Last week­end, my second-grade son (and his friends) com­peted in his sec­ond Cub Scout pinewood derby. The whole event is a blast—from him dream­ing up and sketch­ing his car design, to the evenings of carv­ing the relief into a sim­ple block of wood, to the sand­ing and pre­ci­sion carv­ing, to the paint­ing and detail­ing… and then on to the rac­ing and (hope­fully) winning!

For any par­ent and kid who have ever been a part of a pinewood, though, one aspect of race day surely stands out as “the stress­ful moment”: the weigh-in. A pinewood car must weigh five ounces or less to be race-legal. Not even a frac­tion over five ounces is allowed. Of course, the car can come in under weight, but less weight, or weight in the wrong areas, sig­nif­i­cantly impacts the iner­tia and rac­ing speed of the car.

Dur­ing the check-in for the race, you’ll see a line of anx­ious kids and their par­ents await­ing their weigh-ins. Some weigh over and jump out of line to drill a bit more wood away from an incon­spic­u­ous area, like the bot­tom of the car. Some weigh under and choose to break away to add last-minute weights to the car. There’s a vicious cycle of weigh­ing, tweak­ing, and weigh­ing again, until you get as close as com­fort­able to the five-ounce limit.

Just like in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, it’s an area of life where met­rics matter.

While we were wait­ing in line for our third run at the scale, though, I won­dered, “How close is good enough?”

When I stud­ied and prac­ticed tech­ni­cal theater—lighting, sound, and set design, which was my trade before I got into dig­i­tal media and mar­ket­ing, and then measurement—there was a com­mon phrase in the scene shop: “Close enough for the­ater!” That mantra referred to the fact that on a 40– to 50-foot or wider stage, regard­less of the design, you could often be a half inch or an inch off in con­struc­tion and still be okay when every­thing fit together on stage for the final production.

As my career pro­gressed into the world of mar­ket­ing met­rics, that mantra stuck with me, and in my years as a con­sul­tant to many of Adobe’s largest retail and travel clients, I found myself espous­ing and expound­ing the idea that some­times num­bers were sim­ply “close enough for theater.”

Wait­ing to see whether we had taken the car up from the pre­vi­ously mea­sured 4.79 ounces to a weight close enough to five ounces to be race-legal but good enough for speed, I was again think­ing, “close enough for the­ater.” I then thought of so many of our clients who are so fix­ated on met­rics pre­ci­sion that they miss the prover­bial for­est for the trees.

Man­ag­ing a team of 20 busi­ness con­sul­tants who help our clients max­i­mize their value using Adobe Ana­lyt­ics, I hear my fair share of hor­ror sto­ries each week about clients who will not accept or act upon some sim­ple report because it has a 2, 3, or per­haps 5 per­cent vari­ance from what they expect.

Let’s con­sider a case in which you, as a mar­keter, expect to see some­where between 10,000 and 11,000 vis­its from a cer­tain cam­paign on any given day. You con­sis­tently mea­sure some­where around 1 to 2 per­cent below that using some sys­tem of mea­sure­ment (Adobe Ana­lyt­ics or some other system).


Would you stop opti­miz­ing or tak­ing some action based upon your mea­sured results?

You might be sur­prised to find out that many, many clients would fall into what my col­league, Web Ana­lyt­ics Action Hero and author Brent Dykes, would call “analy­sis paral­y­sis.” These clients remain stuck in what he calls “Setu­p­land,” seek­ing to find an answer to the com­plex ques­tion of mea­sure­ment pre­ci­sion rather than focus­ing on doing what they can with what they have.

Savvy dig­i­tal mar­keters seize the oppor­tu­nity to do what they can today with what’s at hand; I even find them pri­or­i­tiz­ing the action while still work­ing, sec­on­dar­ily, in the back­ground to con­stantly seek to make their met­rics more precise.

It’s cer­tainly not an either-or, but it is impor­tant to focus on being action­able and get­ting the most value out of what you can in order to opti­mize, test, or take some action that will help you put value back into your busi­ness with what you have at hand.

I’m cer­tainly not advo­cat­ing turn­ing a blind eye to def­i­nite, sig­nif­i­cant odd­i­ties in your met­rics. When your num­bers fall out­side of the fair bounds that you’ve deter­mined, you must pri­or­i­tize and take action to fig­ure out what has changed and take that into account. Some­times, legit­i­mate changes in user behav­ior lead to this – and the new pre­dic­tive func­tion­al­ity in Adobe Ana­lyt­ics is help­ing mar­keters deter­mine and uncover con­tribut­ing fac­tors. Some­times, though, it is true that you have to revisit the finer details of your data col­lec­tion design and imple­men­ta­tion to ensure noth­ing has gone awry.

The ques­tion to keep in mind is whether the mani­a­cal focus on pre­ci­sion is serv­ing you well or whether it’s a dis­trac­tion from the dar­ing it takes to accept the num­bers at hand and act upon them each day as a dig­i­tal marketer.

Back to race day: Should we worry about the extra speed that the .005 ounces will add to the car’s per­for­mance? Or, do we take a deep breath, be thank­ful that we’ve weighed in under five ounces, and tackle the races now?

I’m all for going to the races with what I have and expe­ri­enc­ing the excite­ment of watch­ing the cars when they hit the track.

Are your met­rics “close enough for the­ater”? If so, stop obsess­ing. Let’s race!