When measuring healthcare digital marketing performance, there are countless approaches to consider. And while specific approaches vary, there’s consistency around the types of questions any digital marketing department is expected to answer:

  • Are we on track to hit our goals?
  • What’s working and what’s not?
  • Why do results change over time?
  • What can we do to improve our trajectory?

To answer these questions, it’s important to assess two separate (but related) sets of metrics: 

  1. the current, real-time performance of the activities that are aimed at helping you achieve your goals (i.e., what’s happening right now), AKA leading indicators 
  2. the final results accomplished in a given month/quarter/year (i.e., did we achieve our goals) AKA lagging indicators

Both leading and lagging indicators are equally important, reliant on one another, and critical to define in order to proactively report on marketing performance and predict whether you’re on track to hit commercial goals.

Predict digital healthcare marketing performance with leading and lagging indicators

The relationship and difference between leading and lagging indicators

Leading indicators should have a clear and proven impact on lagging indicators. When leading indicators improve, lagging indicators should improve and vice versa. Combined, they help you assess whether your marketing efforts are producing the desired results, both tactically and in regard to your company objectives. 

Leading indicators are input metrics:

  • They define activities that are necessary to achieve your goals with measurable outcomes. 
  • They provide benchmarks that, if met, will be indicative of meeting overall KPIs and objectives. 
  • They’re harder to measure, but easier to improve.

Lagging indicators are output metrics:

  • They define production and performance.
  • They measure output after actions have already occurred to gain insight on future success.
  • They’re easier to measure, but harder to improve.

Start by establishing your lagging indicators

Your lagging indicators are the ultimate objectives you’re aiming to accomplish through your marketing activities. They should be specific, measurable, and based on company-level goals.

Examples of lagging indicators for a marketing department might include: 

  • Amount of pipeline created
  • Amount of revenue won
  • Percentage of customers retained

Once established, it’s important to set clear expectations around accountability and establish alignment across commercial functions (i.e., sales and marketing), so that it’s understood how each team will measure success and contribute to accomplishing company-level goals.

Next, define your leading indicators

Your leading indicators represent specific metrics by channel and are a reflection of real-time performance based on activities you’re conducting in the present moment. You should select your leading indicators based on their likelihood to influence your lagging indicators. 

Start by compiling an inventory of marketing metrics by channel. These metrics will span across all marketing-owned channels including:

  • Website (sessions, pageviews, content downloads)
  • Advertising (impressions, clicks, spend)
  • Email marketing (opens, clicks, unsubscribes)
  • Social media (follows, shares, comments)

Once complete, you’ll likely find you have hundreds of metrics to choose from. Use your knowledge of what’s historically proven to be influential in driving results, and select a shortlist of metrics to assess more closely. 

Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis, try to detect any correlation between leading indicator performance and lagging indicator results. When a leading indicator goes up or down, does a lagging indicator do the same? Can you identify similar trajectories of long-term performance between a leading and lagging indicator? Metrics that demonstrate a strong correlation to lagging indicator results are good candidates to consider for your leading indicators. Don’t worry about perfecting it the first time — these metrics can (and should) be revisited on an ongoing basis to vet whether they truly impact your lagging indicators.

Not only is it important to select the right metrics for your leading indicators, it’s also important to set the right benchmarks for those metrics. Benchmarks can be calculated in a variety of ways. You can:

  • use historical averages and apply a percentage increase to strive for continuous improvement,
  • use industry averages to ensure you’re on par with your peers, or 
  • apply a combination thereof.

Try different approaches to see what’s right for you. What’s most important is that you have a strong understanding of your current performance, and set clear expectations around how you want to improve results over time.

Finally, consistent and ongoing analysis (i.e., weekly) will help you glean insights around what’s working, what’s not, and what you can do to improve. Done well, your leading indicators should not only demonstrate whether marketing hit specific benchmarks, but also give you the ability to proactively respond to results and make adjustments to improve real-time.

Build a culture of data-driven decision making

While this article highlights marketing-specific performance and results, the same concepts can be applied to any function at your organization. At Vodori, we understand the criticality of having access to metrics that provide actionable insights, which is why we’ve invested in robust analytics reporting with Pepper Insights. We believe a data-driven approach to decision making is the strongest formula for success, and strive to empower our customers to do the same.

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