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Ensure your measurement approach is more than a Squirrel Census

By Benjamin Bloom | December 11, 2019 | 0 Comments

multichannel marketingTechnology and Emerging Trends

My grandfather grew up in New York City in the 1920s, a city I lived in for nearly 10 years.  When my grandfather visited, I always felt I was tapping in to a rich history of his early life. One day, we walked through the Garment District, and he told me about his time delivering telegrams for Western Union, and of being a member of the Explorers Club as a boy.

The Explorers Club has a long and storied history of celebrating those individuals who find and extend the knowledge of the world’s frontiers. So it was with some surprise that I recently read about a gathering of hundreds at the Explorer’s Club, among the artifacts and trophies of pioneering treks exploring the far corners of the earth, to discuss a matter of local importance: the number of squirrels in New York City’s Central Park.

In fact, a motley group of scientists and wildlife experts, aided by dozens of volunteers, had conducted a methodical biological census of squirrels in Central Park. In my mind, despite the many days I spent in Central Park, knowing that a population of just over 3,000 squirrels roam the park in search of food and shelter was just about the definition of an extensive effort for a trivial result. As the title of one article suggested, “The Squirrel Census Answers a Question You Weren’t Asking.”

Counting the squirrels in Central Park might seem to be about as dire a misuse of analytic talent and resources as one can imagine, but before you rush to judgement: how can you ensure your analytics projects are counting the right things, not the squirrels? How do marketers ensure their marketing analytics investments deliver insights?

First, don’t just count things that can be counted. Gartner’s 2019-2020 CMO spend survey found that CMOs tend to favor volume metrics rather than value metrics–looking at awareness or the volume of conversions (rather than the value of those customers). The danger of this approach is that you might see lots and lots of squirrels, and invest time in counting and analyzing. Instead, looking for value metrics can enable you to accelerate growth and pursue the customer relationships that sustain brands (see  Getting Started With Value Segmentation to Identify Your Most Valuable Customers, Gartner Subscription required)

Second, work to identify the drivers of value; for example, through an attribution approach. Multitouch attribution arises from the hypothesis that not all of the marketing touchpoints that influence the customer journey do so with equal impact. Blog posts, display advertising, phone calls and website guides, may each influence key events in the customer journey.  B2C marketing teams may focus on customer acquisition and the path to an online or offline purchase, while B2B marketers may be looking at leads reaching a qualification threshold, opportunity creation, or closed sales. Attribution is the process of collecting data on the engagements that succeed (and fail) in driving value, and distributing the credit for such value to different marketing sources. When a tactic produces substantial activity, but no business value, marketers then possess the data to make an informed decision that can improve ROI.    

In B2C organizations, multitouch attribution has become a favored approach for evaluating channel performance and tuning algorithmic marketing. However, for B2B organizations and some B2C with either gaps in path to purchase data or heavy offline / broadcast investment, attribution may not be the ideal solution. Some offline touchpoints cannot be tracked at the user level (e.g., radio, print and broadcast TV), and some sales interactions are not entered into the CRM or lead management system. Because the data is not always complete, some insights may only be directionally accurate.  

Without the right data, or confidence in a multitouch attribution approach, what can you do?  

My colleague Lizzy Foo Kune shares some excellent approaches to consider for measuring marketing impact, including Rule-based attribution, Customer Journey Analytics or Marketing Mix Modeling.

If you’re going to count the squirrels, at least make sure you know why and how that knowledge will help you make decisions. 

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