In the midst of a dashboard planning session last week, the VP Marketing Intelligence brought the meeting to an abrupt halt by saying, "This is all nice in theory, but we don't have the data to measure half of these things."Hmmm. Good point. Very pragmatic. Or at least that was the initial reaction of most of his teammates in the room.But let's think for a minute about the implication of only measuring what we have data for.

  1. In all likelihood, we don't have much insight into the data streams we have today, or we wouldn't be talking about assembling a dashboard in the first place.
  2. The "spotty" data we have today leaves significant gaps between what we know, what we don't know, and most importantly, what we don't know we don't know.
  3. Keeping our dashboard framed within the parameters of what we already have data for is a sure fire way to reinforce every preconceived notion we have about the business.

I'm all for pragmatism. Nobody is helped by a theoretical marketing dashboard. But the very process of planning a dashboard is intended to draw out all of our structured knowledge, scientific hypotheses, and experiential best-guesses about what happens to sales or profits when we add/change/delete marketing investments. Only by looking at the business from the perspective of "what should we be measuring" and setting the framework for a truly comprehensive view of effectiveness and efficiency can we really assess what we know and where we should prioritize our search for more knowledge.Fact: Most marketing organizations spend far too much time and precious resources answering questions that don't generate any significant insights into the business. Laying out the complete picture of what you think you need to know first is the best way to keep your marketing measurement efforts from returning the same old knowledge with the same critical insight gaps.It makes better sense to start with what you want to know, prioritize the pursuit of the unknowns on the basis of expected insight value, and fill in the gaps in your dashboard over time. But let everyone see the gaps as a reminder of how little we actually do know and a reassurance that we, the marketers, are diligently working to try to close those gaps. It will make them feel better about our search for objective insight.