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The Truth About Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics are metrics that make your campaign look good. They make it seem like your campaign has been successful. In truth, vanity metrics can be misleading and ineffective in determining the success of your campaign. This is because such metrics are often not actionable and are not related to anything that is of a controllable factor. 

In essence, vanity metrics are any data point that makes your campaign look impressive, but do not actually hold any worthwhile meaning to it. It is important to also note that any metric can be considered to be a vanity metric. The biggest difference is knowing if these metric can help you to make decisions towards the growth of your business

To identify vanity metrics, you will need to consider 3 important questions in your analysis work:

1. Can I make a business decision with this metric?

Essentially, what you are looking out for is to see if the metric can lead to an informed decision. You should come to a conclusive “Yes” to this question. If you are uncertain about your answer, take some time to re-evaluate the importance of the metric. 

You need to ensure that the metrics chosen provide you with relevant feedback about your marketing efforts. They also help you tweak your marketing strategies in order to achieve your business and marketing goals effectively

For example, your marketing objective is to increase the sign up rate on your newsletter. Vanity metrics would be looking at how many people have clicked on the sign up button. However, a more crucial metric would be to measure the download rate. This can help you conduct effective split tests to optimise the campaign further. 

2. Can I intentionally reproduce the same results in another campaign?

Asking yourself this question helps you to analyse the cause and effect of the metric. What you want to look out for are patterns which help you to expand on your current success. 

It is important to differentiate this from random successful occurrences. The logic behind this is you do not know which variables to control, then you are unable to reproduce similar results. Therefore, you are unable to improve on the process. This means that you are unable to determine the metric that can help you achieve the success you desire.  

For example, your objective is to improve your magazine subscription rate. After a famous local celebrity tweeted about your magazine, you see your subscription numbers rise. This boosted the success rate of your marketing efforts. However, as the results are linked to an external factor that is beyond your control, you are unable to reproduce the same success. 

3. Is the data represented truthfully?

This is a tricky question to ask because data can easily be manipulated or skewed to reflect some level of success. For example, if you are so focused on increasing your follower count, you may lose focus on the things that bring about your revenue. While it is fun to see your follower count increase, the fact is that these numbers can be purchased. Hence, tracking these numbers are unreliable and you can easily categorise this as vanity metrics. 

Another point of concern is the consistency of your data source. For example, your sales numbers, and subscription downloads may see a spike towards the end of the year. However, while this might look impressive to you on a month to month basis, take into account the seasonality of this pattern as well. Your numbers are experiencing a spike most likely due to the festive period. While you should not discount the data, you should consider all factors that contribute to the performance of the metric. 

Next to seasonality, another major external factor that may have a direct impact to your data is algorithm changes. For example, in 2018, Facebook announced a change in their news feed algorithms. The Facebook newsfeed will prioritise local content over international content. In more recent news, Apple announced its big move to protect the privacy of its users. This had a major impact on the way social media platforms serve their ads, affecting the delivery and performance of your campaigns as well. 

Real World Example of Vanity Metric

For a long time, Microsoft has been tracking their total sales on the Xbox. In 2016, Microsoft announced this to be a vanity metric and will stop reporting on total sales of Xbox. Instead, it will replace this metric with monthly active users metric. 

The reason for this switch is that sales of consoles do not reflect the health of the ecosystem. Executive Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft, Phil Spencer said that “We focus on the monthly active user base because we know those are [people] making a conscious choice to pick our content, our games, our platform, our service. We want to gauge our success on how happy and engaged those customers are.”

The vanity metric here is the sales figures. While sales numbers are a good representation of profit margins and business success, Microsoft  aims to go deeper in tracker customer happiness. While this metric may not look very consistent, it is a more honest reflection of the engagement levels of its users. 

Conclusion

Any metric can be a vanity metric. The identification of a vanity metric may differ depending on the industry and the individual business needs. However, it becomes easier if you align the identification process to the central questions highlighted. The key takeaway is that vanity metrics do not help you achieve your business goals. Keep your focus in sight, and you should be able to guide your business to success.

Need more help with identifying the metrics that matter? Get in touch with us and we will share with your industry tips and tricks in analysing your digital marketing data. Learn how to identify key insights that can help your campaigns achieve success. 

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