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Put Vanity Aside and Focus on the Metrics That Matter

When you think of the stereotypical teenage girl spending hours in front of the mirror styling her hair, trying on different outfits, and applying layer after layer of makeup, chances are the word “vanity” comes to mind. But does the same word come to mind when you think of a marketing manager doing everything possible to maximize social media likes or email opens? It should. 

While metrics such as follower counts, page views, post likes, open rates, etc. can be informative in some cases, in other cases they are nothing more than a flattering number to look at — in other words, a vanity metric.

What Is a Vanity Metric?

What counts as a vanity metric depends on your goals. Let’s go back to the teenage girl. If she’s working toward a goal of becoming a makeup artist or a fashion designer, the hours spent on her appearance might be better labeled as “practice” than “vanity.” But if she’s simply trying to rack up more compliments than the other girls at a party, vanity is probably a fair description.

If your goal is to increase your social media engagement — because you’ve done your research and determined that doing so will be beneficial to your brand overall — measuring likes is meaningful. But if your goal is to sell more of a certain product, the number of likes on a post about that product would be a vanity metric. Instead, you should be tracking how many people clicked on the product link in the post, and of those clicks, how many led to an actual purchase.

Why Is Tracking Vanity Metrics a Problem?

In and of itself, tracking vanity metrics isn’t a problem. Even if a certain metric doesn’t directly tell you how much progress you are making toward your goals, there’s no harm in using them as supplemental information. It’s only a problem when vanity metrics distract you from what’s really important. If you’re so busy celebrating all your social media likes that you forget to notice whether any of them contributed to tangible sales, vanity has become the enemy of reality.

Use vanity metrics to help you develop a fuller understanding of what’s working and what isn’t when it comes to your marketing efforts. For example, if you notice that certain types of social posts are getting more likes or certain email subject lines lead to more opens, that can be useful information to help you decide on the right creative for a campaign. But keep in mind that liking your content doesn’t always mean someone will actually take the action you want them to take. Be sure to check how well each effort is actually contributing to your end goal and revise your strategy if needed to generate real results. 

How Should I Evaluate My Marketing Efforts? 

So if vanity metrics don’t tell the whole story, what should you be tracking instead? Usually, you’ll need to evaluate more than one factor, and those factors change based on your goals. Say your overarching goal is to secure at least five new major donors (e.g., donors willing to give $10,000 or more to your organization). For each marketing effort you implement, you’ll need to evaluate how many major donors you gained as a direct result. Don’t get distracted by the vanity metric of total donors, which would include smaller donors, who, while still valuable, are not your target audience. Then, measure those results against how much the effort cost you (in terms of both time and money) to implement to determine your return on investment (ROI). 

Focus on the efforts that deliver the greatest ROI. As an example, say you’re trying to make 100 sales by the end of the quarter. You send out an e-blast that takes you two hours to design and distribute, with minimal expenses, and it gains you 10 new sales. You also attend a trade show that takes you three days and costs thousands of dollars, and it translates to 15 sales. In a case like this, you may want to consider doing more e-blasts and less trade shows. While the trade show led to more sales overall, the e-blast delivered a greater ROI.

Vanity has its place — like when you’re trying to make sure your high school yearbook photo won’t haunt you for years to come — but when it comes to analyzing your marketing efforts, substance counts. Track the numbers that really matter, based on your specific goals, to stay on the road to real, lasting success.