Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the Spell of Vanity Metrics
Based on original content presented by Amrita Sidhu for the 2023 AMEC summit.
Most people would have heard the story of Snow White and her wicked stepmother. A tale of a beautiful princess and a jealous stepmother fixated on being “the fairest of them all”.
Just like Snow White's wicked stepmother, many organisations can become too fixated on their own reflection and fall into the trap of vanity metrics. Searching for answers by constantly looking in the mirror can give us a false sense of success.
Instead, asking "who's the most impactful of them all" can deliver the most meaningful, yet sometimes uncomfortable answers.
In the context of an industry, a region, a competing landscape or a market, more often than not someone else is more successful, more impactful or more influential than we are. We can embrace those uncomfortable truths and learn from them (without the use of poisoned apples! 🍎).
The difference between vanity and value metrics
Let’s start by defining vanity and value in the context of reporting.
Vanity is a focus on metrics that look good and often include high-level metrics such as impressions, clicks and reach. While this may be a good way to show higher-ups or stakeholders that you’ve been doing well or that your strategy is on track, wouldn’t you like to dig deeper and find out more?
Value is the focus on looking beyond high-level metrics to gain insights into what has been working, what hasn’t, and even shedding light on new opportunities that you may have missed.
The main difference? A value focus brings actionable outcomes that can improve on what you’re already doing, whereas a vanity focus will only show you (sometimes false) success at a very high level.
Ask the hard questions
Before you kick off any reporting, don’t be afraid to outline your goals by asking yourself a few questions that you want to find out at the end of your reporting. Avoid asking high-level questions like “how much coverage did my campaign generate” and instead dig deeper to focus on value. Here are a few questions you might want to consider:
- Why do my competitors consistently outperform us?
- What was the quality of share of voice among our competitors?
- Why are certain spokespeople always getting coverage?
- Are there any shortcomings that are completely out of our control or are we deficient in certain areas?
Ultimately it’s important to get a better understanding of competitors' media coverage more generally, to identify opportunities for control and influence, both internal to your business and external.
Redefine your project goals
Now that you’ve taken a step back and have a better understanding of what you want to get out of your reporting, it’s time to convert that into your project goals.
Your goals define the metrics you focus on and in turn the value that you get out of your reporting.
Again, you want to focus on the goals and metrics that can deliver value, rather than just giving you some high-level stats. That being said, here are a few goals and their accompanying metrics you could focus on based on the questions previously asked.
- Goal: Understand how the share of voice is split among key competitors in the areas relevant to my organisation
Metric: Share of voice among competitors
- Goal: Track which messages are reaching the media and identify opportunities to improve engagement
Metric: Key message delivery
- Goal: Define how journalists reflect on my organisation and where negative coverage is coming from
Metric: Negative sentiment and drivers of negative coverage, leading journalists by sentiment
- Goal: Improve the presence and impact of our spokespeople
Metric: Quality of media relationships with spokespeople and the areas they are/aren’t appearing compared to competitors
Be open to the results
How you perceive your results can make or break the value that you will be getting out of your reporting. It’s important to remain objective when going over the results and avoid making assumptions (i.e. my competitor is more established than us so that’s why they have a greater share of voice).
Value then comes from the comparison of multiple metrics to tell a much greater story about you and your competitors. If we take a competitor's share of voice for example, it may be the case that a competitor has a much greater share, but is this a threat or opportunity? If you dig down to the next level, you can begin to look at positive and negative share of voice. Even though your competitor might have a greater share of voice overall, if they also have a greater negative share of voice, then the quality of your coverage (determined by metrics such as sentiment) might be more impactful and you can use this to your advantage when structuring your media strategy.
A similar approach can be applied to all of your goals and metrics to get a clear picture of your competitor landscape and the opportunities available to you.
Smash the vanity mirror
The mirror on the wall will always tell the truth... so when that mirror doesn't tell you what you want to hear, you need to ask the uncomfortable questions to find out why you're not in the ‘top spot’ … be humble enough to look beyond your own reflection and embrace the value and learnings you can learn from your competitors and peers.
So smash that mirror, look at the reality around you and seize the opportunities you identify.