the power of measuring – babies and marketing

Last night, I went to the local grocery store and purchased a shaving soap cup, brush, and a razor, and back at home, helped my son with the shaving of his eiderdown beard and mustache.  This rite of passage reminded me that 15 years ago, this lad had come into the world with measured perfection, at least according to the Apgar test. (According to his father, he required no such test. He was perfect the moment I laid eyes on him.)

In 1953, Dr. Virginia Apgar published the scoring method in which nurses examined the condition of babies at birth, and rated their condition on a scale from zero to ten. To say the effect was profound would be an understatement: before the method became universally applied, one in 30 infants died at birth. Today, that number in the US is around one in 500.  While technological advances played a part, Apgar’s method anticipated the dictum of management philosopher Peter Drucker, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Apgar Score Card

Agpar scorecard for rating health of newborns

simple acts of measurement can provide big results

Had the Apgar test been more complex, it’s likely that it would not have been so readily adopted. In this sense, it’s a predecessor of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) used by many businesses. In NPS, customers are asked only one question, “How likely are you to recommend us.” While NPS has its detractors, it’s used at P&G, GE, American Express, and many other leading organizations.

For me, the Apgar score wasn’t anything more than the source of some kvelling until I recently picked up Atul Gawande’s 2007 book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. A prevailing theme of Gawande’s book is how and why physicians improve their performance, a concept that is as easily applied to digital marketers.

It’s possible that in measuring our own marketing efforts, we might do well to avoid the tendency to pile metric upon metric. Were we to create our own Apgar score for marketing, could we affect results as dramatic as those of 20th-century obstetricians? What would those results show? How would we talk about them? If Gawande is as accomplished as a physician as he is a storyteller, his patients are fortunate. His prescription for medical practitioners might be just the thing for marketers, too— write something:

…[W]riting lets you step back and think through a problem. Even the angriest rant forces the writer to achieve a degree of thoughtfulness.

Most of all, by offering your reflections to an audience, even a small one, you make yourself part of a larger world. Put a few thoughts on a topic in just a newsletter, and you find yourself wondering nervously: Will people notice it? What will they think? Did I say something dumb? An audience is a community. The published word is a declaration of membership in that community and also of a willingness to contribute something meaningful to it.

So choose your audience. Write Something.

Gawande’s stories about how physicians are challenged, how they achieve great results and his own personal growth as a person through storytelling are goldmines of thought for marketers. We’re in still the early stages of momentous changes brought on by nascent technologies and social media. No one has written the book yet—not really—so we have to find answers where we can.

As I watched my son shave his chin for the first time, he son paused and noted wisely, “This is a lot of work!”

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