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Marketing Analysis: Marrying Meaning with Numbers

Updated on November 24, 2014
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.

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Numbers are just numbers until meaning is attached to them. Nowhere is this more true that in the field of marketing analysis.

The number of sales calls, brochures, tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, marketing emails and such are meaningless unless they are married to another number which has to do with results. But even that is often not enough.

Numbers also need to be properly interpreted in terms of context, comparison and causation. Say that a marketer is analyzing the effects of a marketing campaign by measuring the number of Facebook posts against the number of quarterly sales. The temptation is to say that the Facebook posts caused the sales results. Not so fast! If those Facebook posts did not drive web traffic to the company's website to make a sale, then that would be giving too much credit to those Facebook posts. Only by digging into the company's web traffic analytics could it be confirmed that this Facebook activity did or did not produce results.

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Picking Numbers to Watch is as Important as the Numbers Themselves

One of the biggest challenges in evaluating business data—especially for small business owners who may not have the time, interest or expertise to make these choices—is choosing which numbers are the most important to watch, as well as what their relationship is to the numbers to which they're being compared.

As in our Facebook example above, looking at both the frequency and number of Facebook posts and sales data is a good thing. However, the missing number is the number of visits to the company's website that those posts generated.

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Engagement Does Not Equal Conversion

Back in the early days of social media, it was common for marketers of every kind and size of business to get enamored with the number of followers, friends, likes, tweets, Klout scores, etc. achieved. While these numbers can provide some indicators of engagement on these channels, they are not good measurements of conversion. Why?

  • Numbers in Isolation are Meaningless. A few years ago, I tried to impress a business strategist about the high level of engagement I had in the social-sphere. To that he replied, "So what?" He followed that up with asking how that translated into my financial reports. Um... I found out rather quickly how that translated. That simple two-word question helped me see that these numbers were nice, but needed to be connected to outcomes. (BTW, I am proud to say that I actually have gained new clients and cash-in-the-bank business from using Twitter.)
  • Gaming the System. Though there seems to be less of this than there was in the early going, it still is tempting for people to game the social media system to get bigger numbers of followers, likes, etc. It used to be common for people to include "follow me, I'll follow you back" in their profiles. Today, that's less acceptable. These days, the emphasis is on genuine connections and not artificially inflated counts.
  • What Happens on Social Media Stays on Social Media. One of the counterproductive aspects of social media for business can be the tendency for conversations to remain on the network and never move to a company's website. For entertainment or casual friendships that might be fine. But if the goal is to transact and attract business, this results in a social media black hole. This is where measuring traffic from social networks to the company's websites and then comparing to the levels of activity and investment can be helpful.

Click here for tips on measuring the success of a blog.

Use the Sales Funnel Concept to Determine Logical Number Choices

To avoid the temptation to select irrelevant numbers, looking at the company's sales funnel can help determine which numbers to choose.

In the above Facebook example, the sales funnel would move in this direction:

Number of Facebook Posts > Website Visits from Facebook > Number of Sales (or Revenues)

There are methods to assist in gathering more detailed data such as directing traffic to special landing pages, Google sales conversion tracking and promo codes. In our Facebook posts example, a separate landing or sales page on the company's website could be set up that only links to Facebook. This would provide a more insightful number than knowing how many visits went to the home page.

Disclaimer: The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It always amazes me how few comments you get. Every freelance writer should be reading your articles...but alas, most of them don't think they own a business. :) Have a great weekend, Heidi.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 2 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very practical and thought provoking Hub! I agree that what is important is not the isolated numbers but how those numbers translate into tangible results. Yet another invaluable resource, thanks for sharing!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Howdy, billybuc! I think you may be right about the reason for low comments. And on this particular post, it discusses a subject that even the business-worthy among us would rather not address. Have even run across some who are adamant about not wanting to address the numbers at all (that's a story in itself). It is a scary thing to do and creative types often feel that it will dampen their creativity. Oh well... Thanks, as always, for stopping by and have a lovely weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi spartucusjones! Glad you found this interesting and useful. It's true that the isolated numbers can be very appealing, but ultimately useless, benchmarks. Thanks for your kind comments and have a great weekend!

    • pocono foothills profile image

      John Fisher 2 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

      Howdy, Heidi Great article. No matter what kind of business you are in, the numbers are important. For some, HubPages is just as much a business as any other kind of business, so the numbers are just as important. I don't really look at HubPages as a business myself, but rather one of many ways that allows me to expose potential customers to my real business.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hello pocono foothills! Like you, HubPages is a way for me to expand and promote my business. So it is a good way for me to see, by the numbers, what is resonating with my audience. Because I have a high organic traffic component to my HP hubs (and I only knew this by monitoring the numbers), HP is a great market research tool for me. Thank you so much for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great weekend!

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      For sure, Heidi. I concur that too many folks get caught up in looking at numbers and lose sight of the real meanings that are there. Thanks for sharing! Neat! ;-)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Being a numbers person first (as I earned an advanced degree in a statistics laden field) I see analytics on HP as one big regression analysis. The question, of course, is what is one predicting? (What's the desired goal?) I like that you differentiate number of followers from other metrics. Some metrics are pretty hollow but frequently touted, as you pointed out. Great hub!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Homeplace Series! Agreed that it is soooo tempting to get obsessed with the numbers themselves (been there myself on occasion). Thanks for stopping by and have a delightful weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi there, FlourishAnyway! Being steeped in the stats arena, you certainly know all too well that it's easy to manipulate numbers and what they mean, too. As you note, having a clear idea of what you want to predict or measure is critical. With the advent of social media, people seem to be enamored with those hollow numbers. Because many people have difficulty with numbers data, they can easily wrap their minds around those empty stats. Sad, really. Thanks so much for reading and adding your usual insight! Happy Weekend!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You've raised some great points about the meaningfulness of numbers, Heidi. Anyone who hopes to make an income from their writing is actually running a small business, so your hubs are very helpful for writers.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi AliciaC! Yep, writing IS business. Though it's tough for creatives to get into the numbers, it is essential for being successful at this career. Thanks so much for your comments! Have a great week!

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