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!