• The prospect of measuring marketing’s success presents a wide range of challenges to measurement professionals
  • “Complex” and “complicated” are often treated as synonyms, but they have distinct meanings that impact business approaches differently
  • When it comes to measurement, understanding the difference between complication and complexity can make the difference when seeking guidance on what is the best approach

How to quantify the full value delivered by a B2B marketing organization is a problem that continues to inspire and frustrate in equal measure, even though technology has enabled tracking and reporting that was out of reach for most organizations a decade ago. Although some pieces of this puzzle (e.g., demand activities) have given rise to clear, repeatable best practices, measuring other components of marketing’s value (like spending on brand) continues to pose daunting challenges.

To understand why so many organizations are still unsatisfied in their ability to answer this central marketing question, it can be helpful to remember the difference between problems that are complex vs. those that are just complicated. Many disciplines (e.g., mathematics, engineering, software development) often deal with this issue. As Professor Rick Nason explained in his 2017 book It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business, business leaders can also benefit from understanding this difference.

A complicated problem can have many small, intricate steps that need to come together to achieve success. But companies can routinely execute against complicated challenges by breaking them down into a series of individual components that can be handled with repeatable rules and processes. Complex problems, on the other hand, cannot be easily defined by a repeatable set of rules, because the components of a complex system interact with each other in unpredictable ways.

To apply these two concepts to a marketing organization, you could say that executing a global multi-channel marketing campaign is a complicated process. A successful campaign may consist of months of carefully planned and choreographed effort across multiple teams in different geographies with dependencies on departments throughout the organization. And yet, companies throughout the world have built best-practice processes and tools that allow them to accomplish this feat routinely.

But when those same organizations seek to measure the effectiveness of those multi-channel efforts, they run up against questions that are complex. Even if we limit measurement to the most commonly discussed type of value — financial return from won deals — the questions quickly mount:

  • What motivated a prospect to make a purchase?
  • How much of that motivation was provided by marketing efforts?
  • Which untrackable elements of that campaign was an individual prospect exposed to?
  • Was the buying decision affected by conversations with peers or colleagues?
  • Did the prospect see favorable news coverage or have a negative interaction with the competition?

And what if the decision wasn’t made by one prospect? What if six people were driving the decision, or ten? The interplay of all those moving parts creates interactions that are unpredictable and sometimes impossible to measure.

So, what should marketing operations do? Start with the basic foundation of marketing measurement — tracking responses to marketing activities, qualifying those responses into marketing sourced pipeline, comparing those results to our costs to show progress.

In areas where measurement can become complicated, look closer at internal processes. Are the procedures in place to achieve repeatable success measuring complicated, integrated marketing campaigns? Do you plan the scope of work in advance, identify the proper stakeholders, seek out different perspectives, or include measurement in campaign planning? For complicated measurement projects, Forrester offers best-practice processes and tools to help organize the work of measurement, breaking down the effort into manageable, repeatable components to help you execute consistently.

Finally, in the areas of marketing where measurement becomes truly complex, marketing operations teams must be creative and flexible. The first step is to recognize that clean, direct measurement of these kinds of questions is not always achievable. Attempting to boil down complex questions into simple metrics or dashboards can provide false precision that does more harm than good. For more on this, see my recent blog post “Beware False Precision In Your Analytics.”

Once you’ve recognized that complexity, you’ll often find that the best solution uses a number of related metrics to show different parts of the story — often expressing value in ways that can’t be tied to revenue directly. Look for measurements that can compare the relative success among marketing activities without getting bogged down in precise value created. Understand that you may need to build a narrative for your readers that connects those dots to tell a story that no one measurement can provide.

Apply that same thinking to any part of marketing you need to place under the microscope, and you are likely to find solutions that drive directional improvement without the need to provide the false level of precision that a simple answer can provide.