Vanity Metrics — Get rid of them. They don't help anything- they are there to just make you feel good. Vanity Metrics exist because you have to report something, or just prove to yourself that you measure things, that you are data-driven, doing the right thing.
But why do we continue to love and report them? I have a theory based on personal experience.
But First, Why do metrics exist?
Metrics exist because they help you measure things you care about, and CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT. But there is a thing about meaningful metrics — they are incredibly hard to define.
Metrics are difficult to define even in companies that have a clear and well-intentioned mandate for business performance indicators. Often departments in large companies measure things that matter to their department instead of what matters to the business as a whole.
Take Click Through Rates as an example — its an out of the box metric most ad platforms offer and is pretty easy to measure — digital marketers love to report this performance indicator. But what is the quality of those clicks? How many folks that clicked the ad through to the landing page converted to actual customers?
Same with marketing collateral downloads from your website. Who cares if you had a ton of free downloads but meager to no actual sales to show for them? Other such vanity metrics in marketing are social media followers, page views, subscribers etc.— which are all important things to be cognizant of, but they don't mean anything by themselves unless you can bridge them to sales. For Product managers: Registered users is a big one to shy away from. Instead, record and report how many of these users actually USE the product. That’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?.
I just coined the term. Bridge metrics are metrics that tie vanity metrics to actual results THAT MATTER. Always report your vanity metrics (if you must), alongside bridge metrics to see the real picture. As an example, when you report the subscriber/follower counts for your social media accounts also track and report sales generated due to a % increase in subscriber/follower numbers.
Same with click-through rates (CTR) — report the whole journey. In other words, how many people click your ad, visit your page and THEN CONVERT to customers. Unless your report the conversions — CTRs are meaningless. They are just a measure of how well your ads are doing in getting people to click them.
So now, the real reason why we love Vanity Metrics?
The problem with “Bridge metrics” is that they are often not out of the box and often not easy to set up. For online marketing, as I mentioned one should track the entire journey — from the moment (1) a person clicked the ad (2) through to the check-out process and actual payment. #1 is easy to measure and out of the box.
For #2, the marketer will have to hire expensive software development resources to track check out and payment. This becomes trickier when your product is sold through offline channels. How do you even track a person that clicked your ad, visited your website learned about your product and drove to the nearby Home Depot to finally purchase it? Unless you have access to Home Depot’s data how on earth you track the final leg of the customer journey?
If you are a marketer with no access to software development resources, or you are responsible for a product that has a mix of online/offline routes to the customer — it’s incredibly hard to track the entire customer journey and report the right metrics that make sense.
So what do we do instead?
We hold on to what we know. The CTRs, the sell sheet Downloads, the number of subscribers — all in the hope that we will see an uptick in sales corresponding to an upswing in vanity metrics.
That is the real reason why we love our Vanity Metrics.