Are you a Metricmaniac?

Data can easily become an addiction and so often, like a lamp post, rather then be illuminating it just becomes a prop, used to justify rather than inform. And after a while you want more and more of it until you finally become OCD (Obsessed with Collecting Data).


I am not the only one to raise the debate about data and how well it is used, Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup Movement and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has a name for the obsessive use of data just to look good, he calls it ‘Vanity Data‘. I call it Metricmania.

He’s not afraid to attack the scared cow of website hits and social media numbers. Some simple say he’s just pointing out the king is naked, something a growing number of marketers, cynical about our over belief in the power of digital to sell, will be pleased to hear. It’s time to rebalance things, and get things in perspective.

Big data, big headache

The trouble with big data, there is just too much to really get you head around and it’s easy to end up with paralysis through analysis. It’s no wonder clients are complaining about data overload and the costs involved in making any sense of it.

A recent research report I read claims clients are become more sceptical about metrics and are drifting away from models like econometrics, looking instead for alternative methods, psychology being one that actually gives you answer to the WHY and WHAT happens next?

But the real question is, does data really tell you what you need to know to dramatically improve your marketing, or are you spending 80% of your resource on just 20% of significance.

I suspect many clients are too busy worry about the data when it’s the basic they need to be looking at. For all the data you can analyse about digital ads (display not search) the one thing that will give you that 80% difference doesn’t sit in the data but in creativity. The most significant factor in effectiveness in digital ads is how good the creative is, the rest is just about rearranging the chairs. It’s obvious really, because that’s the bit that does the work of engaging the consumer.

You can write the worlds best joke but it takes a great comedian to make it funny.

“Facebook is a dinosaur”

Having just been speaking at the Inside the Creative Industries conference at Chester University, digital, data and new trends were the top subjects of debate. This is an area where you quickly discover people have strong belief systems and, like football fans, are totally evangelistic about what they believe.

One fan of Twitter declared it was the “greatest marketing invention of all time and Facebook was now a dinosaur.” No one doubts it’s a great tool to have in the marketing tool box for some brands, but the greatest marketing invention of all time?Well, it’s marketing so expect hype and over sell.


With data popping out of our ears no one is really questioning how good is the evaluation and what is it really telling us. More importantly, does it really help us understand the consumer? Theres a lot if talk about consumer behaviour, but even though looking at behaviour tells us WHAT people have repetitively done, do we know the WHY? More importantly, do we know WHAT they will do next? Especially if we change the situation, or something unpredictable happens, as us so often the case in markets.

If you’ve ever been to a fortune teller there’s nothing that leaves you feeling cheated than just being told your life history, you already know that. What you are paying for is to know the unpredictable – the future.

Of course data can predict the future if all things remain equal, I know my neighbour leaves his house at 7.30 everyday, so I can predict that next Tuesday he’ll do the sales. Unless he’s ill, or there’s a tube strike or he gets fired. Now how do you predict what happens next?

Observational data can tell us how many people are in the room, how they got here, how long they stay there and what they are doing. But what happens if a tiger walks into the room? Suddenly data can’t help.

Yet in the real world the unpredictable happens all the time, so we need less reflective information and more predictive. This is why psychology is coming back into play, because psychology not only tells you WHAT people will do (panic and run like hell), but also WHY they were there in the first place, WHAT are their motivations are… and HOW they feel bout tigers.

Open minds.

Being up at Chester University I was also asked to do a short talk about my favourite subject at the the moment, using psychology in marketing. About how to use NLP (AardVarK), which most sales people are training in these days. Enneagrams, which go back to Greek times and explain our emotional drivers (Emotivations) and the simplest tool in the box, the R&E Line which helps you map out the purchasing journey and explains the roles and relationship of creativity and information.

Armed with open minds, the students have no attachment to belief systems, current trends or are pressured to conform, they can see the logic of why psychology is a smarter way forward in a data overloaded environment.

Looking forward, businesses need to take a pragmatic approach and evaluate the value of what they pay for and ask the simple question, ‘does it deliver against real marketing objectives like sales, brand awareness or WOM’. I known we live in what has been called the ‘Numeric Society‘, But just using numbers to justify what you are doing to create a comfort zone is plain metricmania.

links: Psychology in marketing:

Recommended reading:

The Persuader: how to use emotional persuasion to win more business (Marcus Corah)


    As we gather more data, rather than get clarity we are actually getting more confused.  We need to return to the consumer, they are not a number but a real person who feels, thinks and acts in ways that data often can’t predict. I agree that the secret in understanding the consumer is not in data but in psychology.  (Love the Ardvark tool Chris.)

  • Chris Arnold

    Thanks Sarah. AardVarK was developed in association with a top management consultancy and has been proven to dramatically improve communication effectiveness and sales.


    I get frustrated sitting in meetings listening to analysts trying to explain consumer behaviour when you know they have missed the point. Data often ignores one key factor – the creativity. It’s the Spock of marketing, all logic and no emotion. John Lewis’ Christmas ad was the most talked about, and loved ad, of 2012. It was NOT a product of data but understanding human emotions (psychology). Same can be said about Gorilla. It’s also what makes most of the top virals work. Data can be very useful, it can help improve media channels and placement but 95% of what makes a piece of communication work is the creative. And data can’t make a bad idea work better. Marketers need to refocus back to WHAT actually engages consumers not just on the WHERE and WHEN. My fera is that big data is pushing many further up the ivory tower.

  • Chris Arnold

    Interesting piece by Claire Beale on data in Marketing.