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Published February 11th 2016

CMO View: The Challenge of Trying to Measure the Unmeasurable

CMO Will McInnes regularly finds himself trying to measure things just beyond his grasp. Here he shares why it's such a tricky subject.

As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” If you can’t measure it, does it mean it doesn’t matter?

Here’s why I ask. We’re an analytics company. We make software that other people use to make decisions based on data and insight from the social web.

A lot of that is powered by measurement. And at the heart of that one sometimes wonders, does it only matter if you can measure it? And what about the things you can’t measure? Do they matter?

Let me take my job as an example. As the CMO at Brandwatch I need to take responsibility for where the company invests its finite marketing resources – its clever people and precious dollars.

Within that mix, Google Paid Search shows a very nice, clear path to attribution. People click on our ads, they visit the website, they request a demo, they become an opportunity, and then, further down the line, some of them become customers.

“Hurrah!” you shout. 

‘What gets measured gets done’

The problem is, our best performing ad is for the term ‘Brandwatch’. Yep. Powerful stuff, right? Those valuable clickers, they already knew what they were looking for. But how did they know to look for us in the first place? The sad fact is that we may never know.

Marketing, broadly.

It might have been down to our epic share of voice in the media, might have been our brilliant people who time and time again come out as our greatest asset in customer surveys, or that high ranking from an influential analyst.

But good old Google PPC collects the attribution (unless we’re really clever).

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 09.11.52

We are getting smarter in how we run our marketing here at Brandwatch. Lots of UTM to tag activities with very specifically attributable marketing moments.

Smarter, more granular measurement of our progress inside those organizations we most covet a new working relationship.

Smarter ways of slicing and dicing up attribution. Even so, we’re only able to construct a very crude and broad understanding of what is happening in the world.

The mystery of the unmeasurable

So this leads me to speculate about the unmeasurable. What can’t be measured?

Here are a few things I’ve been considering, from the practical to the more esoteric:

Dark social – Obviously. But WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat and wherever else are partially or totally obscure. A good starter for this list, although there are some methods to track dark social. 


Influence – I mean, we at Brandwatch help our customers locate ‘influencers‘, and have exciting product developments in this very area.

Still though, influence feels incredibly hard to capture. Citation analysis is useful and that inspired Google’s PageRank. Applied influence though is so dynamic and contextual. Interesting area.

Predictive – What will happen next? This is tricky, and certainly easy to hype by foamy hypey idiots like me, and somewhat harder to deliver.

But still – we are in the age of Machine Learning, AI is knocking on the door. With all these neural nets and rockstar data scientists, surely we can get somewhere here?


By the way, shameless plug – if you don’t use Brandwatch Signals, you really should – it feels like predictive analytics even if it kind of isn’t.

The interconnections between things – Maybe I stole this from systems thinking, but interconnections are interesting and powerful.

When we try to tackle something like causes of obesity or something more prosaic like marketing attribution it’s really the interconnections between things where our models break down and become so wimpy and ineffectual.


If I think about Brandwatch in the future, where would it stop if it were to truly and fully measure everything that mattered to help you make better decisions?

How people really feel – My favorite market research expert continually reminds me that ‘people don’t say what they mean and they don’t mean what they say.’

All sorts of interesting new approaches are at play, particularly looking at neuroscience, MRI scans et al.

But a whole gamut of academic research – from behavioral economics, through to the long-term marketing effectiveness studies by Professor Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science – show that we’re not really sure why we behave the way we do.

And so the challenge continues.

What are the struggles you face in attempting to measure the unmeasurable? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @Brandwatch.

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