During a recent meeting I attended with a CMO of a large, well-known brand, it quickly became apparent that one of the performance metrics he cared most about was the number of views to the brand’s YouTube channel.  Believe it or not, this perspective is more common than you think.

I challenged his thinking by asking if he would rather that his agency partner deliver his company’s product to a hundred qualified prospective buyers or a million random web surfers. His response: “I just want to have more views than my competition.”

Agency marketers routinely encounter C-suite executives hyper-concerned with followers, social media likes, shares, and page views.  These “vanity metrics” are often a waste of their time and attention because they indicate how much attention the brand is getting rather than the actual experience the customer has with that brand.

Today’s marketing requires more than visibility campaigns to generate real impact and that means going deeper into the customer’s brand experiences. The “almighty” Net Promoter Score (NPS) is great but is just the beginning of getting to metrics that matter.  Marketers should understand that the less friction people feel throughout the experience of interfacing with their brand, the more true loyalty metrics will rise (assuming the product fits their needs).

The real problem with vanity metrics

Vanity metrics aren’t meaningless, but focusing on them exclusively is short-sighted because they often have no real impact on the bottom line. A brand can possess off-the-chart numbers for pageviews, likes, and shares but might never see actual revenue resulting from those metrics. When someone presses a like or corresponding share button, do those actions indicate that you have a potential customer moving through the sales funnel?  Do those actions indicate feelings of loyalty, satisfaction, or goodwill toward your brand?

Vanity metrics have the same weakness of surveys -- they measure what people think, not what they will actually do. Artificial metrics like these are misleading because they don’t say clearly what actions people are taking or will take in the future.

Some vanity metrics also have a major credibility problem: views, followers, and likes can be easily bought. Moreover, social media-savvy consumers know this and are aren’t influenced by sheer volume. These signals have a lot of noise in them.

Education, education, education

We need to get our clients to think bigger by changing the conversation. We can’t let them get stuck in a “Keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome, throwing money around in an attempt to catch up to what a competitor is doing on a particular channel.

When you face clients obsessed with vanity metrics, remind them that “likes” do not equal revenue. Sure, a competitor might have millions of likes or millions of shares, but that doesn’t mean the competitor has ensured a happy customer experience that will result in brand loyalty or deliver a positive customer lifetime value back to their brand.

Brands that are winning today in the experience economy perfect the entire journey for the customer from pre-purchase discovery, through intent, to purchase, and then to using the product -- the before, during, and after.

The beginning of customer experience and happiness metrics

This means we need to start building KPI’s that gauge customer perceptions at every stage of the buying journey. As marketers, we’re just beginning to develop customer experience and happiness metrics, most of the conversation is concentrated on the point of purchase. Think of them as conversion rate optimization scores that uncover pain points all along the engagement funnel and highlight where the customer experience can be improved. I call them “return on experience” metrics.

For instance, in a retail location, facial recognition technology can be used to monitor shoppers to see if they are smiling or what their disposition is. In the digital world, we can improve on NPS, which traditionally only asks if a person would recommend the product, by seeing if a customer actually does recommend it.  Persistent User ID’s provide a digital fingerprint of that person. Then when they actually go and share an asset in the brand’s digital marketing, we’re able to connect the real behavior to an individual, and aggregate our user-level information with their behavior.

The why question

Guiding the customer through an experience is meant to achieve some goal, right? Here’s where the “why” question becomes so important. Why do you want to dominate on YouTube? What is the brand’s ultimate aim? Is to grab more customers? Increase sales?

Sometimes the answer is to inspire more people to become advocates of the brand or product. In that case, social media comments might be a useful metric.

But when clients start conversations with a focus on particular channels, we need to ask why they want to invest there. Is an Instagram profile going to generate a return? Does the experience offered to users -- the messaging, the creative, the technology -- actually work for how those users make their buying decisions?

Once you know the “why”, you can establish macro- and micro- goals and associated KPI’s that are tied back to business goals in a meaningful way so you, as the brand’s marketing stewards, can deliver on those objectives.

Looking at commerce differently

Recently we were approached by an up-and-coming brand with the goal of improving their e-commerce experience. Their challenge was bigger than just being mobile-friendly as they sell candles. Like the food sector, purchase behavior in the candle market differs more than typical apparel or fashion categories. When comparing candles, consumers can often see them as a commodity. We asked ourselves what can define their core difference? Design. I’m not just talking about how it looks, but, as Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is how it works.”

A core component in a great candle is scent and burn time. Naturally, scent is an important factor in candle buying, but how could we convey the idea of citrus when a shopper is on the website (or on the mobile site)? More importantly, how could we know if our conveyance was working? Smell-o-vision doesn’t exist yet, but when it does, the number of “sniffs” won’t be the only metric we’ll watch.

In this case, our answer was to trigger a scent memory in the customer, accompanied by detailed descriptions of the particular scent. Beyond that, giving their customer the ability to shop by style collections or (our favorite) a scent finder which guided the user down a process that gave them ideas for possible choices aligned to their feedback. This feature helped to drive gift sales, decrease shopping cart abandonment, and, ultimately, drove a large revenue lift.

Then we monitored the reviews: How were people talking about the new website? What we found was a correlation between people praising the website on social media and a simultaneous spike in sales and conversion rate, far surpassing any day prior to the launch. If you remove the friction and give people the choices they seek you can drive metrics that matter.

Bridging the gap

In summary, as marketers, we need to connect a suggested emotional benefit -- a great product or service that will make a person’s life better -- to a pleasant, streamlined customer experience. Top-performing brands truly deliver on that promise throughout the customer lifecycle. It’s about bridging the gap between the emotional benefit guaranteed by a brand and the actual experience.

Successful marketing in the future will discern the relevant actions people take throughout the purchasing journey, gaining insight into how happy they were with the process. As marketers, we have an opportunity to help our clients reduce hassles for users and create emotional benefits in a way that achieve business goals. We need a new vocabulary for the metrics that describe these benefits and how they matter to the bottom line.

About the Author

Pete Sena is the founder of Digital Surgeons, an experience design firm that connects consumers and brands to create better brand experiences. Pete considers himself a curious student of life and spends his out of office time reading voraciously, attacking Crossfit, and exploring. Twitter: @petesena