Tag Archives: KPI

Outlay vs. Outcome: Why I need to diet AND exercise (or, why is “purchase intent” better than “likes” or “retweets”)

20 Nov

child studying

Classical scene in our house post any exam for the 8th grader child: One parent checking child’s answer against question paper. Child ofcourse answering to less-than-parent’s-satisfaction. Parent in glumpish/ lecturish/ sad/ disappointed mode. Child whining – but ma, I STUDIIIEEEDDDD – for TWO hoooouuuurrrrssss….

Actually mirrors my own scenario to a certain extent with the whole aerobics/ swimming business. I began attempting to get some exercise the beginning of this year (for the first time ever, I may add). Some 46 weeks later – very very very very marginal reduction in inches and kilos.

weight loss fail cartoon


Reminds me of our early partner calls running our start-up, when we would each ask the other partner – so, what’s the sales pipeline looking like. And, one of us would always say – see, I called company XYZ, tried to catch person ABC, attempted to get a meeting with so and so….

What’s common between each of these? Effort – Much. much. much. much…. Result – Zilch. zero. zip…

The point is, most of us very often kind of give sop to our consciences saying – I put in so much effort – I studied x hourse/ did y hours of community service/ made so many calls/ research so many papers. NOT IMPORTANT – what IS important is – did you achieve what you were trying to? Did it have the required outcome/ the impact???

Honestly, if it didn’t, your effort went waste! There is a saying – don’t just work hard, work smart. It’s to do with this outlay vs. outcome thing. ROI is a key metric most smart organisations measure – how much “bang for your buck” are you getting? Are you able to get higher turns out of your resources – inventory/ capital/ people time…and, the only way to do it is to be efficient/ smart/ outcome focused.

A good tool to measure this is a time sheet – I remember in the early days of our startup, we four founders decided to fill up time sheets – one week into the game, and i had trouble accounting for my 18 hours that i burnt the midday and midnight oil at. It was astonishing for how many of the hours, I would have probably put in “email” and/ or “internet”…(ofcourse, we were a virtual organisation, hence email was important; and we were a secondary research oriented org, hence the internet was inevitable) – but still, eye opening!

It’s a classical HR conundrun also – do you hire/ keep the “well intentioned/ great attitude” employee, or the “expert” one – who probably comes with all kinds of baggage of maintenance. A smart company actually hires a mix – and the managing of this mix determines the success or not of the org.

Interestingly, this is counter intuitive advice from what the Bhagwad Gita (a well known Indian tome) gives you – Karmanyevadhikarastey, ma faleshu kadachana – means keep focussing on your work, don’t worry about the result. (looks like this has had a great impact of me one way or the other – I just realised I used it in a completely different context in an earlier blog). I think, it would have been better if Krishna said – “work ofcourse, but work towards a goal – results will come, so don’t worry about them” :).

I saw a depressing example of the flip side of this advice actually a few days ago. As most Indian corporates know, recently the Companies Act got revised, and it now includes a provision that companies have to show spend of 2% of their net profit on CSR activities. A friend (and former co-founder) now actively in the CSR space wanted to pitch advisory services to firms about how to make use of these “mandatory” funds to make an impact. The finding in most cases is, that companies don’t really care about impact – they care about the “doing” – so, its all – “We Spent XXX Volunteer hours on CSR activities” – OoooKaayyy, what did you achieve? “uh-duh…who knows, who cares, how do we find out, why should we measure”! Kinda defeats the spirit of the act, don’t you think?

Another corollary – the whole Social/ Digital Media ROI piece – most folks are chasing likes/ retweets/ shares – and calling it engagement. Sure, these are good goals to chase as a FIRST step – but thats all they should be – a means to an end. Unless it translates to actual brand health KPIs – like, consideration/ purchase intent/ recommend-ability, loyalty…its all so much “feel-good” stuff.

I read this interesting article recently on HBR – pretty much says the same thing; slamming “being slammed/ busy/ neck deep in work” on grounds of outcome vs. outlay, worth a click.

What’s the solution though – how do you make sure you keep end objective in sight and don’t get bogged down by the effort. Most of you management sorts probably HAVE the toolkits, for me, a simple daily checklist worked well (I loved the ticks against each completed task) – but this daily checklist needs to get collaborated against yr monthly / quarterly/ annual goals. (It’s end of the year, folks – I’m sure many of you are now filling out “traffic signal” sheets against goal achievement? ).

For weight loss, I’m onto a protein only, no carbs diet for some time starting, uh, tomorrow? 🙂 (I see with my own eyes the much better effect of a combi diet-cum-exercise regime on my aerobics classmates everyday!).

Weight Loss tips Cartoon

Regarding kids, and how one makes them goal oriented, and not effort oriented – well, I have NO answers! (Its amazing how the simplest parenting problem is so much more insoluble than the most complex corporate one isn’t it?) Anyone with any idea, DO PLEASE pitch in!!!!


Social Media: More a Research/ Analytics than a Marketing Tool?

2 Sep

Social + Media + Research

Read an article yesterday about increasing apathy amongst college goers on brands’ social media marketing efforts. Add to that another from the flip side of the coin – CMOs. According to a recent study, only 15% of U.S. CMOs have been able to quantitatively prove Social’s impact!

It kind of points towards an old felt-but-not-quite-articulated hypothesis I had! At the time, I used to think that I felt this way because my business was more focussed on the use of social media for a “learning” experience, not so much an “outreach” one. And this despite the fact that marketers we spoke to almost always were interested in the lower hanging fruit, i.e., the marketing using SM. So, when we went in with a pitch that said – “hey, this is what social media can teach you about your consumer or your competitor or your brand”, they would say, “hey, can you help us make our facebook page better”! Maybe it was compounded by the fact that the consumer insights/ market research people, those that would truly benefit from this, turned up their noses at this “unconventional, unstructured, “qualitative”‘ data source and took whatever we said with a pinch of, no! scratch that – huge dollops of salt! (See my very first blog post on this question of whether social media research is fish or fowl! )

So my hypothesis was just this – that Social’s FIRST and BIGGEST benefit was as a data source for higher consumer understanding. After all, this was/ is a medium that is changing the way people talk/ behave/ share/ opine – in many cases, this reflects people’s needs/ wants/ perceptions/ attitudes/ usages/ purchases. Most importantly, it is PEER to PEER. And proactive/ not reactive. Why then would you not leverage it for classical research questions? (Sure, it applies only to that percentage of the population that is connected, but, a) that is a large number in most countries now and b) even where it isn’t, it can be used as a proxy for the relevant categories.)

Ofcourse, I don’t think we should be ready to junk Social Media as a marketing tool yet – in fact, my hypothesis notwithstanding, I do think that the world is getting more digital – and therefore, marketers have no choice but to follow their consumers – i.e., go where the consumers go – in other words, social..

So then, what causes the CMO’s disenchantment with the medium? Maybe its the inadequate/ non standardised measurement/ metrics piece – obviously, if you aren’t convinced about how you are measuring input and output, you will not be convinced of the ROI of your spend. (See my older post on KPIs for Social Media Measurement for a way towards metrics and KPIs)

What is your take? Marketing or Research? (or measurement?)

social media research (Credit: conversition.com)

How to Create Social Media KPIs : The Science of Indices

27 Feb


Yesterday my nephew, who is an earnest young brand manager in a lifestyle/ accessories Indian brand, was staring at his computer. When asked why he was looking so perplexed, he said – We’ve created this really nice campaign on facebook, which is engaging as well as makes a very powerful brand statement. Its also a first of its kind we think. Problem is – I am not sure how to figure out whether it’s doing well, and my bosses – all they are saying is – have you doubled your “likes”?


As we all know, he is not in a minority – everyone on Social Media is chasing the ROI holy grail.

But, I really think in our quest for this elusive target, we are tending to overcomplicate Social Media.

Sure, “likes” is too unilateral and limiting – especially when facebook doesn’t allow dislikes. Everyone also knows we should also measure sentiment – positive or negative. But then comes “response” which signifies “engagement”. And then there is also “relevance” – given that Social media has a) so much spam, but also b) so much that’s just random thoughts/ opinions/ rants that either don’t give you an insight into your brand, or don’t meet the objectives you have set out for your campaign.

So, what do you do? Its simple! You create metrics for each such that you can individually measure each parameter that you want to measure.

But ofcourse, there’s the C Suite who want your elevator pitch on – how are we doing? (3 seconds does NOT allow you to say – weeellll, on likes we are better than January, but on engagement we are slower…and sentiment is half positive – half negative – and the rest neutral (yah yah I know – it doesn’t add up!). Your CMO is going to walk right out of the room.

Hence, you create this snazzy sounding “Index” – you can name it ANY godd#$% thing. Integrated Performance Index (sounds even cooler as an acronym IPI ☺ )/ Social Media KPI/ Virality Index (I used that in the old days)/ Brand Health Index… / Campaign Success Index

What is the Index finally? It is a multi attribute weighted number (remember I had said that most management professionals must be grateful to BCG for the 2 by 2 matrix? So also should a lot of folks thank the guy who invented this decision making methodology. So, you take whichever parameters you think you should measure, ascribe weights to them, and derive your index out of the weighted average of these numbers.


Simple? A-ha! The complexity really resides in WHAT parameters to choose and, more importantly, WHAT weights to ascribe. (A quick google to get some actual statistical validity here brought me to this complex article called “On the convergence of multiattribute weighting methods” in the European Journal of Operational Research – for those who are so inclined, please delve into the advantages of the ratio vs. the swing weighting vs. the tradeoff vs. the pricing out method ☺ )

But statistical theory apart, this above is what is the most important factor in getting the relevance of your index or KPI. The weights of each parameter really depend on a few things:
a) The marketing objective of the campaign/ channel – Is it to spread awareness, to engender better knowledge, to direct towards trial, purchase or loyalty – different objectives will have different weights
b) The product category itself – Is it an introductory/ launch category; a growth one or a stable one – where exactly in the PLC does it stand
c) The competitive scenario – how active or inactive are competitors (both category competitors and mindshare/ walletshare competitors) in the social media space – what is the clutter out there that your campaign has to break!
d) How much effort – time/ money/ people are you investing behind the campaign – actually, this is a bit of a circular function as this will to a certain extent depend on the marketing objective – atleast in the ideal scenario

All the above will help deciding weights – the allocation is however likely to be a bit of an iterative situation.

So there you have it – your quick and easy guide to creating your perfect unified/ integrated KPI for your Social Media Campaign (or for that matter any other). Where’s my consultancy fee?

Meanwhile, lemme go see if my young nephew created the right algorithm to keep his bosses happy ☺


Of Goals and Gamification, and “Agile” Development a la Bubka!

7 Feb


A big influence on me growing up was Ayn Rand – (I just realized that my husband spent his youth reading/ talking and believing in largely left oriented – socialistic stuff, and I reading/ talking/ believing in Ayn Rand! This may have been an offshoot of city vs. small town living, or natural proclivities to one side or the other during the cold war! but, still point to ponder at the next marital discord session!. However, I’m getting sidetracked here – let me get back to the point!)

One of the scenes that stayed in my mind was when Dominique asks Howard Roark if his life was more a series of “stops” i.e., did he just live everyday in a “continuous” stream, or kind of progress from one point to another in “discrete” intervals. I forget what the point of that question/ and the context behind it was, (I tried googling and found many “quotable quotes” from Fountainhead, but not this one – I should borrow it from the library and see what my adult self thinks of my youth-time obsession – but, if I run true to Rand’s philosophy, then “There’s so much nonsense about the human inconstancy and the transience of all emotions. I’ve always thought that a feeling which changes never existed in the first place. There are books I liked at the age of sixteen. I still like them.”).

But, again, to get back to the point – that scene I do often remember, coz that’s certainly the way I live. You have a fairly humdrum life in general – getting more and more routine and frustrating everyday, – as little peccadilloes keep piling up and irritating the hell out of you. But what makes you survive is those “golden moments” that you keep looking forward to. So, it’s the next nice lunch with your friends that you havn’t met for a while, or the great concert you are going to, or the next time you complete a new algorithm; or the time when you close a deal…small milestones achieved, leading to rewards…

Its kind of like my friend Shoma, who “signs up” herself and her family for every single class going – mind reading, guitar, drama, robotics, tennis, dance, yoga, basketball, ….- as long as that class has exams to pass! So a lot of time on her weekly schedule consists of going to Lamda/ Gandharva Mahavidyalaya/ U-14 play offs – blah blah blah.

I have to confess the greatest kick I used to get out of one of my kids’ classes was the martial arts one. That guy had his business model down pat – charge for the monthly class, but every 2 – 3 months hold a “belt test”. This was held early in the morning in a school far off from home – there were excited kids of all ages dressed in the traditional white whats-it-called dress, sleepy eyed parents, the master – and many coloured belts! After an hour of waiting, there would be a 10 minute “test” (euphemism for vague arm waving by kids en masse), and then the “belt award ceremony” – where each child got a belt of the next higher color. Incidentally, for each belt test – you coughed up more money (this belt test fees increased in correlation with order of belts!) Fantastic, wasn’t it? But it’s understandable – as someone once told me, you put me in a masters program, I’ll do really well. Put me in a PhD – I wont ever make it! Translated, most of us react well when we have achievable goals, and then opportunity to celebrate those goals, in front of us. So, discrete movements – not continuous stream 🙂

I’m often asked about running a company – when did we make a business plan (answer – never really till we were selling it off!); how did we set our vision (answer – my partner Debjani just “set it down” one day as we needed one for the website); how did we decide we wanted to move onto the social media space (anwer: we didn’t really, we were using existing data for research, it so happened that Social Media started becoming bigger – we were in right place at right time, so hopped onto the bandwagon…) (you may remember from my post, entrepreneurship was pretty much “thrust upon us”). But, allied to vision, is the issue of “goals” – and that I think we took a pragmatic view of. While we did have the grand “end vision” of making the next Google (we wanted to be the B2B search engine – ie, you need a business question answered – we will answer it for you – from EXISTING data!); but in everday life, we really set ourselves small goals – baby steps. There’s a lot to be said for that – it makes sure you set yourselves enough challenges, and yet award yourself the chance to feel happy/ fulfilled and therefore motivated when you achieve that goal. As life is all about moving forward, you then repeat the cycle by setting another set of baby goals, and then go bust to deliver that, reward yourself and others when it’s done – repeat cycle again and again.


Though I’m not a software person, I think this is what the “agile” development methodology is about – break up the task into smaller pieces, gives you an opportunity to control better, align with client’s objectives better, showcase progress to client better, and course-correct if required – also gives you goals that you can “see” – that you can work towards – and therefore, maybe, work BETTER towards.


This is also what Gantt charts enable – breaking down of larger project into smaller bite sized pieces. I think its what every seemingly impossible dream needs – it is, in my view, the only way you can move forward and not feel bogged down by the enormity of the task.

I think closely allied to this thought is that of “optimal” vs. “perfect”. My partner Kyung and I kind of had opposite–ends–of-the-spectrum approaches on this. He would work on a plan/ ppt/ pitch – and work on it again – and work on it again – annnd againnn – and againnn – till he got it completely right. It HAD to be the perfect circle/ the right color of blue on the page/ the size of the box. The end result used to be beautiful/ perfect – and, often, late! I on the other hand, would definitely work equally hard, but the point was, is it good enough for what I want? If yes, finish it, and move ahead to the next job. I’d like to believe I got a lot more done this way (if you have a people as well as client facing role, you do have to juggle many many balls up in the air as we all know). To again draw an analogy with software development – it’s like various releases of software – version 1, 1.1, 1.2….you can keep refining, but unless you RELEASE – how will you test/ get feedback/ even get ideas on making “perfect”?

So you ask the question – whats “good enough” vs. “perfect” – who defines these? Can one person’s “good enough” be another’s “perfect”? Since I started with Howard Roark, let me use one of his quotes to illustrate what he said about the guy who first made fire – “His truth was his only motive. His work was his only goal. His work, not those who used it, his creation, not the benefits others derived from it. The creation which gave form to his truth. He held his truth above all things, and against all men. He went ahead whether others agreed with him or not. With his integrity as his only banner. He served nothing, and no one. He lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement.”. But on the other side of the coin, you are taught Pareto Optimality (btw, as i was searching for the wiki link to pareto, i discovered that there’s a lot more to this than i thought – OK, homework for me after I finish writing this post!) – the 80-20 rule. Get atleast the 80 right, and you can move forward. Not perfect, see, but largely right! Eddie Rabbitt said it too – “step by step” you win her love!


So, which is right? Are these opposing philosophies? I think these are NOT opposing – but one is a subset of another. The point is – definitely strive for perfection, aim for the stars, define your larger goal and work towards it; but, MOVE forward – break it up – make smaller goals – finish them, then work on the next set of goals – finish those…(which means Kyung and I were kind of working towards the same objective – its just that I broke it up, while he eternally strove for perfection)

A common question asked by clients who are wrestling with building social media programs is, how do I set goals (actually, these are the most evolved clients – at least they are talking goals! Many don’t – just want to open their facebook page and twitter handle). But, as they devise their OGST program – objectives, goals, strategies, and tactics, they ask – we don’t have a precedent, how do we set goals? What is too big/ what is too little? How do we set KPIs such that our teams believe in them and work towards them?

Your standard/ cop out answer to such questions is – what do you WANT to do – how much effort will you spend behind it (or rather can spend?). But in a new area – how do you set quantified/ measurable goals? We had a few methods – a) benchmark similar situations for similar companies – since everyone is new to Social Media, you don’t get obvious parallels – but use proxies – e.g., when enterprises started putting KPIs for trial campaigns, what goals were set? By your competitors/ early entrants in that field/ across other industries? b) Of course, another way out was take your own historical performance, compute moving averages of say 3 month performances, and benchmark accordingly. (But if you are in a completely greenfield area, and say you bust all benchmarks in the first month itself, how do you deal with it?)

My answer, put a stake in the ground – it need not be right (remember, the search for perfection may bog u down!) – but atleast it’s something – if it’s wrong , pull up that stake, set 10 others – you have incrementally better knowledge of what you want to do – but for chrissake, MOVE!

This is what all these new gamification (new word for old hat) techniques are doing – the badges for “world’s best nerd”, the “reward points collected everytime you shop- with the payoff in the form of freebees (yes, these are forms of “loyalty” marketing – but see, that’s the point, it’s all related – loyalty points are a form of giving you goals – in this case shop more – with payoffs!); the Linkedin endorsements (I HATE those!), the metrics for website views, the number of “likes” you get when you post content. There are businesses being crafted out of measurement and metrics (rightly so), and they play upon a very human tendency to work towards a goal, feel fulfilled when that goal is achieved, and get motivated to strive further.


I am doing this all the time in my aerobics class (nyaah, still not got any better at it!) – when Niru displays a particularly complicated piece of choreography – while all the others follow effortlessly – I take it step by step. She helps me break it down – I get one bit right, then another, then the third and by the time everyone is repping it for maybe the 8th time, I get it right ☺. I then award myself these – I call them “Bubka badges” (remember Sergei Bubka, who would keep breaking his own record at the pole vault?). So, for every step that I got right the first time, I get the smiley one, then if I got it right in the 3rd attempt, I get the straight faced one and so on ☺. Gamification, you got it in one!

So, what do you think – perfect or optimal? While you ponder this one, let me go out and buy a few more Bubka badges – at the rate at which I’m going at aerpobics, I’ll need LOTS more!

Sergey Bubka of the USSR