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Building Key Performance Indicator Environments that Work

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to speak at the 2015 Digital Marketing for Business Conference. My presentation focused on building key performance indicator (KPI) environments as part of your marketing structure. It’s an important topic at Atlantic BT and one we spend a great deal of time on. It’s also a topic I’ve written a good bit about in the past in posts such as “Why Google Analytics Doesn’t Give Us Answers.” Our clients invest in digital marketing platforms, strategies and campaigns designed to help them transform their business and they need to make certain they can effectively evaluate the results. As part of our work, we use a process we’ve developed and a set of tools that we rely on to create helpful KPIs. In this post, I’ll provide a glimpse into what that process looks like and how we’ve helped clients build KPI environments that work.

KPIs: Measuring Outcomes Not Activities

At the outset of my presentation, I reminded the audience of a piece of advice I was given while in graduate school: “Measure outcomes, not activities.” This small nugget of wisdom reminds us that the purpose of any system is to move the needle. To make an impact. To accomplish a goal.

And while activities are important, if you make them the sole focus of your measures you will likely miss the bigger picture. For example, accumulating a certain number of likes on your social media posts, producing a certain number of blog posts or garnering a certain number of impressions in a paid search campaign is good, but those are activities and they don’t tell us if we really achieved our goals. By contrast, getting your audience to sign up for a free trial, purchase your product or download more information as a result of those activities is far more valuable. And that’s what you should focus your measurement efforts on.

The Four Pillars of Atlantic BT’s KPI Framework

As a technology consulting agency, we invest a great deal in our marketing strategy and we need to measure our impact. To do this, we’ve constructed a KPI environment build on four key pillars:

  • The Client Canvas
  • Personas
  • The Content Marketing Engine
  • Selecting the Correct Analytics Platform

The Client Canvas

We starting the development of a KPI environment, you need to understand as much about the business environment as possible. What are the business drivers? What are the stumbling blocks? What opportunities exist in the marketplace? Who are the primary and secondary customers? By identifying this information, you will gain a much greater understanding of the business model and the critical points where prospects become leads. These become the foundation of the KPIs you’ll focus your efforts on.


One of the keys to success in marketing is tailoring your message to your audience. If you talk about what is important to the audience and show how you can help solve their problems, you will have a much better chance of success in the marketplace.

At Atlantic BT, we specialize in developing personas as part of our client engagements and it is an important part of our marketing program, too. Typically, personas give a name and a face to a particular segment of the target audience. Our team, however, takes personas one step further. We create full-on profiles that describe a member of the audience segment, their preferences, their perspective, their background and what influences them. We even go so far as to use a photo that helps us keep in mind what this audience member may look like. This information becomes a valuable point of reference for our marketing campaigns. We can keep in mind exactly who we are writing for, what we are trying to say to them and what it may take to motivate them to act.

Personas are an integral part of our KPI environment as we are able to break out our conversion data by persona. This helps us determine whether or not we are connecting with the audiences we want to talk with.

The Content Marketing Engine

We are firm believers in content marketing. Content marketing is the process of sharing what you know with your audience to help them make informed decisions. Content marketing typically leads to much higher levels of engagement with your audience and creates room for conversations with potential customers.

On the surface, content marketing might seem easy. Just create content and put it out onto the Web and your audience will find you, right? Wrong. Content marketing requires an approach that balances creating the kind of content that might interest your audience and finding the right distribution channels to get it in front of them. To guide our marketing efforts, we use a framework I call the Content Marketing Engine that brings balance and order to the content marketing efforts. And while the details of the CME merit more time and space than I have in this blog post, I’ve found the CME to be very valuable to creating optimal KPI environments.

The CME helps us create healthy KPI environments because it allows us to plan for and distribute content in specific channels. And once we know where the content is to be distributed, we know which channels to monitor and what data sources we need to pull from to evaluate the health of our marketing campaigns. In many respects, the CME is the skeletal framework for our KPI dashboards.

Analytics Platforms

The final piece of the KPI puzzle is selecting the correct analytics platform. As you can imagine, with content moving in lots of different places, engaging with a wide-range of audiences and tied to specific business needs, lots and lots of data will be generated by a number of different systems. Pulling that data together in a unified view is critical. I view analytics platforms on a continuum based on need and level of maturity. On the low end of the scale is a tool like Google Analytics (GA). GA is great for monitoring your Web site and can do some fairly sophisticated things to evaluate the impact of your marketing campaigns in areas such as social media, email marketing and PPC advertising.

As campaigns grow more sophisticated, you may find you need to combine other data sources beyond what Google Analytics can provide to get a well-rounded view of your marketing efforts. In those instances, I turn to a tool called Cyfe. Cyfe is a dashboard that unifies different data sources and provides a very slick presentation that can be shared throughout your marketing team and across the organization with those that need to keep tabs on progress. It can even be shared directly with clients and put up on TV screens within your offices.

The last stop on the continuum are the reporting tools available within the marketing automation platforms. Marketing automation tools make it possible to deploy fairly complex, large-scale marketing campaigns that span long periods of time. And some of the leading marketing automation tools like Hubspot and Marketo make available dashboards that are highly customizable based on business needs, personas and your content distribution channels. As a result, it is easy to see why these are the pinnacle of analytics dashboards. They give you a great summary of what’s going on in your business.

The End Result: Key Performance Indicators That Work

As I shared with the audience during my presentation, there are a lot of elements and a good bit of work that goes into building a solid, working KPI environment. At Atlantic BT, we regularly evaluate our KPIs to make sure they are telling us what we need to know about our marketing efforts, and we make adjustments as our campaigns grow and change. The end result is a KPI environment that works for us.  

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