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Vanity Metrics Mobile Marketers Must Avoid

Subharun Mukherjee 18+ years of experience leading product strategy, Go-To-Market (GTM), new market entry, value-based sales, analyst relations, and customer experience programs. Expertise in Financial Services, eCommerce, on-demand services, and the SaaS industry.
Vanity Metrics Mobile Marketers Must Avoid

“Grow faster.” – the war cry of Silicon Valley venture capitalists.1
This marching order is one that many mobile marketing teams are accustomed to hearing from leaders and investors.
Unfortunately, these expectations for artificial growth can lead to inaccurate reporting methods. With the amount of data and tools available, it can be challenging for marketing teams to decide which metrics are important, ultimately misrepresenting the current health of the business.
Say hello to vanity metrics.

What Are Vanity Metrics?

Vanity metrics are data points that appear positive, but actually, hold little or no substantive evidence of a healthy business. These metrics can cause the needle to look like it’s moving towards achieving business goals, but in reality, they are used to satisfy the push for growth.

Startups are often seen publishing vanity metrics, whether they realize it or not, to give the impression of rapid growth. The problem is, some metrics just aren’t as important as they might seem.
So, what are some examples of vanity metrics and how do you determine if you’re tracking the wrong metrics?

Vanity Metrics Mobile Marketers Should Stop Relying On

vanity metrics versus actionable metric example with duel
Many times, mobile marketers are reporting vanity metrics with no foul intent, unaware that they aren’t showing true results. The measurements may produce a chart showing growth trending upwards or double-digit growth, but that doesn’t mean that the business is necessarily growing.

Imagine that you measure success by the number of mobile app downloads (your vanity metric), but the average app loses 77% of daily active users (DAUs) within the first 3 days after install.2 If you’re just reporting on the number of mobile app downloads, you’re missing the whole picture.

Below are a few metrics that fall in the vanity category and ones that you should be aware of.
We’re not saying that these metrics don’t mean anything and that they should be trashed. What we’re saying is that you should question them to be sure: “What does this number represent? Is this graph accurate? Should we be spending time and money elsewhere?” It’s important to question the metrics.
Three easy-win metrics that you should question:

  1. Number of app downloads. These are exciting to track once your app has launched, but they don’t show the whole picture of its success. Once your app has taken off, don’t use app downloads as a sole representation of your business’s growth.
  2. Number of email subscribers. This may seem like an impressive metric, but it’s less meaningful if your subscribers don’t open or engage with your emails.
  3. Number of social media followers. A high number of followers might make you feel like people are interested in your app. However, you have to consider how many are following through and engaging with it.

How to Use Vanity Metrics to Your Advantage

Vanity metrics can aid in telling the story of your business if you use them as a starting point to find actionable information. They’re not all bad, all the time.
For example, if you see that app downloads have increased significantly overnight, this may prompt you to ask — why?
The number of app downloads is a surface level indication of what’s going on. Understanding what caused the increase in downloads, how many customers you’ve retained, and how many active minutes users spend in the app each day are the insights that really matter.

A clear example of when vanity metrics come to the mobile marketer’s aid is mapping the user journey. While it may seem advantageous to report a high average time spent engaging with the app, this may actually indicate a confusing user interface and poor user experience.
Other insights that could be uncovered include, but are not limited to:

  • Low performing calls to action
  • Unreported app crashing and bugs
  • Offensive in-app messaging and advertising

Running more impactful campaigns with accurate results starts with questioning the metrics you are tracking. Which can, in turn, lead to better information for your team.
Let’s go over some specific actionable metrics you should be tracking.

What Are Actionable Metrics?

While vanity metrics are numbers that do not accurately represent your overall success, actionable metrics represent repeatable tasks or actions that work towards and improve your business goals.

Actionable metrics dive deeper. They show who is actively engaging with your app, the cost of acquiring new customers, and how profitable it is. These metrics will help analyze your business’s current state, solve problems, and strategize for the future.
Five actionable metrics you should track are:

  1. Active app users. This metric will show how many users are engaged in your app versus those who have only downloaded it. To understand if you have recurring users in your app, make sure that the number of active users is higher than the number of new users.
  2. User retention by day. Retention by day will help you understand your sustainable growth, as users who continue to use your app drive revenue and profits.
  3. Direct conversions. These are important to understanding how successful your business is. Whether your KPI is reflected by the amount of paying users you have, how many items users shop for in your app, or the amount of barcodes that were scanned, your conversions will demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of your app.
  4. Push notification opt-in and open rates. Push notification metrics are key to accessing and effectively prompting your customers to take the desired action.

Metrics and KPIs Mobile Marketers Need to Track

vanity metrics mobile marketers need to stop tracking and actionable metrics they should analyze
Now that we’ve gone through vanity metrics, don’t be too quick to push them to the curb. Before you delete any data from your marketing reports, touch base with your team. Being sure that you have appropriately defined goals and data points to track how you’ll achieve them is the first step.

And don’t be afraid to question what you’re measuring. When trying to determine if you’re measuring vanity metrics or actionable metrics, consider your key performance indicators (KPI) — does the metric help reach your business’s goals?

  1. Push opt-in rate. This rate shows who opted to receive push notifications out of all of the mobile app users.
  2. Direct push opens. Push opens shows how many times users click on push notifications to open the app.
  3. Influenced opens. Influenced opens shows number of times a user opens the app manually after receiving a push notification.
  4. Email open rate. This rate shows the number of people who opened an email from a campaign versus how many emails were delivered.
  5. Email click-through rate. This rate shows the number of people who clicked on an email from a campaign versus how many emails were delivered.
  6. Email unsubscribe rate. Email unsubscribe rate shows the number of people who have unsubscribed from an email versus how many subscribers it has.

While it’s important to understand what measurable factors are influencing the health of your business, some metrics have a negligible impact and therefore should not be reported. These vanity metrics can mislead your mobile marketing team.

Vanity metrics are not limited to the examples included within this post, and in fact, any evaluation of mobile metrics can be misleading and skewed to fit a story that does not reflect reality.

A low customer acquisition cost, for example, may seem advantageous for mobile marketers to report. But there is more to this analysis. If the customer acquisition cost, no matter how low, exceeds the customer lifetime value, boasting of inexpensive acquisition methods would be in vain. It’s vital your mobile analytics and KPI reporting are well through and indicative of reality.

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Last updated on September 25, 2023