Online Brand Building By the NumbersIn the process of building your company's online brand, you're going to have to deal with a veritable ton of information. We have discussed how the practice of Web Analytics can quantify all manner of data such as number of users, the location of visitors, and changes over time, all intended to allow you to analyze your brand's performance. However all the information in the world isn't going to do your online marketing efforts a bit of good if you aren't able to measure it against carefully chosen benchmarks of performance. In short, you need to identify your metrics.
What is a Metric?
Boiled down, a metric is some unit of measurement intended for you to compare current information to previous information, and to evaluate the difference in light of your goals. An example of a metric is the Conversion Rate, which is typically defined as the number of visitors who took a desired action divided by the total number of visitors in a given time period.
Metrics vs. Goals
It is important to understand the metric is not the goal itself, but rather the way to measure that goal. For example, visitor traffic numbers in a given month (quantity + time) is a metric. It is a unit of data that can be compared to other units. Trying to increase user traffic is a goal that can be evaluated for success by the use of metrics (i.e., if user traffic decreases from one month to the next, the goal has failed).
Setting Your Metrics
The keys to every metric are universal: quantity and time. Visitor rates per month, unique visitors per quarter, bandwidth use before and after an advertising campaign�each of these is based on a quantifiable measurement within a predetermined timeframe. The key is to have a piece of hard information that can be compared between two points.
In the online branding arena, there are numerous metrics you can choose to help evaluate your brand's performance.
Usage statistics - Hard numbers that can be compared by date, user statistics are essential and vital. This category includes numbers of unique visitors, time spent viewing each page, how frequently certain videos are downloaded, and the like.
User Commentary - While this may seem a more qualitative category, there are actually several ways that user comments can be judged in mathematical terms as metrics. Evaluators can measure comment proportionality (percentage of positive, neutral, and negative commentary per product, for example). Including a rating system enhances this effort, as it allows comments to be summarized, reducing the time spent on reading and interpreting the text itself, if necessary.
Social Media Influence - Social Media venues are the newest and most efficient source of word of mouth press. Being linked through a popular blog or Facebook page can spike a brand's visitor statistics overnight. In this case metrics can include the number of link-backs spread around various Social Media sites, or the popularity of a site's own SM pages in various communities.
Timing is Everything
The Web is a place where time becomes downright bizarre. Companies start overnight and fold just as quickly, so the perception is that any changes have to be immediate and drastic. The problem is that this can be utterly counterproductive to good metric analysis. Metrics take time to properly analyze, and indeed are useless without the consideration of timing.
Consider a webpage that gets a total of twenty-one unique visitors. This doesn't actually say anything in and of itself. Now, compare a page that gets twenty-one unique visitors per week, and one that gets twenty-one unique visitors per minute. Suddenly a comparison can be made. This is it the essence of metrics, comparison over time.
You must establish realistic time goals for your brand, so you can logically evaluate the impact of various decisions and procedures. To do otherwise is simply robbing yourself of any way to use the vital data you're gathering properly.
Some sample time benchmarks include the obvious daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and quarterly periods. These should be examined in a before-versus-after context. For example there is Burger King's quirky Ugoff campaign, which ran for a single summer in 2004. The metric in question would be the number of Burger King salads purchased before, during, and after the campaign.
A Parting Thought
It is important to remind yourself that a metric is not the goal. Just as importantly, remember that the metric is not the brand itself. Metrics are measurements. The brand is something that can be evaluated in the light of the metrics you choose, but the brand is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a thing distinct unto itself, the image of your organization that is presented as a combination of the actual quality of a product and peoples' perceptions thereof.
Consider very carefully what exactly your brand is, and what you want the brand to be. Compare the two honestly and carefully, and you will find that the metrics you need to evaluate the success of your brand are actually quite easy to discern.