Don’t become seduced by the dark side of marketing – vanity metrics


Hello fellow Star Wars fans! May the Fourth is an unofficial holiday celebrated by Star Wars fans like me around the world on May 4th every year. The date is based on a pun of the famous Star Wars phrase “May the Force be with you,” as “May the Fourth be with you.” While we reflect on the epic battles between the light and dark sides of the Force, let’s take a moment to consider how this conflict relates to the business world. In the world of marketing, the temptation to succumb to the “dark side” of vanity metrics can be strong.

Vanity metrics are data points or measurements that may make a business or organization feel good about their performance but do not really provide meaningful insights into the overall health or success of the business. These metrics are often superficial and can give a false sense of accomplishment without providing any actionable insights that could lead to improvements or growth.

As a small business owner or non-profit executive, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of social media likes, website traffic, and other vanity metrics. After all, these numbers can make one feel good and give someone a sense of accomplishment. Indeed, as the owner of a marketing agency, I help companies extend their reach, which is sometimes measured by so-called vanity metrics. However, focusing too heavily on vanity metrics can be dangerous for your business in the long run and they rarely present a complete picture of what’s going on.

In the movie “The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda tells Luke, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” In the context of the Star Wars universe, this quote refers to the idea that once someone has been seduced by the dark side of the Force, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to turn back and resist its influence. In the context of vanity metrics, this quote can be seen as a warning against becoming too focused on superficial metrics that may lead a business down a “dark path” of measuring success by numbers that are ultimately meaningless.

Just as the dark side can dominate one’s destiny, vanity metrics can dominate a business’s marketing strategy, leading to a lack of focus on metrics that truly matter and ultimately hindering the business’s growth and success. The Star Wars quote can be a reminder that businesses should be cautious when using vanity metrics and ensure that they are focusing on meaningful data points that can drive real results.

Here are some specific dangers of vanity metrics:

Misleading information – One of the biggest dangers of vanity metrics is that they can be misleading. For example, having a large number of social media followers may seem impressive, but if those followers aren’t engaging with your content or converting into customers, then those numbers don’t really matter. I often tell customers that you can’t take social media likes to a bank and deposit them.

Misaligned incentives – Vanity metrics can also create misaligned incentives within your organization. For example, if your sales team is only incentivized to close deals, they may end up pursuing deals that are not in the best interests of the company long-term. Instead, they should be focused on building relationships with customers and creating long-term value.

False sense of security – Vanity metrics can give you a false sense of security. For example, if your website traffic is increasing every month, you may feel like you’re doing well. However, if those visitors aren’t converting into customers, then your business may be in trouble without you even realizing it. Web traffic is something to track, but not a complete picture of your website’s performance.

Wasted resources – Focusing too much on vanity metrics can also lead to wasted resources. For example, if you’re spending a lot of money on advertising to increase website traffic, but that traffic isn’t converting into customers, then you may be wasting valuable resources that could be better spent elsewhere. We often tell clients to do A/B testing to see which type of advertising works best so that resources can be spent on getting results.

Poor decision-making – Relying on vanity metrics can lead to poor decision-making. For example, if you’re only focused on increasing your social media following, you may end up posting content that’s designed to be viral rather than content that’s actually valuable to your target audience. Popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to sales.

Vanity metrics can also be harmful to people. In the age of social media, the pressure to perform and present oneself in a positive light can be overwhelming. Likes or followers on social media can create an unhealthy obsession with external validation. This can lead to a sense of low self-esteem and self-worth when the number of likes or followers doesn’t meet one’s expectations. Vanity metrics can also create a sense of comparison and envy, where people start to compare their lives and achievements with others based on likes and followers. This can create a negative impact on mental health, leading to feelings of anxiety. Resist the temptation to judge yourself or others based on vanity metrics.

So how can your organization avoid the temptations of vanity metrics?

  1. Identify your key performance indicators (KPIs): These are the metrics that are directly tied to your business goals and objectives. By focusing on KPIs, you can ensure that you are measuring what matters most to your business.
  2. Use a data-driven approach: When measuring metrics, ensure that you are using reliable data sources and methods. This will help you avoid inaccuracies and misleading metrics. Remember that not all social media metrics are accurate.
  3. Analyze metrics in context: Instead of looking at metrics in isolation, it’s important to analyze them in the context of your business goals and objectives. This will help you understand whether a metric is truly meaningful or simply a vanity metric.
  4. Regularly review and adjust your metrics: As your business evolves, your metrics may need to be adjusted to reflect new goals and objectives. Regularly reviewing and adjusting your metrics will help ensure that you are measuring what matters most to your business.
  5. Focus on quality over quantity: Instead of measuring every possible metric, focus on a few high-quality metrics that are directly tied to your business objectives. This will help you avoid getting bogged down in vanity metrics and ensure that you are measuring what truly matters to your business.

From a personal perspective, avoid comparing yourself to others with vanity metrics. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, but this can be counterproductive and lead to feelings of inadequacy. Realize that what most people share on social media is not a complete picture of their lives, nor is it a complete picture of your life.

In conclusion, vanity metrics can be a seductive yet ultimately harmful path for businesses to go down. By focusing on superficial metrics, businesses can lose sight of their real goals and objectives, and miss out on opportunities to improve and grow. However, by identifying key performance indicators, using a data-driven approach, analyzing metrics in context, regularly reviewing and adjusting metrics, and focusing on quality over quantity, businesses can avoid the dangers of vanity metrics and measure what truly matters to their success. Remember, the quote “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny” can apply not only to the Star Wars universe, but also to the world of marketing. By avoiding the seductive pull of vanity metrics, businesses can ensure that they stay on the right path towards growth and success. May the Force (and Fourth) Be With You!

[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year.  Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran.  He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]