Sometimes, the Data DOES Paint a Clear Picture

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I’ll admit right up front that this is the least value-add post on this blog to date. Part of me sincerely hopes that it holds that distinction indefinitely. But, I know me better than that, so no promises.

We all have them. Those moments where someone says something — in person, in an e-mail, in an instant message — that triggers a completely random, but oddly inspired, response.

What happened: One of my pet peeves is the cliche, “If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.” It sounds good, but I challenge any company to fully apply this overly simplistic maxim and survive. I’m all for having a bias towards measurement, but I get nervous when people speak in absolutes like this.

Earlier this week, I fired off an internal e-mail proposing an initiative that was extremely low cost that seemed like a good idea to me. It really wasn’t an initiative where it made sense to try to quantify the benefits, though. I made a comment as such in the e-mail — that, despite it not being practical to measure the results, I still thought it was a good idea. (I was having one of the 15-20 snarky moments I have throughout any given day.) Two of the five people on the distribution list immediately responded with demands for an ROI estimate.


10 minutes later, and I’d fashioned the following chart in Excel and responded to the group with my analysis:

The Bird

Everyone had a good chuckle.

Here’s the spreadsheet file itself. It’s as clean as clean can be, so feel free to snag it and put it to your own use. If you put it to use with entertaining results, I’d appreciate a quick comment with the tale. Or, if you make modifications to enhance the end result, I’d love to get a copy.



  1. I think every business should conduct ROI analyses on their email servers, fax machines, and water coolers to decide if they are worth paying for.

    This topic comes up a lot with respect to social media. Marketers have become data junkies, thanks to some highly measurable tools (like pay per click advertising and such). but it’s important to remember that there are useful things that are much harder to measure. It’s very hard to come up with a solid ROI measurement of a PR initiative or branding activities – but we know that these are useful. The same goes for some newer things. Starting a blog and building a customer community will pay off, but you cannot say “X people came to the blog and then bought things that they would not have otherwise.”

    I love data, but lack of clear ROI data should be a factor in a decision, not a deal-killer.

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