Marketers have discovered what economists have known for a long time: the guy with an Excel table always wins the discussion. “Numbers are not discussed”, “the data does not lie”, among other phrases.
Digital Marketing has given us the incredible ability to measure all consumer activity and the performance of the strategies we have outlined and implemented. When we are at a meeting, we all love to “puke” a rainbow of mathematical logic, hiding our weaknesses behind digital jargon (CPC’s, CPA’s, CTR’s, bounce rate’s, visitors, pageviews, engagement, reach, impressions, among others ). They fear that, without data, being just an opinion of a person, their voice will not be heard.
Like any good professional, I also love data. I love being able to track and measure. Knowing how to measure and knowing how to analyze are essential for me to be able to do my job, but, to paraphrase any Marvel hero, “with great powers comes great responsibilities”.
This responsibility is to realize essentially two things: the first is that not everything that really counts can be counted and that not everything that is counted really counts. The second is that when a metric becomes a target it is no longer a good metric.
Defining KPIs (key performance indicators) has a central role. These are the most important metrics to measure, monitor and execute for progression. These provide us with a way to check if the strategy we initially outlined is actually producing results. They focus the attention of team members on raising or lowering these indicators, provide a common and clear language for communicating performance, are verifiable and guarantee accurate data.
However, we cannot be blinded by data on an Excel sheet, pie or bar graphs, as this leads us to fall into the MCNamara fallacy. And, no, I’m not talking about the world record holder for surfing the biggest wave in Nazaré. I mean, yes, the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America (1961-1968).
McNamara’s fallacy originates from the Vietnam War, in which the counting of enemy bodies was defined as KPI, which is considered an accurate and objective measure of success. The war was reduced to a mathematical model: by increasing the deaths of enemies and minimizing their own, victory was guaranteed. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
In fact, treating the war as a mathematical model, objectives were imposed on the military based on these same KIPs, resulting in a substantial increase in “enemy” deaths.
However, this increase would also include several bombed villages, as well as unarmed inhabitants (which I humbly assume would not be the goal). These executions increased the revolt of the Iraqi people, causing more rebel factions to join the fight against the United States of America.
The story goes that the Brigadier-General of the United States Air Force, Edward Lansdale, addressed McNamara saying that his scientific method for following the progress of the war did not consider an aspect of extreme relevance: “the feelings of the common rural Vietnamese people ”. McNamara wrote down in his pencil list what was transmitted to him. However, he quickly erased it, saying: “We can’t measure it, so it shouldn’t be important”.