Marketing metrics are so often delivered as raw numbers. They do not help. Gleaning meaning is the art of the analyst and it's not done nearly enough.

I drive by this sign a couple of times a week and it drives me CRAZY.

Your Speed

There are several of these scattered around Santa Barbara and they are, for the most part, useful. But not this one. This one give you a number but no context. Is 36 miles per hour good? Slow? Dangerous? 

All the other signs include the current speed limit. Put the two together and you have meaning. By itself, it's just a number. 

Unless you plumb the depths of these numbers, they are a bit like that Your Speed sign. Like being told you are 629 miplects tall or have 32 blipmils to live. 

Content used to be king, now it's all about context. 

Analysis is the art of understanding the meaning of numbers in context with goals. That is why, I always prefer differences, trends and percentages over numbers:

  • You are going 16 miles an hour over the speed limit.
  • You are 25% more influential on Twitter this month than last.
  • The traffic to your website from campaign A is 17% more engaged than the traffic from campaign B.

These are quantitative data points that I can use. I can take the next step and ease off on the accelerator, take a hard look at what I'm doing differently this month from last and shuffle some more of my advertising budget to campaign B.

There are so many metrics that are interesting. You know what? I'm done with interesting numbers. Give me useful numbers any time.

What's that? 
License and registration?
Yes, Sir.

Jim Sterne

Published 1 March, 2011 by Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is a respected author and speaker. He is also the producer of the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit. You can follow Jim on Twitter here.

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Comments (8)

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Thanks for mentioning this. Yes numbers are nice but what do you do with the numbers after that? You got to make it relatable to past and current performance. You can get so much more by analyzing social media one step further.

Question: How would you analyze sentiment? Everyone has a theory and I would be interested in hearing your view if you wish to share. =)

over 7 years ago

Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne, Producer at eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit

Dear Rachel -
Thank you for your comment. I sense that you are supportive of my post and reassured that your opinions are reinforced. I also perceive that you are unsure about some aspects of this issue and hopeful that I can provide some further insight. Overall, you are pleased with the article and look forward to a positive response.

Text analytics tools can parse social media communications and assemble a list of attitudinal language:
- supportive
- reassured
- unsure
- hopeful
- pleased
- look forward to

They can score those words for polarity (positive, negative, neutral) and pass that information along to a business rule system that can determine what action to take.

Dear *Name*
Thank you for your comment. I sense that you ~________ ~ my post and ~_______~ that your opinions are ~________~. I also perceive that you are ~________~ about some aspects of this issue and ~________~ that I can provide some further insight. Overall, you are ~______~ with the article and ~______~ a ~_______~ response.

This turns out to be complex, but if your company is dealing with thousands of emails/blog posts/tweets an hour then it's worth the effort to pair up a perceptive human with a powerful set of tools to create and then tweak the automated results. Otherwise, responses might miscue:

Dear Rachel -
Thank you for your comment. I sense that you were horrified by my post and are enraged that your opinions are maligned. I also perceive that you are brainless about some aspects of this issue and dubious that I can provide some further insight. Overall, you are disgusted with the article and hope I die before I deliver another mendacious response.

over 7 years ago


Remco Tensen

Wait.. what?
I get that numbers in business are used to deter rather than inform. But that's nothing new.

If you want to reach your reader, you need to put your information in what seems-to-be a proper package. And then hope for the best. Because our reader might view things differently and create a context of his or her own, or he or she might just lose interest.

And as a reader, annex businessman, you'll still need to be able to analyse your data by mirroring it against your own logic, the same as you did fifty years ago. You couldn´t make assumptions then, and you can't make assumptions now.

Content or context be damned:
as a writer, presentation is king.
For that, you need both content and context to reach out and sound convincing (even if you´re lying).

over 7 years ago



Hey Jim,

Thanks for getting back to me. The example you gave made your point clear. Thanks for sharing.

over 7 years ago


Steve Farquhar

Thanks Jim - big point simply made!

Agree there are lots of raw numbers out there which mean absolutely nothing. Relative context of the numbers in relation to themselves and other similar numbers is key to drive action.

'King' for me in the business world is the real life business context of those numbers. To explain, there's the content, the numeric context and the great presentation. So what? What is the business going to do with that insight even if they are bought in? Really? How long will that take and will the numbers be the same by the time it's done?

To use your speeding example to illustrate;

1) 36 (it doesn't say mph on the sign!)
2) You are going 16 mph over the speed limit (so I'm breaking the speed limit so what?)
3) You are going 16 mph over the speed limit, you are in a country where that is illegal, there are 10 police cars in a surrounding 5 mile radius, there is a good chance you will get stopped. Goal : to not get stopped (??). Recommendation : Slow down!

Or was your goal to reach 40 by the next sign? :-)

Great discussion topic...


over 7 years ago

Roberto Simi

Roberto Simi, Managing Director at Bright Digital

Context in relation to your goals is definitely a vital part of making sense of the mass of 'interesting' numbers that digital can produce.

If improving perfomance is a goal then you should plan the actions you are going to take if your trends change by a certain amount before you start to measure anything at all. Using Jim's example if campaign A or B does anything more than 10% better then you will shift budget to the better performing campaign.

If you can't do this you should question the value of metric as you will be just collecting interesting numbers and could cloud the action that you should be taking to achieve you goals.

over 7 years ago

Philippa Gamse

Philippa Gamse, Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School

Jim, great to see you writing for eConsultancy!

I think there's a further step - which is figuring out *why* the numbers are happening if you can:
"The traffic to your website from campaign A is 17% more engaged than the traffic from campaign B."

So if we can understand why campaign B does so much better, than maybe we can build on that to create a campaign C that beats both A & B!

over 7 years ago


William King

@Philippa: you got me ma'am, you completed Jim's point...
@ Jim: Well I agree the context is king but we should also not quality to make sure that the numbers we will make must carry some worth. If you have he ideal speed but not driving properly you will may hit someone? Right.

over 7 years ago

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