The Wrong KPI’s Are Killing Your Marketing

KPI for chocolate cake
The worst thing you can do for your marketing results is obsess over KPI’s. I’ll prove it – but first, let me share a quick story about something sweeter…

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Most people don’t know this about me, but I bake a decent chocolate torte. By decent, I mean that multiple focus groups, er… guests, have confirmed it has just the right amount of rich, chocolatey, sweetness. You might even say that taste is the only KPI that matters in my kitchen.

Of course, if I used taste as a benchmark to choose every ingredient that goes into my chocolate torte, things might not go so well.

In fact, they didn’t.

The first time I attempted a chocolate torte, my college roommate and I were hosting a dinner party. 18 year old me spent an entire day in the kitchen crafting my masterpiece. Shaving the chocolate by hand. Making the glaze. Whipping the cream to perfect peaks. Placing the cherries just so. By the time dinner arrived, our soon to be enjoyed dessert was on full display promising a tantalizing end to the meal.

When the time came, my roommate picked up the knife to cut the first slice and… ka-thunk. That knife would not cut through the cake.

Confused she tried a different knife. Same result.

Her boyfriend stepped in to help. He too failed. That chocolate torte was harder than granite.

The Missing Ingredient

As I retraced my steps in the kitchen that day, realization washed over me like a fine dusting of baking powder. Which I had forgotten to add to the batter. That one tiny missing ingredient turned my delicious dessert into an inedible brick. A very expensive, very pretty, but inedible brick.

Have you tasted baking powder? It’s awful. It completely fails my “Kitchen KPI”. It’s also a key ingredient in a good chocolate torte.

Marketing is a lot like baking.

Great marketers combine a variety of ingredients to create a recipe that yields a delightful result. Any one of those ingredients might be attractive on their own. Or, like baking powder, be completely unpalatable. But the taste of each individual ingredient is irrelevant compared to how the recipe works together.

And this is the problem with leadership’s current obsession over KPIs.

What if you’re using the wrong KPI for the job?

Applying CPA driven decision-making to almost every marketing initiative has resulted in a pandemic of push and pitch campaigns that become easier and easier to ignore over time.

We toss out brilliant creative and cancel viable influencer marketing efforts because they aren’t resulting in enough directly traceable sales to meet our pre-determined KPI, completely forgetting that these are the baking soda of our marketing recipe. They may not drive massive quantities of sales on their own, but they greatly amplify the effectiveness of the ingredients that do!

As much as AI pundits would swear otherwise, every skilled marketer knows in her soul that the available attribution models deliver at best an incomplete picture, and at worst, a deeply flawed one.

You end up playing it safe, sticking to ‘sure thing’ campaigns that are statistically proven to directly result in sales while slowly chipping away at the foundation of your customer relationships as you mosey comfortably along the road to becoming a commodity.

Don’t believe me?

Just take a look at the first three sponsored posts in your Instagram feed right now. It’s ok, I’ll wait…

Did you notice that every single post sounds overwhelmingly like a Herb Tarlek monologue (Herb who? Watch this video).

Every one of those posts is driving you to a measurable action that’s intended to move you along a pre-determined path to purchase. And I guarantee that by dinner time you won’t be able to name a single company whose ad you’ve just watched.

A purely data-driven approach to marketing is exactly like a chocolate torte without the baking soda. Pretty to look at but cloyingly sweet and hard work to consume. Which begs the million-dollar question…

Is there enough baking soda in your marketing?

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