Why do we make measurement of digital campaigns sound more complicated than it is?


Language matters. The words we use and the way we use them aim for one thing – to convey a meaning or a message from one person to another person. Clarity is good. Obfuscatory and unnecessarily complicated language is bad. As marketers we should know this, and we should use language as a tool, as a way of conveying the meaning we want, to help people understand and to make decisions.

But there are still areas where we, as an industry, seem to use language as a tool to confuse. Like the ‘Argotiers’ of 17th century France – thieves who developed their own language and way of speaking (their own ‘argot’) to exclude outsiders. And the one area where we seem too often to use language to exclude other people is measurement. Especially digital measurement.

The role of measurement in marketing, as in any scenario, is simple – it helps us to make decisions. It helps us to understand what we should change and how we should change it. It helps us to understand what we have achieved and what we haven’t achieved. It helps us to talk about problems and successes.

But we, as an industry, too often don’t enable these things to be done. For many years the narrative in digital marketing is that “we measure what we can rather than what we should” and this was discussed again at the APG’s October Noisy Thinking event. But if we have known this for so long, and we all agree when it is articulated, why do we still do it. Why don’t we change.

Whilst it is a problem that we measure all the things that we can measure, the bigger issue for me is that, especially for digital marketing, we use jargon and complexity to hide useful and meaningful metrics and measures. Like those 17th century thieves, we use a language to talk about digital measurement that can exclude clients or non-digital specialists. We can make things sound more complex than they are or should be.

Why do we do this? For me the challenge with measurement in digital marketing is not that “we measure what we can rather than what we should” but that, because it is now easier for everybody to have access to data across a campaign we feel a need to say – “yes but it’s more complicated than that”.

The role of strategists when it comes to measurement should be to help clients to understand what matters. To help them to navigate the many metrics and measures and to talk about them in a way that makes sense. This is not difficult, indeed we can do so by adopting many of the six rules Orwell wrote about in his 1946 Essay on Politics and the English Language. Don’t use a long work when a short work will do (rule 2). If you can cut words out do so (rule 3). And never use jargon if there is an everyday English phrase for something (rule 5).

But above this, a sensible and useful understanding of digital metrics requires us, as strategists to have absolute clarity in what matters to evaluate a campaign. And it is perhaps here that we have most work to do. Maybe the real narrative in too much digital marketing is not that “we measure what we can rather than what we should” but that “we measure what we can because we don’t know what we should”.

Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Head of Digital Strategy for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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