s impossible to attribute a specific result to one particular element of the whole.
A few weeks ago I made a huge pot of beef stew. Or maybe it was soup. (I can never tell the difference!) Either way, it was a hearty combination of beef, vegetables, rice and seasonings all cooked together in a steaming hot (and delicious) medley of a meal.
When I enjoy a bowl of this stew, I enjoy it as a whole. Sure, I enjoy the various ingredients. They each stand out in their own way. And, if I neglected to include one I would miss it. For instance, it wouldn’t be as good without the carrots. And I’d certainly miss the rice.
But I find it hard to imagine I could assign a specific share of the flavor to one ingredient.
Let’s see, if I assign a value of 100 to the entire experience of enjoying a bowl of this stew then I need to break out the "experience value shares" of each ingredient. Of course there are things that went into the stew that are not ingredients, like heat and time and how the vegetables are cut and the quantities used.
How do I evaluate those intangibles?
You can see my point. It’s a fool’s errand to think we can or should quantify the experience of enjoying a type of food and then assign an ROI to each ingredient in the meal.
It does not work that way.
And we know this intuitively, when it comes to things like food, music, art and other subjective, non-business oriented things.
So, why do we forget this when it comes to business? Why do we think the rules that apply everywhere else in our lives should not apply in business?
Let’s look at a more tangible example, from the business world.
A lot of successful business people drive nice cars. Like Jaguars (one of my favorites). Jaguar is the kind of car where you don’t need to talk about its price. We all know it’s an expensive car.
There are many cars you can buy that offer comfortable and reliable transportation and that cost a lot less than a Jaguar.
But that’s not the point is it?
If I buy a Jaguar, I’m not looking for just a car. I’m looking for something ONLY a Jaguar can offer.
The intangibles you get when you drive a Jaguar are different for each person. They’re highly subjective. But they do matter. Otherwise, we’d all be driving Chevrolets or Toyotas.
So, what about ROI? How do we measure the added benefit of driving a Jaguar instead of a Toyota? How do we quantify that?
And yet, every day, people who run successful and profitable businesses decide to throw ROI tracking to the wind and buy a Jaguar (or a Mercedes or BMW, etc.).
Because they know they get more benefits than just those that can be tracked.
The same is true for other aspects of our businesses.
Far too many people think they need to track every aspect of their marketing. They believe if a marketing activity cannot be tracked directly to results, then it should not be used.
This is fine if you don’t mind limiting your marketing. Or if your budget is so big you can track and measure everything.
But, for most of us, this is not fine. Because we want to get the best results for the least cost. And you don’t accomplish that by limiting your options.
Most marketing activities generate a lot of different benefits. Not all of them are trackable. In fact, most of them are not trackable. But they still provide a lot of results. We just need to know how to evaluate them.
The reason most marketing activities cannot be 100% tracked is because of people. It’s because of how we think and act.
Most people do not make snap decisions about trying a new product or service. We usually require repeated exposure to a new concept before we even remember it, much less decide to buy it. We need to become familiar and comfortable with it before we invest our time or money in it.
This is true in all areas of life. It’s a basic fact of human nature.
So, when we’re promoting our product or service to people, we can’t expect them to jump on it the first time they hear about it. (Wouldn’t that be nice!)
Instead, we need to remember people need time and information. The more information they have about our product and the more time they have to consider it, the more likely they will begin to trust it and us. Remember, good things take time. Our best customer relationships do not happen overnight.
They happen over time.
So, to help people get comfortable and familiar with our product or service, we need to deliver our message to them repeatedly, in different ways (with different media) over time. This helps them absorb the information and increase their awareness of our product.
Every exposure to our message (if it’s the right message) brings them a little closer to becoming our customer.
This process is impossible to track completely. Because we can’t get inside the brains of our customers and prospects, we don’t know if they’re getting our messages, if they understand or if they even care. So, it’s impossible to determine which media, which message and which exposure caused them to become a customer or decide not to.
And, like a good stew, we cannot separate the media and messages and exposures. We cannot tell which one worked better than another.
Because they all work together to produce the result we want.
Maybe this is the real lesson here: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
So, if this is true, how do we decide what to do? If we cannot track everything do we decide not to track anything?
Here’s my advice: Manage your activities and monitor your results.
But do it from a distance.
What I mean is, don’t put a microscope to your marketing activities and expect to see results. Step back and watch what happens over time.
When you try some new marketing activities then give them time to work. And watch your overall sales for the products you are promoting with the new marketing. Factor in any normal seasonal fluctuations and any other changes that might affect sales.
If you see your sales going up, then do more of what you’re doing.
If your sales are going down, then do less of what you’re doing and try some new things.
Keep managing your activities and monitoring your results like this and you’ll find what works and what does not work. And you’ll get better results because you’re not limiting your activities to only those that are trackable. You’ll have more tools at your disposal.
For more information on some of these concepts, take a look at these articles: