Metrics Are Politics

The Digital Analytics field is certainly one vastly dominated by technical discussions. Over 90% of what I see on blogs and forums is about how to do X with tool Y. Or how to tag a site properly. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against technical discussions, because they are mightily important. All I am saying is that some issues are not often addressed, and hence their importance might slip our attention, even if they can be really important.

I think the political context of measurement is one such topic. I believe analytics are highly political, and analysts ignoring that aspect of their work compromise the chances of success of the whole Digital Marketing/Communications measurement function in their organization.

Let me start with a couple of questions: isn’t measuring Marketing measuring the people who planned and executed it? Behind those rates and ratios, aren’t there people who were successful, or failed? If we agree with this statement, how can measurement not be political then? How can it not separate the winners from the losers, distinction itself often linked to political struggles within an organization?

We have all seen occasions where people had different spins on results than what the analyst wanted to suggest. It is a fact of life that people don’t like to be measured, because in most cases it means being evaluated, that judgement on their value will be passed. Who can blame them… How many times have you seen measurement used to prove instead of improve? Used to look good rather than be good?

It seems that where analytics sits in the business has some consequences on what will happen to it. It is fashionable nowadays to say that measurement should be freed from pressure, and report to the CFO. I think this is a very interesting idea; people in Finance have been measuring businesses for ages. They will get digital analysts (although maybe struggle with the « fuzzy » parts of Digital Analytics!). Would that completely evacuate the political dimension of measurement? Maybe, if we presume that Finance does not play that game, either. Yeah, right.

Shouldn’t measurement then be its own silo, its own function within the organization? This would certainly free it from pressure to prove rather than improve, but it is not guaranteed that it would be listened to. It would have to build its clout, but at least I hope it would be asserted on credibility.

This question has recently made me think about key performance indicators. If measurement is political, aren’t then KPIs, as consensus, the results of safe agreement? I believe that I will pay way more attention to organizational dynamics next time I lead a KPI project. And push hard the idea that KPIs should ask the hard questions about how to improve things, not point fingers, and find whom to blame.

Maybe the solution is to create a « learning culture », an « analytical culture », other fashionable terms. I guess it is possible, although I think human nature is hard to change. Should it be then pushed down on people from the top, i.e. the Big Guy? Since businesses are not democracies, I think it would stand more chances to succeed that way.

Metrics are politics. Freeing them from the political context would most probably amount to freeing organizations from politics. And this is not just about to happen, I’m afraid.