Over the past few weeks, I've had recurring conversations with marketers from several companies. One afternoon, a marketer from a well-known global manufacturing company in the transportation industry called and wanted to talk about measuring her campaigns. She was asked by the company's leadership team to start reporting on some metrics, and she wanted me to give her a list of metrics she should use.

I told her that although some general metrics exist, I could, perhaps, help her identify the right few if she could answer a couple of questions for me.

My first question was "what is the specific outcome each of these campaigns is expected to produce?" followed by "what performance targets are being set for these campaigns related to these outcomes?" What followed was an extremely long period of silence. I began to think I had lost the phone connection, so I asked, "Are you there?"

She said yes, and then told me that the campaigns served a general purpose of raising awareness and had no performance targets. She added that each campaign runs in its respective region and said she guessed that the regional directors wanted the campaigns to generate inquiries... but she wasn't exactly sure.

I won't bore you with the details of the rest of the conversation. What I will tell you is that I have had a version of this conversation several times over the past few weeks. Each time, I seem to be asking the same types of questions about which business needles the campaign is expected to move and how far.

The point I attempt to make in these conversations is the same: If you don't know what you're aiming at, how can you measure whether you hit it?

Just as a pilot works through a preflight check list before departure, every marketer should follow three steps when developing and executing a marketing campaign:

  1. Quantify what you're aiming at.
  2. Pre-set your performance target.
  3. Plan how to measure your results.

Let's briefly explore each step.

1. Quantify what you're aiming at

In today's resource-constrained environment, a spray-and-pray approach is no longer a viable option. Every campaign must serve a well-defined purpose.

You give thought to the creative, copy, target, and the channels to move some needle for the business— hopefully a needle related to consideration, preference, and, ultimately, consumption/purchase. Before you create any campaign, then, you must know what needle you are expected to move... and how far.

Whether it's for golf, hunting, or marketing, improving your aim requires focusing on a clear, defined target. If you don't have a clearly defined target, now's your opportunity to initiate an internal dialogue about establishing quantifiable business outcomes.

2. Pre-set your performance targets

Now that you know what needle you need to move, your next step is to set each campaign's performance target—a specific goal the campaign will achieve within a specified timeframe.

Executing on time and within (or under) budget is not the performance target. Rather, your performance target needs to relate to the business needle you are trying to move, and it must help you acquire the target in some way. If the desired business outcome is related to customer acquisition or demand generation, your performance targets for the program (depending on what it is and where in the buying cycle it is being deployed) may consist of a certain number of inquiries, appointments, or even quote requests.

Whatever the performance target, it should be defined in advance so everyone understands what results the program is expected to produce. Only by pre-setting the performance target can you know whether your aim is true.

3. Plan how to measure your results

Measurement cannot be an afterthought. Once you establish the performance target, you can anticipate what data you will need to measure the program's performance, how you will plan to capture and manage that data, and what analytics you will apply to the data. Plan to put those elements in place and to test your processes and systems before you hit the "go" button. Preparation will help improve your performance management and measurement.

* * *

Quantifying a program's aim, pre-setting performance targets, and planning (in advance) how to measure can help all marketers determine whether they are hitting what they're aiming for. Of course, I still welcome those phone calls and conversations about which metrics to use to communicate Marketing's impact and value.

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is the president of VisionEdge Marketing. A pioneer in Marketing Performance Management, Laura has published four books and she has been recognized for her thought leadership, winning numerous industry awards.