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Vanity Marketing Metrics: Pretty on Paper, Less so in Practice

Vanity Marketing Metrics: Pretty on Paper, Less so in Practice

Picture this...

The CEO of a small, growing business decides to sponsor an event. At the event, the company generates a list of 300 leads, complete with their names and email addresses.

(So far, so good...right?)

From there, the company sends out a follow-up email, thanking the leads for connecting and directing them to the company’s website.

Unfortunately, only a handful of recipients open the email. Of those five, only one visits the company’s website. The lone visitor leaves without engaging further (let alone making a purchase).

Why? For one thing, the site is cumbersome to navigate. Calls to action lead the visitor down a path she can’t extract herself from easily. She gets frustrated and abandons ship.

So, from 300 potential leads, the company converted zero — with little chance of further engagement on the horizon. The time, money, and resources spent on the sponsorship campaign have effectively gone to waste.

It’s not the best story — and it’s unfortunately not all that uncommon in the real world. And, it’s all due to an unhealthy attachment to vanity marketing.

What is vanity marketing?

To understand what vanity marketing is, it’s important to first understand vanity metrics.

Vanity metrics are those which look good on paper, but don’t necessarily equate to marketing success or business growth.

For example, a 300% increase in site visitors doesn’t mean all that much if 0% of this additional audience has any interest in your products or services. Similarly, a list of 300 names is worthless if they never engage with your brand again.

(This isn’t to say that an increase in site visitors isn’t a good thing. More on this later.)

Vanity marketing, then, refers to any marketing effort that serves only to improve vanity metrics — while doing nothing to move the needle for your business. It's getting tempted by the surface-level aspects of marketing while offering nothing of substance to your audience.

You can build the most beautiful website, deploy the most creative emails, create the flashiest content...

But, if your leads can't navigate your site, engage with your content, or make a purchase, all your efforts will have gone to waste.

In practice, vanity marketing is a:

  • Gorgeous website that barely functions.
  • Post on social media that spreads like wildfire to an irrelevant audience.
  • Video that gets seen all over the globe by viewers with absolutely zero intent to buy from you.

And, it can potentially do more damage than a marketing campaign that fails to gain any traction whatsoever. The false hope provided by vanity metrics can cause your team to unwittingly double-down on your less-than-stellar efforts — and continue to lead your business astray over time.

[Related: How to Spend Less Time on Your Marketing and Get More Results]

Why does vanity marketing happen?

The first step to avoiding vanity marketing is to understand why it happens in the first place. Here are two of the most common culprits.

1) Lack of alignment between CEO and marketing team/agencies.

It’s crucial that your CEO and marketing team (and other stakeholders) stay on the same page at all times. Without this alignment, it becomes much too easy for both parties to focus on developing marketing campaigns that merely scratch the surface in terms of effectiveness.

Take the example from the beginning of this article...

Presumably, the CEO decided to sponsor the event with little to no input from the marketing team (or any other team, for that matter). There was no plan for how to follow up with interested leads, what to offer them to keep them engaged, or how to nurture them through the sales funnel.

It’s not that the emails didn’t work; it’s that the message and offer didn’t match the audience’s needs, expectations, or interests. Had both parties been more connected, the marketing team would have been able to create an ultra-relevant follow-up email (and accompanying landing page) to attract and engage this specific audience.

Instead, they’re left with a list of 300 people who might not want to ever hear from them again.

[Related: How to Utilize Podcasts to Propel Your Female-Owned Business]

2) Failure to create context for your marketing specialists.

By today's standards, it's pretty common for marketers to be more specialized in their craft.

Some are experts in search engine optimization. Others know how to best create a buzz and drive sales through social media. Still others can put together an effective content marketing strategy to engage and convert their customers.

For CEOs, it's a bit of a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, you need to know the marketers you work with know what they're doing when it comes to a specific type of marketing. You don't want them to be a "Jack or Jane of all trades, master of none."

But, you also need to know that your marketing team sees the big picture (your overall marketing and business goals). For their efforts to truly be effective, they need to go beyond the textbook marketing solutions that work "on paper" — and focus on what's best for your audience and your business at the present moment.

If your marketers don't understand the context of their efforts, it will be all too easy for them to fall back on vanity marketing tactics that look good enough — but don't do all that much for your business.

When is vanity marketing acceptable?

To be blunt, vanity marketing is rarely, if ever, acceptable.

Really, the only time vanity marketing is useful is if you can afford to create a marketing strategy that’s all fluff, no substance. Unless you’re a multibillion-dollar corporation that can weather such a misstep, this doesn’t apply to you.

Ultimately, as a small, growing business, you should never intentionally invest in a marketing initiative unless you’ve clearly defined:

  • What stands in the way of your customer along their path to purchase.
  • What your marketing is expected to accomplish against realistic KPIs.
  • How will success impact your business, near term and down the road.

[Related: Eight Tips to Make Small Business Saturday Work for Your Business]

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Ilene Rosenthal is the CEO of White Space Marketing Group.


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