{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: When Metrics Go The Wrong Way

{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: When Metrics Go The Wrong Way

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss what to do when your metrics and KPIs go the wrong way. How do you diagnose your marketing operations and prioritize what to fix? What things are a waste of time? Tune in to find out!


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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: When Metrics Go The Wrong Way

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Christopher Penn 0:17

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, what do we do when the numbers are not going the way they should be whatever number or KPI or metric we’re talking about, when the numbers aren’t going in the right direction? The question is, what do we do? So Katie, when the numbers are not going the right direction, either this is a question, we asked to the analytics for marketers community, what some of the feedback we’ve gotten, and then what’s your take as a senior decision maker, when the numbers are going the wrong way?

Katie Robbert 0:47

Well, when the numbers go the wrong way, you just panic and cry, and just say, I quit, and flip your keyboard over.

And that’s, you know, probably the best course of action that anybody can possibly take.

And then you get out of your head, and then you start to see what’s going on.

So some of the responses that we got, were around, you know, analyze, in depth, run some A B test, set up some other experiments.

And all of that is really good.

The challenge I have with some of with some of those responses, though, is it’s all reactive, which, you know, I’d say most of us, you know, sort of live in the marketing space live in that world, where the only sort of time we get is to be reactive, being proactive, is kind of a luxury.

But I think that I try as much as I can to be proactive, with our own data, because we do have, you know, the quote, unquote, luxury of being a smaller company completely in control of all of our data.

So when I, when I feel like the numbers are starting to go in the wrong direction, my hope is that I might already have a plan in place to address it, versus waiting until it happens, and then trying to scramble to figure out what the heck I should do.

But Chris, you’re more of the numbers guy than me, like, what do you do? What controls do you put in place? Or what do you do? If that happens?

Christopher Penn 2:19

I think the first thing to tackle is why, like, Why, which number? Is it? And why is it happening? And because there are things you know, to your point, there are things that are out of our control, you know, back in 2020, which a seems like a long time ago, and be seems like yesterday, because of how time has been working the last couple of years.

You know, we had no control over a global pandemic and the lock downs that ensued and things like that.

So that was a case where we knew why we knew what was happening.

We knew why we probably knew earlier than most people did, because we were paying attention to it.

And at the same time was like, Okay, well, there’s not much we can do to change the macro situation.

So what we did do was we said, Okay, well, what are the things that are going to be less impacted, you know, books and webinars, you know, we were already a virtual company.

So we didn’t have to change much in our operations.

But we did have to change what services we offered.

We backed off a lot from the focus on AI and machine learning and got down to brass tacks.

Okay, let’s focus on getting people’s analytics working so that they can keep an eye on what’s going on in their business.

So that’s usually my first stop my second stop.

And this is something that I was ranting to John about the other day, is, a lot of the time people look at numbers in a vacuum, like Oh, our MQL is are down and the missive comes from on high saying you got to get your MQLs up 20% this month.

This happened at a software company I was working at a long time ago, every month marketing just got increasingly absurd demands for more marketing qualified leads.

And we’re like, what’s going on? Like, at some point, we’re going to run out of audience we’re going to run out of people who are qualified customers.

And what turned out was the sales team was so bad at its job that they had about a 1% closing rate.

So you know, our pushback was, well, you know, if you took your closing rate for like 1% to 2% we double the revenue we were making as a company with no extra lift from marketing and you guys suck so badly that you literally could replace half the sales team with dogs and you would close your probably double your sales just by replacing half the team with dogs because the dogs would be cute and people would want to stay on the phone with them.

Katie Robbert 4:45

Hi, you just sold me on whatever it was that you were selling.

Christopher Penn 4:50

as John pointed out, also, that there were issues like product market fit that were real problematic that made selling difficult because our product was twice the price.

Half the quality of its competitors.

Again, those are things that are not necessarily under your control as a marketer, but the impact your numbers, because sales can’t sell a product that nobody wants.

So that’s the big thing is for me, you got to figure out why it’s happening.

And then what are the factors that are under your control? What levers Do you have that that you can push or pull? And sometimes the uncomfortable answer is, you don’t have any.

And at that point, it’s time to update your LinkedIn profile.

Katie Robbert 5:32

Well, I would say before you get to that extreme step of leaving your job, the other things that were out of your control, one of our community members commented, one challenge I’m having is tying macro economics into the equation without having it be an excuse.

And so, you know, as we’re recording this, there’s the America is pretty much on fire, we know this.

And everything that’s happening outside of our little marketing bubble, directly impacts our day to day business, it’s, you know, a distraction for our audience, you know, they’re, they’re part priorities are elsewhere, we canceled some of our live streams, because we know that it’s just not the right time.

But that also then impacts our awareness and sort of it keeps going down the funnel.

And even if our company is not directly involved in those things that are happening outside in the rest of the world, we become impacted by that, because that’s just people are just thinking about different things.

And so our numbers will inevitably because of that start to go down.

But Chris, to your point, that situation, those situations are things we completely have no control over.

It’s just not the type of business that we’re in to have any kind of meaningful impact on those larger things that will directly impact our bottom line.

Christopher Penn 7:05


And so you have two choices, you always have more than two choices.

But there’s two fundamental choices there.

The first is, you can pivot a lot of your efforts to inbound marketing.

So things where you’re running search ads, you’re running, you’re creating content, you may not be promoting it, you may not be pushing in people’s faces, but you’re at least letting the machines pick it up.

And for the percentage of your audience that does want to do business as usual, you’re there for that.

I think that’s always a sound strategy.

You know, it’s something that we focused a lot on in the early days of the pandemic is okay, what can we do to be present for people who are, frankly, looking for work as a distraction from the planetary fire that was happening at the time.

And the second thing is, if it is aligned with your brand, and if it is something that offers legitimate value, you can steer into whatever’s going on.

So like in the in our Slack group this morning, I published an analysis of our own Twitter audience and saying, like, Hey, here’s what we’re doing what the situation is, we see that, you know, the current situation is top of mind for our audience on Twitter in the last 24 hours.

So we know that’s, that’s immediate, no go turn off thing, keep things turned off and stuff like that.

And then teaching people here’s how to do this, if you don’t have access to machine learning, I gave a very manual recipe.

It’s not marketing a tragedy, it’s not taking advantage of in a tasteless way.

It is offering help to people who are also in the situation of what should we do? It at least gives them a a choice.

You know, we can talk about crisis management another time.

But that’s always an option too.

For for your company.

If it’s aligned with your brand, how does your company have something to offer to help in a situation where it’s out of your control? You know, for example, a lot of companies early on in the pandemic pivoted to making like alcohol companies started making hand sanitizer.

A lot of individuals started sewing their own masks and things and offering templates and patterns to JoAnn Fabric, I remember, was giving away free fabric for people to make masks and the little templates to make them because it was the they saw, okay, this is a line with our brand.

We want people crafting.

Here’s something that we can do to help the situation

Katie Robbert 9:32

which doesn’t necessarily address what do you do when the numbers go down? I mean, yes, it’s good if you have the opportunity to pivot.

I think, you know, and I’m thinking of a couple of companies that I’ve worked with in the past, where the executives and the board don’t care what’s going on outside of the business.

They don’t care that you tap the entire addressable market.

Get for your thing.

They want to know why the numbers aren’t going up.

And I think that that’s really the question that we have to think through.

Because, you know, so let’s say I came to you, Chris.

And I said, you know, our newsletter subscribers are going down.

And you know, the response that you would give me what should you know be correct as well, people aren’t really interested in this right now.

There’s a lot of other things going on.

I could very well be that CEO that comes back and says, I don’t care.

I need those numbers to go up.

I have investors that I have to answer to.

So I need those numbers to go up, make them go up.

I don’t care what you have to do.

That I think is probably, unfortunately, a very common scenario.

Christopher Penn 10:49

It is.

And so again, we go back to Okay, well, what do you have in your toolkit? It’s like, because so you know, going to a kitchen analogy, you say, I need, you know, 20 more loaves of bread? Okay, what do I have? Do I have the ability to do that? You know, what do I need to go and get? I don’t have that? Or do I not have a mixer? Do I not have flour? What are the things that are missing? In the case of a newsletter subscribers situation? Okay, great.

My first question to you would be, what budget are you giving me to work with? Because for what we’re doing right now is what the results we’re getting right now, in order for us to get something different, we have to do something different.

What’s the old Einstein quote, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result is the literal definition of insanity.

So what options are on the table is would be my first question back to you? And if the answer is nothing, you have to do everything, you have to hit impossible goals with no resources, then my answer is, I’m sorry, we’re not gonna hit those numbers.

We will, we will make our best efforts.

But I’m telling you right now, we’re not gonna hit those numbers, and I’m gonna update my LinkedIn profile.

Katie Robbert 11:55

But I do think, you know, as you’re saying, like, what budget? I’ve been in that position where the answer is, until the numbers improve, I can’t give you more budget, you have to justify that your efforts are worthy of more budget.

So it’s that it’s that heart cart before horse, chicken, egg, whatever comes first, you need more budget to get better results, but you can’t get more budget until you get better results.

And I think that’s the position that a lot of us find ourselves in of, unless I can increase my numbers, I can’t justify getting more money, so they’re gonna keep slashing, and it’s actually having the opposite effect.

Christopher Penn 12:35

It is, and unfortunately, I can’t think of a rational way.

You know, the, the cliche is you can’t cut your way to growth, right, there is no way to cut your way to growth, it simply does not work.

So what we have to then question is, okay, well, of the tools that we have, you know, is there anything we can do for at least a little bit of change, and there’s always a little bit, you can always find some way to do a little something, but that little something is going to have a little something as a result, it’s unlikely it’s going to yield a big result.

And certainly, if you work in a large organization, where you are, there is a lot of resource under utilization, you might be able to find enough resources to move the needle.

But your first step then really should be your detailed attribution analysis.

What are you doing that is working? And can you pull resources away from things that are clearly not working and push them into things that that are? That would be in a in a highly constrained situation? That would be my first step would be okay, well, what? If I have extra bandwidth somewhere? What can we do? Can we do a push out an extra two blog posts a week? If the if that were working? Well, in the case of like Trust Insights, you know, organic search is not one of our drivers of growth.

email is actually one of our drivers of growth.

So my first question would be okay, if we, if we actually had to push the numbers, and we didn’t have budget, could we send more email without burning down our list?

Katie Robbert 14:13

Well, and it sounds like part of what you’re saying is, if you need to sacrifice certain marketing efforts in order to put more time and effort and budget into the things that are producing results, maybe that’s the choice that you make for now.

And so, you know, just as an example, you know, maybe what we have to do would be to stop spending any time posting on organic social, but really focus our efforts on making sure that our content is, you know, a plus content, you know, it hits all the marks and then that goes out in our email, because the email is what’s driving the most conversions.

And so we would be able to sacrifice lower performing channels in order to refocus and prioritize higher performing channels, which is not a great long term strategy, by the way, because then what happens is that you’re just over indexed on one thing.

And so when you stop producing, you know, or putting the marketing efforts into that one channel, then the results will start to drop again.

So it’s not a sustainable marketing strategy, but it is a band aid that will get you you know, to those higher numbers that you’re being, you know, asked to produce.

Christopher Penn 15:37

And so, frequency is one of those things that is under your control to some degree, right.

So how much you do stuff does does have impact, particularly in a world where again, as we talked about previous episodes, recommendation engines, if they have more stuff to recommend, it’s a volume game, this is something that you were talking about recently, with services like Tiktok, where your successful businesses are pushing a lot of content on it, and they know that it’s like a venture capital game, you’re going to put up 100 pieces of content, one of them’s going to land and the other 99 won’t.

But if you put out one piece of content a week, it’s going to take you two years to get that content to land, if you push out 100 pieces of content this week, you might get that hit this week.

Katie Robbert 16:25


And, you know, it really is a gamble, especially with, uh, you know, I’m glad you brought up, you know, a platform like Tiktok, it’s all about trying to figure out how to game the algorithm, which, you know, some systems will tell you exactly how the algorithm works.

But even once you know, that doesn’t mean that you have the ability to make it work for you.

And a lot of these systems, a lot of these social media platforms specifically, are adjusting and tweaking the algorithm regularly, like maybe daily, maybe weekly.

And there is no one thing that’s guaranteed to work we have, we’ve done data analysis to say, you know, this many hashtags, or, you know, longer form versus shorter form content.

But there is no one perfect formula to say, if you do this exact thing, this is exactly the results that you’re going to get, especially in digital marketing.

The reason why, and again, this is, you know, my personal opinion, but it’s also from years and years and years of experience.

The reason why there is no one perfect thing is because of the audience, the audience and their attention span is changing all of the time.

So today, I may have three hours to scroll through Tiktok, you know, just as an example.

But if you aren’t putting out your content today, i The person who is the exact right person to see it, I’m not going to see it during those three hours that I have today, that tomorrow, I don’t have tomorrow, I have zero time to spend on tick tock and tomorrow is when your thing lands.

And so you may have done everything, right.

Except you just didn’t hit the audience when they were willing to receive the information.

And that’s, you know, it’s it sucks to say that sometimes digital marketing is a crapshoot because you have no control over what the audience is doing at that moment.

Christopher Penn 18:31


But if you’ve got the content out there, there’s more of a chance for it to land.

So again, this is something that we were talking about.

And you actually were the driving force for me to resume my daily show.

So you can see for a good chunk of 2021 here, my channel got relatively few views, you know, 7080 90 views a day, because I had stopped producing a daily show.

I had seen in the numbers that it wasn’t really producing a lot of conversion impact.

But one of the things you pointed out is that a lot of times YouTube’s is a break in the Clickstream because people will watch a video, keep watching videos, go do something else.

And come back, you know, or search for you a day or two or three days later, because they remember oh yeah, I saw that video.

I’ll go Google for this person.

And it shows up as organic search not as as traffic from YouTube.

So it will not show up in a standard clickstream based attribution model.

And when we look at what’s landing, you know, in this time period, some of the top videos how to use Google Analytics to measure LinkedIn, which is in 2017, that video probably needs to be replaced because it’s completely out of date, something from 2010 gotten, you know, 2400 views and then some of those shows like you know, source medium for Google Analytics 4 Is is starting to show up now.

If I wanted to boost our channels, one thing that I think would be a straightforward tactic, again for for more at bats would be for me to take all this Trust Insights content on the Trust Insights channel, put it on my channel, and then take all my content from my channel, put it on the Trust Insights channel, effectively syncing them both.

Because again, it’s just more hits.

And the people who follow the Trust Insights YouTube channel might not be mine on mine, and vice versa.

So again, if the goal is just to get in front of people, you know, to make those numbers go up, somehow.

This is a way to in our unique case, this is a way to just take all the content that exists and multiply its reach.

And I think that’s a a tactic that everyone can look at, like, what have you got an inventory? And you know, is there an opportunity to republish it to publish it somewhere else? If you’ve got a blog? Can you copy and paste it to medium? Right? If you’ve got a Instagram channel, can you copy and paste it to Tiktok? And so on, and so forth, and just create more opportunities for people to land on?

Katie Robbert 20:57

Well, and I think that that’s a really solid piece of advice.

You know, to go back to the original question of, what do you do when the numbers go down? You know, so we’ve talked about how you might not be given more resources, you’re probably not going to be given more budget, you know, so what can you do? Look at what’s already working, and maybe repurpose it.

It’s that transmedia framework that we like to talk about and say, All right, we have this really good piece of content that maybe it’s a couple of years old, maybe if I just spent five minutes refreshing it, or maybe it’s not that old.

And maybe it only went out to YouTube, but I can take it and put the transcript on, you know, my blog, and I can post snippets of it on different social media channels, and I can promote it in my newsletter, you’re not recreating it, you’re just using it in a bunch of different ways it’s already created.

And that is actually a really good tactic for, you know, if you’re short on resources, you’re short on budget, but you’re still being told I need the numbers to go up, look at what’s already working, and reuse it in multiple ways.

There’s so many different platforms that you could be reaching people on.

Christopher Penn 22:12


And if you are just flat out out of ideas, like I don’t know what’s working, or none of our stuff is working, and things just suck.

And we’re gonna lay in a corner and cry.

Once you’ve finished laying in the corner crying for a little while, which is a completely valid thing to do.

Go to the SEO tool of your choice.

As an example, I’m going to bring up the H refs tool.

But again, this is any SEO tool, type in the query of your choice, right, I put in Google Analytics 4, let’s look at this year, published this year.

That stuff that’s working because it would be silly.

And let’s look at pages that got at least one view.

That’s, that seems like a reasonable.

It’s a good bar.

And will this be perfect? No.

But what is going to bring up what these these tools do? Oh, Africa, hit show results.

Is a show us what is what are people talking about? What’s what’s out there? Right? So we have Google itself, we have a article why you should give it a chance.

A whole bunch of reactions.

This is what people are talking about people.

A lot of people don’t like Google Analytics 4.

Understandably, so it’s a different piece of software, new course coming out from Trust Insights, go to trust insights.ai/ga, for course.

And then, looking out and seeing what are the things that are people talking about and then not plagiarizing? But saying what do we have to say on the topic? What is our unique point of view that our audience values us for? And this doesn’t have to be Google Analytics, 4.

It’s anything right? So if you make a beverage stabilizers, right? So you look at like guar gum in here and see what are the discussion topics, you know, there’s a bunch of mom bloggers complaining that it’s a non organic ingredient in their kids, soy milk or whatever, you have a perspective on that offer your perspective.

And you know, based on the existing data, it’s up, it’s a popular topic.

Now you create, you create something for it.

So to your point, you may not have the resources that an organization use to build one of these top performing pieces of content, but you have the brains hopefully to offer a point of view and become part of the discussion on it.

So it’s a way to generate some interest in what you’re creating without having to spend a lot of extra budget.

Katie Robbert 24:46

Right, and, you know, a pro tip and I wouldn’t, you know, exploit this pro tip but a pro tip is to, you know, if you’re seeing these popular blog posts or popular discussions, it is okay to reference them in your content, make sure you are giving it proper attribution and citation.

Because a lot of times what ends up happening is, so let’s say I wrote a post, and I quote Chris in it, and then give him credit for what he wrote, the likelihood of Chris going, oh, you know, that’s a really good use of my material.

Let me go ahead and reshare it, because then people will see that I’m being talked about, it’s one of those, you know, little pro tips of, it’s an easy way to get your stuff shown by partnering with the right kind of people, obviously, don’t just throw people’s links and you know, Twitter handles into something in the hopes that they’re going to be share it because then your stuff is still low quality, so produce high quality, you know, utilize other content as a reference point, and you’ll have more of a chance of it getting to a wider audience.

Christopher Penn 25:53


It’s, again, one of these things that, particularly as you become a more seasoned marketer over time, understanding people, human psychology and stuff like that, and how we work can amplify what resources you do have.

So if you know, for example, that a certain personality is just an egomaniac, like, oh, Chris Penn wants to be mentioned everything you reference in a blog post, right? And you know, pretty much what’s going to happen, right? If you, if you do the appropriate things, you’re probably going to get a certain reaction, you can take advantage of that reaction to your benefit.

And in this case, you know, if your name checking an egomaniac, it’s not causing any substantial harm, right, unless that person is saying things that are just factually wrong.

And that’s a whole different topic.

But to your point, it’s a way to amplify what’s already there.

And and that’s, I think, one of the tactical things that people don’t think through enough is what are the little tactical amplifiers that yeah, they by themselves, they’re not the magic bullet, that’s going to change everything.

But they can, they’re additive.

And when you start summing these things up, you know, again, no magic wand, no fairy dust, but put them all together.

And a 2% increase compounded becomes a 200% increase over time.

Katie Robbert 27:17

I think that that’s solid advice.

And so basically, to summarize, if the numbers start going in the wrong direction, take a moment to panic and cry and flip out.

And then once you collect yourself, don’t just blow up your whole marketing strategy, do those little, you know, tactics that will add up to the numbers moving in the right direction.

And so Chris, you know, let’s just hope that our numbers keep going up.

But if they don’t, we now have a plan.

Christopher Penn 27:49


It is the Toyota Production System, first created by W.

Edwards Deming, constant and never ending improvement little tweaks everywhere you can make them add up over time.

You don’t have to try and blow everything up once you’re better off.

How do you make little improvements all the time that eventually add up to big improvements? If you’ve made some improvements to your marketing, share with your colleagues go to trust insights.ai/analytics for marketers are free slack group where you and over 2400 other marketers are asking and answering each other’s questions every single day.

And wherever it is that you watch or listen to the show.

If there’s a challenge you prefer to have not a go to trust insights.ai/t AI podcast where you can find it in most other formats.

Thanks for tuning in.

I will talk to you soon.

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