Making your numbers

See the woman on your right? She’s cheating.

When you use a Stairmaster, you can score higher numbers by using your arms for support. This technique allows you to work out at a higher number.


Ridiculous because the number has nothing to do with her fitness. She is actually hurting her arms and back, just so she can work out at 12 instead of 11.

It’s human nature to want to beat your metrics.

The challenge comes in setting metrics that make sense.

In this article, Saul Hansell writes about a long overdue innovation that I’ve been lobbying for since 1996: stamps. Stamps for email add friction and will eliminate spam if applied properly. Bulk mailers pay a quarter of a cent per email to get their permission-based email handled properly. The rest gets treated as junk. (The new program isn’t just like my concept, but very close).

Matthew Moog of Coolsavings doesn’t like this idea. "No one wants Goodmail or any other provider to set up a tollbooth that
makes it cost-prohibitive for legitimate mailers to reach the in-box," he says.

I say that the right metric isn’t how much it costs to send a mail. It’s how much sending a mail is worth! In other words, if an industry-wide .25 cent stamp eliminates spam, it’s likely to double or triple the response rate to permission mail. A boon! If you send me 100 emails with stamps, and I read them all, you’ve spent a quarter. If you can’t cost-justify that, you shouldn’t be writing to me. If I were an email permission marketer, I’d love this… the same way the DMA should have embraced the do not call list.

The same metric mistake comes up when we see sites that do whatever they can to artificially boost traffic. Saw a blog post today in which the author mentioned the name of ten or fifteen bloggers, ostensibly in context, with links to each, all in an attempt to game the system. But what’s his real goal? When increasing the metric doesn’t increase the benefit, then you have the wrong metric.

In non-small companies, you need to invent placeholders so that everyone on the team is on the same page. But careful when pursuit of the placeholder doesn’t get you closer to the thing you were seeking in the first place. (Hint: Super Bowl viewers don’t necessarily equal car buyers).