COVID-19 Materials Measurement + Analysis

Marketing Measurement
Amid COVID-19: Lessons from Warren Buffet

By Shelley Nall


Warren Buffet undoubtedly knows a lot about the stock market, but in a recent CNBC interview, he offered advice specifically for marketers worried about how to measure their programs during a time of unprecedented crisis. Okay, so maybe Buffet was actually talking about the stock market again, but as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about metrics, I couldn’t help but connect what he was saying to marketing measurement.

If you’ve been questioning whether you should adapt your metrics in light of COVID-19, consider these words of wisdom from the Oracle of Omaha before making any sudden moves.

Lesson 1

“People would be better off if they said, ‘I bought a business today,’ not a stock today because that gives you a different perspective on it … If you buy a business, you’re going to own it for 10 or 20 or 30 years. And the real question is, has the 10-year or 20-year outlook for American businesses changed in the last 24 hours or 48 hours?”

Marketing Translation: A temporary dip in your metrics doesn’t destroy your program.

Measurement doesn’t exist to tell you what a great job you did. It exists to alert you of what’s working and what’s not, and inform how you should adjust moving forward. If you don’t hit your goal for a metric, it isn’t failure – it’s information. It might not be information you love to see, but it’s valuable all the same. Look for trends over weeks and months to drive your strategies forward, and try not to make any knee-jerk decisions based on limited data. Focus on getting enough information to make informed decisions.

Lesson 2

“If you plan[ned] to buy a local service station yesterday, and it was closing today, I don’t think you’d tear your hair out … You would have already looked at it where it was located and the contract that they had with the suppliers and made a decision on competition.”

Marketing Translation: Your metrics are based on SMART objectives and are tracking back to larger business goals.

And if they’re not, you can develop those objectives here. So long as your business goals haven’t changed, neither should your metrics. That’s not to say that your plans or priorities haven’t changed as a result of the pandemic, but your broader, long-term business goals likely have not. These goals are your guiding star that keeps you on the right course – even when plans change. If you stop measuring certain metrics now because they are down, it’s only covering up a problem, not solving it. That would be like taking off all of your clothes to weigh yourself and celebrating the additional two pounds you “lost.” 

Lesson 3

“We’ve got a big investment in the airline business, and I just heard even more flights are canceled. But flights are canceled for weather [all the time].”

Marketing Translation: This is one of many crises your program will face.

That is not meant to sound all doom and gloomy, but rather to encourage you to think of our current situation like any other crisis situation. Of course, it’s not like other crises we’ve seen, but many of the fundamental tenants of crisis response remain relevant: be authentic, be transparent, and be agile. Your metrics are a source of objective information that can help you provide honest, direct guidance on how best to pivot your marketing strategy.

Lesson 4

“I want to know what’s going on. But I also don’t think that I can make money by predicting what’s going to go on next week or next month.”

Marketing Translation: You can’t predict the future, but you can look at trends in your data and make reasonable assumptions.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, measurement is how we analyze our campaigns and programs to determine what works and what doesn’t. It’s rarely 100% cut and dry, and it’s definitely never a one-and-done process. You have to come back to your measurement data again and again to make continuous adjustments to your tactics. Our metrics help us optimize gradually over time. This is true even in the best of times, and it’s especially true amid uncertainty.

Lesson 5

“There’s always trouble coming.”

Marketing Translation: Don’t panic — or you’ll always be panicking.

If you have your measurement set up to inform your marketing program, not just report on it, then you are in great shape to keep doing just that. Using your business goals and metrics as your guide, how do you need to adjust your approach to media relations, your plans for content or events, or even how you lead to get the best results during this time? Now is not the time to change your metrics; it is time to analyze your metrics and change your strategy.