Marketing Measurement Baffles Einstein

Posted by Taylor Haney on Wed, Jan 29, 2014

Another fantastic guest blog by Todd Van Hoosear, Vice President of Public Relations and Stakeholder Engagement of HB Agency. Todd looks at marketing measurement and how we must rethink what and how we measure. Interested in guest blogging? E-mail taylor[at] mitx [dot] org. 

Todd VHWhen Todd Van Hoosear isn’t contemplating particle physics and quantum mechanics, he’s helping his clients discover, interact with and change the minds of influencers through new media and old media. He also teaches courses on public relations and new media at Boston University, and is a Fellow of the Society for New Communications Research. 

"We are standing in front of a closed box which we cannot open, and we try hard to discover about what is and is not in it." - Albert Einstein, 1953

Einstein wrote these words during the search for a "Theory of Everything" that occupied much of his later life. Like in physics, marketing is also still searching for its grand unification -- one that combines the two battling approaches to marketing today.

On one side sits the brand-focused awareness-building approach favored by more traditional PR and advertising professionals. The goal is to change minds -- typically a difficult thing to measure. The metrics tend to be qualitative and subject to interpretation. While a challenge to quantify and measure, this approach, if done right, can often help marketers get further inside a prospect’s or customer's head than any other approach.

HB blog 1On the other side is the numbers-driven approach favored by sales managers, social media professionals and demand generation-focused marketers. The goal is to "convert," which usually means a sale, but which can also mean any number of events that indicate progress toward an ultimate sale. The metrics tend to be quantitative, but attributing value to anything besides an actual sale is difficult at best, and without understanding the real value of any metric, it is very difficult to choose the right metric from among hundreds of potential metrics.

The good news about social media, as I tell my clients, is that you can measure everything. The bad news is that you can measure everything.

So, what to measure? And is there hope that these two divergent approaches might be unified? Are there quantitative metrics that get inside people's heads, and qualitative measures that might have an impact on the bottom line? Is there hope for a grand unification of marketing? Perhaps. Let’s look at one clear-cut case of convergence.


In the beginning, there was the word – the printed word, to be more specific. Let’s call this “owned media.” To fund this new medium, the advertisement was invented. We’ll call that “paid media.” Then one smart fellow, who would eventually call himself a publicist, invented the press release and the role of the PR practitioner. Let’s call that “earned media,” as the PR pros liken to say. Everything was going fine until social media came along. Then we had to decide into which bucket that belonged. Marketers love their buckets.

Our first gut instinct was to include blogs and social network profiles in with “owned media.” But anybody who has spent any amount of time on Facebook can tell you we don’t own that content channel. So we created the “shared media” bucket. Thus was formed the “PESO” model: paid, earned, shared and owned media. And it was good.

Then the walls started to come down. The differences between paid and earned blurred thanks to sponsored content and native advertising models. And shared media, well, that’s an artificial distinction at best. Some argue it belongs in the owned media. Measurement queen Katie Paine argues, quite successfully, that it belongs in the earned model, and I agree with her. So let’s call this model “POE.” But even those differences are artificial as well, ultimately.

Convergence and Measurement

So we see that the differences between advertising and PR, two archrivals, are fading quickly. Any attempt to measure the effectiveness of marketing must recognize the artificial nature of these differences. There are new marketing measurement tools being introduced every day, and every one I see relies on artificial differences. Here are your Twitter stats. Here’s how effective your email marketing has been. Here’s the ad value equivalency of your PR efforts (with my apologies to Katie for even mentioning that term).

We need to get rid of these artificial distinctions. No social network, not even Twitter or Facebook, can survive in a vacuum, and neither can our marketing measurement efforts. We need to rethink what and how we measure. And when we do, we need to remember that the almighty dollar (e.g. sales generated by marketing efforts), your Twitter follower count, your Facebook page’s engagement scores and your Web traffic are just parts of a bigger, better, brighter, and ideally unified, picture.