In Defense of ‘Vanity’ Metrics

5 reasons why metrics such as reach, pageviews, and shares remain crucially important.

March 24, 2021

A smiling man sitting at a table with his laptop open, cell phone on the table.

At the risk of revealing my age, when I was a kid, I jumped out of bed on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons. On the screen were “Looney Tunes” and “Scooby-Doo” and “Land of the Lost.” Through the years, these shows stick with me: 

The commercials (and their catchphrases) supporting those Saturday morning cartoons also stick with us GenXers:

The marketers who ran these Saturday morning ads first measured their success in reach. These ads, for better or for worse, branded themselves into the retinas of tens of millions of children every week. 

Today, many of us marketers would label the measurement prized by these advertisers — reach — as a “vanity metric.” We modern marketers view ourselves as more hard-nosed. We tend to dismiss such upper funnel metrics as soft and prefer lower funnel metrics, such as sales accepted opportunities or return on investment. 

Marketing and advertising aren’t about reaching a lot of people, we tell ourselves. In both B2B and B2C, marketing and advertising are about reaching the right people and ultimately about influencing those people to make a purchase. 

No argument here. 

But even in a world where mass marketing events like the Saturday morning cartoons are few and far between and where technology has increased our capability to measure marketing’s direct impact on revenue, the metrics we dismiss as “vanity” — metrics such as reach, pageviews, and shares — remain crucially important. 

Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t dismiss vanity metrics:

Brand Is Still A Powerful Thing

From your brand advertising to your blog, having a recognizable brand and reaching a broad swath of your audience remain imperatives. Brand recognizability and reach may be upper funnel metrics, but they presage lower funnel success. LinkedIn research shows that marketers who engaged in both brand and activation campaigns simultaneously on the platform realized a 6x higher conversion rate for the demand generation segment. Separate LinkedIn research showed that representing a “strong brand” was one of the top two attributes of a salesperson that made buyers more likely to engage. (The other was sharing information relevant to the buyer’s job.)  

Vanity Metrics Provide an Immediate Sense of What Ads are Working

The initial metrics for upper funnel efforts such as online brand advertising can give a marketer an early sense of whether an ad is hitting the sweet spot. So called vanity metrics, such as likes, shares, and comments, are indicators that your ad is sparking interest in your target market. These metrics are especially useful for B2B marketers in the short term. Because most B2B sales cycles can be six months or longer, measuring lower funnel metrics, such as ROI, early in the cycle can be counterproductive. LinkedIn research shows 77% of marketers attempt to measure ROI within the first month of their campaign, but 52% of this group had a sales cycle that was at least three months long. Even though likes, shares, and comments are not ROI metrics, in the early stages of a campaign, they are crucial KPIs to help confirm a campaign is on the right track. 

SEO Is More Effective for Recognizable Brands

Brand recognition, unaided or otherwise, is sometimes an underappreciated metric and often dismissed as mere vanity. Brand is especially undervalued in search. You’d think that using SEO to deliver No. 1 rankings on Google is a sure pathway to sales. But research shows that SEO is more powerful for brands that are recognizable, because 70% of consumers look for recognizable retailers when conducting product searches. Here’s the bottom line: You won’t have prospects in the lower funnel, if they don’t first enter the top of the funnel. 

Brand Advertising Is Even More Important in a Downturn

Green shoots are appearing that indicate the COVID-related downturn is receding. Even if reach and other upper funnel metrics were the only ones showing positive gains in the short term, marketers who had the foresight and the fortitude to continue brand advertising during the recession, even when buyers were hamstrung, will reap most of the benefits of the return to prosperity. “Because the sales funnel in B2B purchasing is generally longer than in B2C, the arguments in favor of supporting long-term growth through brand building are likely to be even stronger in B2B than in B2C,” brand expert Peter Field says. “B2B brand associations created now are likely to bring the greatest sales benefit during the recovery period, precisely when the rewards are biggest. Brand advertising is not about profiting in recession, it is about capitalizing on recovery.”

Brand Endures

As mentioned above, we tend to measure the impact of brand advertising too early. The impact of brand advertising can last a long time — a looooong time. The best brand advertising can last far past the typical sales cycle and have impact for years, even decades.  

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to consume a bowl of a product advertised to me on a Saturday morning long, long ago. “You need a good breakfast, that’s a fact, start it out with Apple Jacks.”

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