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Marketing Analysis: Marrying Meaning with Numbers

Updated on February 15, 2019
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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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


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