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The Dangers of Vanity Metrics

Posted by John Aikin
on August 7, 2023

The Dangers of Vanity Metrics

We’ve all seen a truly fantastic-looking cake. Tiers of perfect layers draped in fondant. Thick swirls of frosting. Spectacular little details. Gold leaf. Edible glitter. Ganache drip. Brilliant colors. It’s a true work of art. It’s a jaw-dropping spectacle that makes a huge impression. 

But only once the cake is cut and we see past the showy exterior will we know if it’s a good cake. If the cake falls apart, tastes like cardboard, and nobody wants to eat it — it's not a successful dessert, no matter how great the decorations are.

And that’s a lot like what happens if you’re using vanity metrics to judge your marketing performance. 

Before discussing the dangers of vanity metrics, let’s define the term itself.

What is a Vanity Metric

Vanity metrics are typically numbers that may make you feel warm and tingly but don't actually contribute anything toward your business goals. In fact, they're frequently misleading. 

Examples of vanity metrics might be getting a lot of engagement on your social channels or many new blog subscribers, but are those metrics really contributing to revenue? Probably not.

However, we see many marketers chase those numbers because they’re easier to grow. Many platforms, like social media channels, elevate those numbers to you and make you think they’re more important than they actually are. 

Oftentimes, vanity metrics are the ones that look really good on a slide deck and make a great visual that you can point to and say, “Look at our growth!” 

And that’s not to say you shouldn’t be tracking metrics like social engagement or blog subscribers. Of course, you should! Those numbers are worth measuring and areas of growth you should be proud of.

Yet, those are not the kind of metrics that accurately measure the success of your business, are they?

Why Vanity Metrics are Dangerous

In our data-rich sales and marketing environment, we can measure almost everything, right? All the numbers you’d want to measure are available to you – especially if you’re using HubSpot – which can be exciting and overwhelming.

The danger lies when we start ascribing the wrong value to certain metrics and start holding something a little too tightly that doesn't really help increase our revenue, increase our profit, or help us achieve our goals.

When that happens, we tend to pour a sizable amount of money to hit those metrics, whether payroll, ad spending, or outsourcing. However, hitting those goals won’t actually give us the return on investment that we need.

It’s just a cost without a positive ROI.

This is a challenge for marketers because oftentimes, they’re held accountable for numbers by their superiors that are often – you guessed it – vanity metrics.

Clients tell us they’re responsible for things like growing their LinkedIn audience by 5% every month or getting 20 new blog subscribers a week.

Those things are great to measure, but they will NOT have much of an impact on the bottom line.

This is a huge problem because, as marketers, we can hustle to hit those goals, but if they’re the wrong goals, then you’ve been tremendously busy with very little to show for it. If 3 or 6 months go by and the revenue is flat, where will people look to point the finger?


How to Identify Vanity Metrics

So, you might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Am I measuring vanity metrics without realizing it?

You, of course, need to be tracking and measuring your business data, but how can you tell which KPI is most likely to be a vanity metric?

So let’s talk about how to identify vanity metrics.

Remember, vanity metrics don't actually contribute anything toward your business goals. 

I was recently reading some materials from our partners at Databox about the reporting hierarchy that I really liked. They recommend compiling a list of 5-7 specific KPIs you’re accountable for. Don’t build a dashboard with 50 reports on it, and try to track everything because you’ll get lost in the data.

By stripping it down to those 5-7 KPIs, you can ensure that all of those core metrics are accurate, meaningful numbers that give a real insight into the health and success of your marketing programs. 

Start with what you’re measured for – maybe things like revenue, MQLs, leads generated, sales opportunities, and web traffic – and work backward from there. It’s kind of like looking from the bottom of your funnel up to the top. 

Let’s say you need to have 20 new phone calls booked with your sales team to have a successful month. 

You’ll begin by answering the following questions:

  • How many MQLs are needed to book one phone call?
  • How many leads does it take to get an MQL?
  • How many landing pages or website visits are needed for one new lead? 

When you do this, you’re backing into the numbers by connecting them to real data you can control. These are the KPIs that matter. And once you understand the real numbers, you can start creating action items related to each to hit them. 

From there, you act. You know you can get some leads from a webinar, some from a social media campaign, and some from a really good offer on your website. You make your plan based on what you know and then act on it, adjusting until successful.  

It’s not something that happens by accident! It happens because you know the numbers that drive the business, and you’ve made those numbers the primary focus of your efforts.

If you can do that, you’ll be successful, look super smart to the rest of the company, and you will help your organization through the tough markets that we’ve all experienced.

By tightening up your tracking and focusing on what matters, you'll find hitting your numbers a piece of cake. 




If you're unsure you're looking at the right numbers, drop us a line. We're here to help! 

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