We’ve all heard the advice “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, and there’s a good deal of truth in that. In this article, I want to get you to think about what you can do when it isn’t possible to measure something.
It’s why I’ve always advocated using metrics to monitor the performance of marketing.
The excuse has often been that marketing is an art, not a science.
That’s muddled thinking. Great marketing has hugely creative thinking in it. But that doesn’t mean that its results aren’t measurable.
We do marketing because we want to achieve specific goals. So if our campaign will be successful when a certain proportion of its target audience responds to our call to action – our invitation to buy, to subscribe, to follow – we count those responses, and we compare them with the population of our target audience.
But that maxim of “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, often leads people to only use strictly numerical factors to influence their direction.
Let’s broaden the focus from marketing to all of our decisions in business.
Often, the indicators we use are financial – the cost of something, the sales of widgets, the percentage growth or decline.
What about softer or less tangible factors? Can we still value them?
When I was asked to help assess the cultural fit between two organisations that were thinking of merging, of course there wasn’t a readily available concrete measure. But we can feel how good such a merger might be.
So I asked the two management teams to give the cultural fit their own value, using some factors I selected, on a scale of ten for each one. I worked through with them how clear the consensus was, when the scores had been aggregated.
It wasn’t a true ‘measure’ in the same way that a metre or atomic second is defined. But it was valuable.
When a retail company I advised was considering two alternative courses of action for modifying their customer service, I couldn’t possibly estimate the impact. I decided to ask their customer service personnel to place a value on each option, based on what they knew of their customers.
Of course it made sense to hear from people who are in contact with customers every minute of their working lives. In that case, the soft “feeling about your customer” translates later into a hard measure of customer satisfaction.
Soft and hard measures
And that’s the point.
Hard, concrete measures make sense when defining and setting targets, and later in a process, where outcomes are measurable.
Softer measures are helpful at an early stage, when plans are being made. It’s tapping into people’s life-experience, experience in their job, intuition, and emotions.
They’re also useful later on. Could we have done better? How do we feel about what we’ve done?
Feeding back into the learning cycle
We often take the concrete measurements of the outcome of an activity, campaign or programme, and compare it with the decisions that were made that set it going.
Adding in softer measures gives us richer context – more dimensions, if you like. How were our feelings, emotions, experience and intelligence incapable of producing a better result? Or how was it that they enabled the choice of exactly the right course of action? What should we learn?
The cycle of learning, using soft measures as well as hard ones, is the foundation for business improvement.