Measurement is the Problem

On December 22, 2010, in HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser


Oxygen Bar Insights: 'The web makes it easy to measure a vast range of things. Stuff that could not be seen is now easily measured.'

Measurement is the Problem

As I was leaving Las Vegas after the HRDemo show, I stopped into the little oxygen bar by the gate. Vegas always leaves me feeling spent and a dose of O2 is my favorite treat on the way home.

The Oxygen bar is a clever little operation that always has something to sell. As a part of the session, the ‘bartender’ demonstrates a variety of stress release devices. Mostly, they are heated pieces of plastic that give a nice massage. There’s a little bit of overpriced aromatherapy to be had as well.

This time, they were pushing a TENS device (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). A TENS device delivers electrical current to your skin as a way of stimulating muscles and relieving stress. The feeling is a little wierd but the tactic works for tight muscles and some kinds of pain relief. They wanted $200 for the thing.

In what will be an increasingly common occurrence, I sat at the counter and looked up the price of the device on Amazon on my iPhone. (You can get one for about $85.) Needless to say, I thanked them for the offer and headed off to the plane.

We are entering a new era. It is possible to know things quickly that used to be the basis of retail economics. In the old days, stores offered low prices to attract traffic and made their money by marking up other things. Now that you can comparison shop while in the store, there’s another economic shoe to drop in the retail business.

The web makes it easy to measure a vast range of things. Stuff that could not be seen is now easily measured. The web seeks out friction and noise and tries to minimize them. The web makes it possible to compare discrepant pieces of information on the fly as a part of decision making.

This is the force behind the business world’s increasing emphasis on analytics and dashboards. The theory is, if you can measure it, you should (and that’s probably true). What’s less clear is the way that measurement distracts us from the important things. The ability to measure creates a false sense that you actually know what’s going on.

You can not measure the present to predict the future.

I was talking with the North American rep of an international firm that is trying to break into the Enterprise Market in the US and Europe. He told me that his company was only going to invest in marketing activities that could be validated by data before they spent. They were not going to chase wild geese. They wanted to be sure that their money was well spent.

I laughed really hard. If I’d been drinking something, it would have come out my nose.

Measurement tells you everything you need to know about the past and maintaining the status quo. Data tells you a lot about what happened but is only marginally useful for telling you about what could happen. It can only narrow your choices to proven tracks.

The problem with following tried and true marketing tactics is that they don’t work. The most fundamental truth of marketing is that every new idea wears out quickly. Marketing is the hunt for the edge, not a desperate struggle to find predictability. If you want predictability in marketing, you probably shouldn’t be in the game.

The greatest marketers begin with an hypothesis and then test it to death. They look to see what works right now. They know that the time will come when this particular hypothesis wears out. That’s when they chuck it all away and start over.

It’s how you build an employment brand, sell software, develop new products, keep your business agile and generally stay alert when everyone else is going to sleep.

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