This article was originally published on reverb, Drake Cooper’s reflections on advertising, creativity, and trends. Read more.

The Difference Between Tracking To ROI and Tracking To Goals

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

When something new arrives we want it everywhere. New shoes must be worn immediately. New songs are on repeat. Newly-discovered authors must be quoted all of the time—at least for several weeks.

Most of the time newness fades and only the most loved new additions stay around, attaching themselves as a permanent fixture to life.

This happens in business too and “measurement” is one of those things. Countless items that were previously ambiguous can be measured today which means, of course, that everything should be measured today.

A combination of this ability with a continued focus on economic conditions has tied measurement to directly equate to ROI. Which it does, but not all the time. Often it increasingly seems that the frustration of constantly trying to apply ROI to fluid things takes notable effort away from focusing on the long-term endeavors.

Econsultancy and Adobe found this to continue to be true with social media. While nine in 10 companies will use social media this year very few have moved beyond the soft engagement metrics of followers, comments and time spent to measure success. Finding ROI from social is a continual debate and only 12% of companies can do it.

What’s another way? Tie social measurement to brand goals. That’s different than ROI, yet it’s still tracked. We can measure it against goals that align with an organization’s values. There’s little specific ROI from a business card design. The card either aligns with the company’s values (i.e., we can make you stand out) or it’s a missed opportunity. But good design is good business.

At a Drake Cooper MAGNET conference last year, Southwest Airlines was asked how they measure the ROI of their 20-person social media/culture team. The answer was, “we don’t.” Management expects the team to measure their activities against their goals of culture, which is “to share your enthusiasm about SWA”.  And they leave it at that. They measure it closely so they can assign value. They just don’t track it against ROI.

Perhaps McKinsey was right two-and-a-half years ago (a lifetime on the web) when they said experiential things are what generate social word of mouth.

To create positive word of mouth that actually has impact, the customer experience must not only deviate significantly from expectations but also deviate on the dimensions that matter to the customer and that he or she is likely to talk about. For instance, while battery life is a crucial driver of satisfaction for mobile phone consumers, they talk about it less than other product features, such as design and usability. To turn consumers into an effective marketing vehicle, companies need to outperform on product and service attributes that have intrinsic word-of-mouth potential.

If that’s the essence of social, how does such activity track to ROI for most products? Is it better to try and align social consumer habits to an elaborate ROI matrix or measure against company-wide brand goals? If the desire is to do social like these guys, it’s probably the latter.