The devil is in the details, as the saying often goes. Today I was lucky enough to be in on a presentation with two professors from Darden School of Business, Prof. Farris and Pfeifer, co authors of a book on marketing metrics. The presentation was mainly on the marriage of financial and marketing metrics and of course on their book. It was a very interesting presentation and far too short, I would have enjoyed going another two hours on top of the one hour provided.
However there was one small comment they made that stuck the most with me. They mentioned that the drive to a metrics based culture in business often can and does go too far. The devil is in the details and you don’t want to dance with the devil because in the end, that extra work will cost you more than the returns to know that extra information.
The idea behind pushing it too far, really is at the heart of the debate behind marketing metrics. Many of us know we need better metrics. If you leave it up to finance or operations to define those metrics, they will want to quantify everything, dance with the devil. In strategy and marketing, you come to realize and just accept that there is a certain level of immeasurable aspects to what you do. You can not define with precise knowing, what real estate you own the minds of every customer you have, we don’t understand the human mind enough to say that. We know that ROI of marketing is so diverse that it is near impossible to really forecast over a long period, what those returns will be in say 10 years or 20 years, you just can’t say it as a return on asset like is often assumed. There are so many unknowns out there that you are just wasting your time, effort and resources in trying to get answers to those questions.
As adults, we want answers, we don’t like to deal with ambiguity, in marketing, you just have to learn to accept it. It’s not finance where you can crunch a number and have an answer, there is still some art left in the science of marketing and you just can’t crunch it with the knowledge available to us today. When we try, we dance with the devil, the devil in the details and he plays a rather mean game. You may get an answer but it will never happen, it’s just too susceptible to changes in the market. So you spend a lot of money and time for nothing. Then most just do that again and throw more money and people and time at the problem when in fact the answer is a more simplistic approach.
Another area is that some people want to quantify all their actions and go over board on the metrics. They end up with far more numbers than they actually need. A lot of metrics actually say they same thing, they just say it in different ways. It really comes down to your style and how your company uses metrics. You don’t need to do an NPV and CLV on the same account because they pretty much say the same thing, just in different ways. Having quality metrics is far better than having quantity of metrics. If you can’t act on the metrics answers, then you don’t need it.