I generally hate blog posts and articles that suggest there is a single trick, hack or tip that can change your world. (I swear if I see one more headline promising the one habit that can turn me into Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet, my head will explode.) But, there is one powerful tip that, I have found, can help you avoid costly mistakes and turn a weak business or marketing strategy into a powerful one: Define your goals and metrics first, then develop the plan to deliver on those.

That’s it. That’s the entire tip. Not exactly rocket science, huh?

The problem is that, far too often, we do the opposite. We commit to a strategy we like or a technology that intrigues us, and after our plan is set, we then figure out how to measure the outcomes. The problem with this approach is that we develop metrics to fit the strategy rather than developing a strategy to match what we want to accomplish and what our business needs. By figuring how we’ll measure what we have already committed to doing, we end up with vanity metrics rather than important business KPIs.

Social Media And Alexa Skills: Solutions In Search Of A Problem

The 2008 to 2015 social media strategies of virtually every brand illustrates this problem. Every company in the world jumped into social media for reasons that ranged from weak (“our competitors are doing it!”) to incomplete (“our customers are adopting it!”) So, after an organisation committed to a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn strategy, all that was left was to determine how to measure it. Thus, we ended up with meaningless metrics such as likes, retweets, fans, and comments. And, having committed to measures that have little to no link to our business goals, brands then spent a lot of money to achieve results that didn’t matter. How many brands learned the hard way that Twitter sweepstakes, Farmville giveaways, vapid content, and fan contests were useful only for lifting useless metrics while doing nothing to improve brand health or results?

We can see the same thing happening today with voice devices. Brands continue to jump onto the Alexa and Google Home bandwagon because voice devices are quickly becoming common in US homes (“our customers are adopting it!”) And, as a result, brands are rapidly jumping into developing voice applications such as Alexa Skills, the number of which doubled in 2018 (“our competitors are doing it!”)

The problem is that too many brands commit to developing voice apps without really understanding how consumers use them or establishing what the brand wants to accomplish and how it will measure success. The outcome is a whole lot of voice applications with little evidence they get used. Amazon doesn’t release data on monthly active users of skills (hmm, I wonder why?), but what we do know is that 60 per cent of Alexa skills have zero ratings and only 5 per cent have more than ten. We also understand why people use their voice devices, and every one of the top reasons is core functionality provided by the device makers (time, alarms, online search, directions), entertainment (music, fun questions) or media (news and weather).

Three Benefits Of Starting With Your Goals And Measures

Instead of leaving the goals and metrics for the end, what happens if we start with them at the beginning? Three outcomes:

  • Abandon a useless effort: If we honestly cannot measure something in ways that are meaningful to our business, should we do it? Perhaps not, because, I’m pretty sure your brand has a long list of problems to fix, systems to improve, and opportunities to exploit that can, in fact, drive your top or bottom lines. Perhaps the time is not right for your brand to develop an Alexa Skill if it cannot figure out a way to measure it in a way that is significant to your business. 
  • Revise our expectations: You could, of course, choose to do something not because it is essential to your business but because you wish to pilot a new technology and gain experience. That is an entirely fair reason for you to proceed, but if that is your goal, your measures must be set appropriately. For example, if you decide to commit money to develop an Alexa skill with full knowledge it won’t drive revenue,  profit or perhaps even usage, then you must focus on measuring the learnings derived and set reasonable expectations (and budgets) for the effort.
  • Devise better metrics: Lastly, you might decide to proceed but rethink your metrics. In social media, for example, many brands today do not measure success by counting likes or retweets but paying attention to clickthroughs and desired customer actions sourced from social channels. Another example is that one brand with which I’ve worked looks to tie customer perception metrics from surveys to social media engagement, seeking to measure the connection between social engagement and consideration. By focusing on the outcomes that drive business, it helps us to reject things that only yield vanity metrics and converge on strategies that actually drive business.

Starting with the goals and measures works in many different circumstances. It’s especially useful for separating the wheat from the chaff (or the real from the hype) in innovation efforts. It can help to clarify and prioritise competing goals (such as if we want an ad campaign to impact branding and perception or whether it should drive action and conversion). It demands we know what consumers want, expect and will do (since we cannot deliver on our goals if the strategy fails to connect with customers). And, it can help to focus more on outcomes than on activities (such as measuring if customers perceive that our service reps care versus just counting the number of times customer service reps use specific “caring” script phrases).

It really shouldn’t need to be said that our strategies must be devised to deliver on well-defined goals and measures rather than vice versa. Heck, that idea is built into the very definition of the word strategy: A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim. Take a hard look at your marketing and customer experience dashboard and see how many of your measures deliver on your business goals and how many merely provide the appearance of success.

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 

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