Beyond metrics: A new standard for success in marketing?

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For a long time, industry memberships, awards and recognition were how success in marketing was measured. But with the rise in computer and digital technology, marketing, just like sales, has become more measurable – and the effort required to measure marketing performance is much lower than it was 20 years ago.

Now, we don’t need to walk from house to house to do tedious consumer surveys. With the Internet at our disposal, a quick online questionnaire, will do. Many new metrics have come out of the ease of gathering data online. Today, things like follower count, return on ad spend and e-mail open rates can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of many marketing campaigns.

Such metrics are a useful feedback mechanism, giving us insight into customers and their purchasing decisions. But metrics have been put on a pedestal recently.

So much so, that marketers compare website traffic, views and social followers across unrelated industries – seeking eternal growth and outperformance of their competitors. We see teams that evaluate marketing performance only based on ROI. And a whole industry of advertisers who choose partners based on stats and analytics. And they all think, that the higher the numbers, the better the results must be.

But a very real risk of this metricisation is that the marketer chases the numbers to feel accomplished and satisfy a desire for validation. And by doing so, the marketer becomes little more than a machine, conditioned to respond to changes in the market – a performance engine, always optimising for specific results. He no longer questions that value of once-assigned goals, instead taking for granted that each subsequent milestone promises greater rewards.

But his unwavering acceptance of standardised metrics – many of which were introduced by large corporations with their own interests in mind – ultimately threatens to replace the digital marketer with a piece of computing technology. Machines can be conditioned much more effectively and optimise for predictable patterns much faster than any human is able to.

And so, it is only a matter of time before AI will write landing pages that convert better than those of the average marketer, whose only objective it is to measure himself against the numbers. AI already writes search advertisements that outperform many marketers today, not because it is inherently better at writing, but because of the lack of love for the art of marketing and communications among many industry professionals.

Their lacklustre approach to promoting products, often in ways they don’t believe in, can easily be beaten by AI. Artificial intelligence has no ‘soul to sell’ and no guilty conscience or sense of regret and wrongdoing that interferes with the process of creation.  

But AI’s biggest strength, its unwavering and emotionless pattern recognition, is also its biggest weakness against marketers who aren’t competing solely for the metrics, instead bringing joy and creativity into the process. AI can, at best, rehash old patterns to create new resources, while marketers can easily put a new spin or perspective on a promotion based on their inspirations and seemingly unrelated associations that no piece of code, no algorithm, would ever dare to logically connect.

The marketer can thrive, when he allows himself to be unique and authentic in his approach to prospect and customer communications. This requires that he be unafraid of ignoring standard metrics, not carelessly, but as a deliberate choice in the creative process. The metrics he chooses should be of his own making, in line with his values, and not merely arising from an attempt to conform to others’ expectations.

Because what use are 100,000 Instagram followers to a marketer who despises making click- and shareworthy photos? Such followers are a curse, demanding more visual content and inducing a sense of pressure from expectations to which the marketer may feel obliged to conform. But to another marketer, who loves posing in front of the camera, travelling and experimenting with the best lenses, these 100,000 followers are a blessing – they’re like a group of close friends that he feels he can share his interests with and connect to.

Therefore, the most successful marketer is not the one who performs best against industry-defined metrics, but who sets his own standards for success and enjoys marketing irrespective of the economic outcomes.

It is the marketer who feels good about himself – even when his posts (much like this one) get very few views, because he has chosen that his values are his standard of success and a sizeable audience – while nice to have – isn’t his motivation for his marketing contributions.

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