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Mr. Robert Berges

Mr. Robert Berges

Thanks to technology and digital analytical tools, we can now measure anything and everything – and see instant analysis.

With a Fitbit tracker, for instance, you can track your steps, calories burned, weight loss, etc.

Even better, you can sync the device to your smartphone – and (heaven help us) – push all that personal information to your friends, family, and even colleagues on social media.

You can measure all kinds of things with regard to your business, too.

  • I’m constantly seeing updates in my Twitter stream from people I’m following about how they’ve increased the number of followers, their Klout score, etc.
  • LinkedIn now tells you how many profile views you get.
  • Your CRM or email newsletter tool tells you how many people opened the e-newsletter you sent out last week.

I’m all for measuring things. As someone said, you can’t change that which you don’t measure. If you want to lose weight, you do have to keep track of how much food you consume versus how many calories you burn.

But these tools – personal or business-related – and the data they generate can mask potential problems — especially if the data is based on garbage inputs.

GIGO – Garbage in, Garbage Out

As I write this, I’m reminded of Mr. Berges, my high school Chemistry teacher (ca. 1980). Mr. Berges was old school.

He wore a suit every day – even when teachers had stopped doing so.

He walked to and from school, rain or shine. (He didn’t need a Fitbit to tell him walking was good for him.)

And, he relied on his trusty slide rule even as we were relying on these wonderful new devices that had become the rage: Texas Instrument calculators.

Often he’d raced us to see who would get the answer first: he with his slide rule or us with our calculators. He’d manipulate his slide rule and write the answer out to the fourth or fifth decimal on the chalkboard before we could shout out the answers from our calculator screens.

But his favorite thing was to cackle “GIGO! GIGO!” as we shouted out incorrect answers.

Our answers were wrong, he’d tell us, because they were based on incorrect or faulty assumptions.

It works the same for the tools available today and the data they provide.

  • A Fitbit, for example, can tell you that you’ve walked 10,000 steps. It can’t tell you that you have a heart problem that can kill you.
  • An email marketing tool can tell you that your subscriber base is growing or that your click-throughs are up, but it can’t tell you that your subscriber base is garbage.
  • Your SEO plugin can show that you’ve correctly optimized a blog post (all buttons green!) but it can’t tell you that you’ve used the wrong keywords.

Determine what’s meaningful to your business

Clients often ask me which tools they should be using in order to measure the marketing aspects of their businesses. So many tools exist now that it’s hard to know what to recommend.

Here’s my advice (that I’m modifying from Jim Collins, of Good to Great fame):

  • Determine the top three things you want to change or improve with regard to marketing (or productivity or whatever needs “fixing” in your business)
  • Prioritize these: 1, 2, 3
  • Start with #1 on your list
  • Get in under the hood with it and figure out what’s working and what’s not working
  • Create a simple “fix it” strategy based on this data
  • Once you’ve done this and you’re happy with the result, move on to #2

When I wanted to make changes to how I use my time, for example, I didn’t buy a time management tool or program (been there, done that). Instead, I just tracked my time using my project time tracker.

What I learned, among other things, is that I need to set better boundaries and get more sleep.

When I analyzed the records in my CRM, to use another example, I learned I didn’t need yet more coaching or information on how to “grow” my business.

Instead, I needed some good old-fashioned elbow grease in the form of manually cleaning out my database and creating good tags so that I could actually use the data.

As a small business owner who wears multiple hats (with the main one being “putter outer of fires”), you need to keep things simple:

  • Focus on the three things most meaningful to your business and ignore everything else.
  • Instead of relying on meaningless data proxies developed by gurus or businesses that have zero insight into YOUR business, figure out for yourself what data you need and how to get it.
  • Use tools you already have – and don’t be afraid to stick to the tried and true if it works for you.

What’s your experience? Have you used an expensive or sophisticated tool only to learn that “old-fashioned” methods have worked much better? Share your story in the comments section.


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Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

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