Why Not Measuring a Damn Thing Might Be Just What You Need.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Suggested Music Pairing: "BRNT" by Magic City Hippies

We live in an outcome-obsessed culture.

There’s a lot of things that contribute to this. You could blame it on impatience. You could blame it on laziness. You could blame it on an obsession with success stories.

And you’d be partially correct with any of those.

But I think an oft-overlooked factor with our outcome fetish is the persistent focus on goals and metrics.

Goals and Metrics

Goals and metrics are a good thing. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you improve what you measure.

But the unintended consequence of our love for goals and metrics is that the outcome becomes the “it.” The product of our work itself is often overshadowed by how much it makes, how much it weighs, or how many people saw it.

Sure, an avid cyclist might work hard to shorten her race time, but if you asked her what she loves about cycling, I doubt her answer will be “Shaving seconds off my time.” She would be more likely to say something about the wind in her hair, the feeling of speeding down the highway, and the endorphin rush that accompanies extreme physical feats.

My friend Jay Acunzo uses the game theory term ‘telic’ to describe this idea in the content creation world.

“A telic activity is something done for the end result alone, i.e., a chore. It’s tedious to do and so you look for easier ways to get to the end.”

But even chores can have some joy in the process. Take it from Roger Mifflin, the fictional proprietor of “The Haunted Bookshop” from Christopher Morley’s novella of the same name:

“It is intolerable for a human being to go on doing any task as a penance, under duress. No matter what the work is, one must spiritualize it in some way, shatter the old idea of it into bits and rebuild it nearer to the heart's desire.”

Mifflin goes on to illustrate his point, using dish washing as an example:

"When one views a stubborn fact from a new angle, it is amazing how all its contours and edges change shape! Immediately my dishpan began to glow with a kind of philosophic halo! The warm, soapy water became a sovereign medicine to retract hot blood from the head; the homely act of washing and drying cups and saucers became a symbol of the order and cleanliness that man imposes on the unruly world about him.”

Even the most mundane of tasks can be “spiritualized” in a way that makes the process enjoyable. And in doing so (I would argue), the quality of the work is improved.

Etsy's Craft Fair - Damn the Numbers!

My office is located in Dumbo, Brooklyn (the actual name of the neighborhood, not trashing the good borough of BK). Dumbo is a burgeoning tech hub, with several startup incubator spaces and a few big names all calling it home. One of those big names is Etsy.

A few weeks back, I went to grab lunch and saw a bunch of orange balloons tied off in front of the entrance to a small space on the ground floor of our office building. As I walked down the sidewalk towards my favorite food truck, I saw signs and sidewalk chalk all pointing people to the “Etsy Craft Event.”

Inside, the floor was covered in orange confetti. A photo booth in the corner filled the room with strobe flashes. Several people stood in front of a wall-sized piece of paper, filling in the colorless canvas with a rainbow of colored pencils. Spread throughout the room were three tables, each featuring a different craft visitors could complete.

I’ve been trying to get a meet-up group off the ground in NYC for over a year now, with mixed results. Simply put, getting people to show up to an event is hard work. Given the resources I assume Etsy must have at their disposal, I wanted to see how they pulled off an event like this.

I wanted to know what they were measuring. What was their desired outcome? What would be considered a success?

Surely a large company with a sophisticated marketing operation like Etsy would have strict data recording requirements to prove ROI, right?

After scoping the scene, I approached someone wearing an Etsy shirt and told her how much I enjoyed the event, and asked about how they pulled it off.

She explained that the craft event was a recurring event that they host around the country. Each event partners with various local shops in the neighborhood by having them host a craft station in their stores. Participants can grab a map at the main location (where I was), then walk through the neighborhood to each station/business, making a different craft at each.

“Here’s what I really want to know,” I said to her. “I work in marketing, and I’d love to know what you guys would consider a successful event? Are you counting how many people come in or how many go on to create Etsy accounts?”

“Nope,” she replied.

“...oh! Really?”

“Yeah, our goal for this is really just to get the community engaged and for everyone to have a good time.”

She went on to explain how Etsy’s default interaction with their customer base is digital. People browse, shop, and sell online. But the products themselves are notably “old school.” Handmade items, created by craft-driven people with care for their customers.

That doesn’t really jive with the online-only mechanics of the site.

So the craft event is Etsy’s chance to bring their brand and all it stands for face-to-face with the public. They can build phenomenal brand awareness in a unique way, all while building relationships with local businesses that will pay dividends down the road.

But I would argue that the very reason they ARE able to do this is because they’ve freed themselves from the burden of a numerical goal that directly translates to more business for the company.

“You improve what you measure” cuts both ways. Sometimes it helps you focus on what’s important and make a real impact. Other times, it over incentivises a specific outcome, leading teams to force their desires on the customer, no matter what the customer wants.

Had the goal been to sign up X number of new Etsy users, I would have been pestered by event workers with iPads attempting to get me to create an account.

That’s bad for the user.

So they said “to hell with that,” and focused solely on creating a fun event. The quality was the only thing that mattered.

And that’s indicative of their brand as a whole. Sellers on Etsy (or at least the ones Etsy is trying to attract) aren’t concerned with churning out the cheapest product as possible to keep their margins high. They want to create a quality product. Something that will mean a lot to the person who buys it. They’re willing to spend a little extra money, because the buyer knows they’re getting something unique.

The end product is something far more valuable than a short term win from an event. It’s a lasting brand experience that will pay off for the company for years.

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Email Forms & The Worst Guy at The Party

Reading time: 5 minutes

Suggested music pairing: "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck

A while back, I read something that changed the way I talk to new people at parties.

The advice was simple: “Stop asking ‘So what do you do?’ at parties.”

Simple, yes, but surprisingly difficult to actually pull off. The question has been so ingrained in our lexicon of icebreakers that I find myself saying it before I can even really think about it. It just jumps out.

The arguments for abandoning this question are compelling. For one, parties and social gatherings are often where we go to escape and unwind from work. If you find yourself explaining over and over what it is you do for work, that defeats the whole purpose. Even if you love your work.

It also boils people down to nothing more than their profession. Our society is career-obsessed. So much so that the way we get to know someone new is by asking what their career is.

Finally, it’s just boring and predictable. We all get asked that question so frequently that our answers have become rote. We have a 30-second “elevator” pitch, and it's rehearsed and perfect. It’s boring and doesn’t reveal a thing about who we are.

Why not ask something more interesting? Something your conversational partner has to actually stop and think about?

What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever traveled to?
Been to any good concerts lately?
What’s the best place to eat in your hometown?
What do you do for fun on weekends?

Much like a bad party, the scourge of boring, routine questions has infected our online lives as well. Anywhere you turn online, you’re being asked to subscribe to something (hey, subscribe to this blog!) or fill out something.

They’ve become so routine that they never grab our attention anymore.

Unless you’re creative and clever, like my friend Simon Scriver. Or the brilliant folks at DoSomething.org.

Commanding attention with the right question.

Simon Scriver is just an all around brilliant dude. He’s a quick-witted and a gifted communicator. And he does it all with an Irish accent.

He’s sung on stage with Pavarotti in Hong Kong and has just 14 items left on his bucket list.

Oh, and he’s also a fundraiser for a wonderful organization in Ireland called One in Four.

His personal blog, ChangeFundraising.com, is a wonderful look at the fundraising and charity world that I think is interesting even for those outside of that bubble.

But what I love most about his blog is the subscription form he uses.

 

Name (alright), email (okay), favorite song right now (oh hey what now? Hmmm, let me think…).

It grabs your attention and makes you pause and think about your response. I actually opened up my Spotify account and looked at the songs I had recently added to try and pick the best possible response.

Aside from the improved experience as a user, it gives Simon a much more personal look at his subscribers. He’s got something to talk about with them should he want to email and get to know them better.

They’re no longer anonymous email addresses that he obsessively collects in a vain effort to have the biggest list possible. They’re people that he gets to know by just that little bit.

Also, he uses my favorite word (“cheeky”) on that form too. Quite cheeky.

Building a better icebreaker.

I’m more than a little obsessed with DoSomething.org.

DoSomething is a nonprofit that connects teens and young adults with cause-based activities that don’t require a car, money, or an adult. They help teens get invested in their communities through action.

They also throw one hell of a party.

DoSomething is headquartered in New York City and they frequently host events at their offices.

Although, “event” isn’t really the best way to describe it. It’s a party.

Photo booths, DJ’s, kegs, disco lights, and dancing.

For their annual meeting, DoSomething mixed things up a bit with their RSVP.
 

Last question: Your Celeb Crush

Last question: Your Celeb Crush

 

Love it.

Now, besides being clever and attention grabbing, this question served as a way that DoSomething could combat boring ice breaker questions at their event and get people having meaningful, fun conversations from the get-go.

You see, your “Celeb Crush” was printed onto your name tag:

Not only that, but it’s far more prominent on your badge than your company is.

So you walk in, grab a drink, join a conversation, and people instantly have something to talk to you about. That conversation can spill over to music, movies, hometowns, and more.

Enough with the same old crap.

The quickest way to never be noticed is by doing the same crap everyone else is already doing. And nowhere is that more true than in the blog/marketing world.

Influencer publishes how-to. Everybody reads it. Everybody copies it (usually poorly). Lather, rinse, repeat.

But there are little things you can do on the “must-haves” of your blog that can make it a more memorable and enjoyable experience. These seemingly frivolous things can have a huge impact. I would bet that Simon Scriver probably has a pretty high conversion rate on that subscriber form, but honestly, that part doesn’t even matter.

A question like that is guaranteed to make you more memorable to your audience. How could they not open your next subscription email after reading that?

It makes you human again. It makes your reader human again.

And it certainly makes you the most interesting person at the party.

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