Challenges with Marketing Measurement and Metrics

We are human. And as humans, we make mistakes. We have biases. We have assumptions.

March 20, 2024

By AndHumanity Inclusive Marketing | December 2022

We are human. And as humans, we make mistakes. We have biases. We have assumptions.

So why is it that when we, as market researchers, think of research, we view it as objective when we – our fallible, biased, wonderful selves – are involved in that process?

Not only that, beyond an individual level, we often don’t realize how much of these biases and assumptions have created a system in the marketing and advertising industry where even trying to be more inclusive is a barrier in and of itself.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that there are many challenges with measurement and metrics, especially when trying to navigate inclusive market research in the space.Adapted from AndHumanity Inclusive Marketing Agency’s safer spaces in inclusive research training (created by Sana Khaliq (she/her), with contributions from Sydney McNeill (they/them)) and Authentically Inclusive Marketing: Diverse Lenses, Emerging Approaches, we cover 4 challenges that often come up often when working with marketing measurement and metrics.

1. Historical (and Current) Context

How we think about people in association with measurement is embedded with a deeply colonized understanding of the world. For example, Francis Galton who was heavily involved in the eugenics movement and even coined the term also used similar ideas for developing the many concepts that we use today within statistics like standard deviations, correlations, and chi squared tests.

Eugenics as a movement was intended to “create” a “perfect” human species mainly through forced sterilization practices targeting equity-deserving people that continues to be done even today.

When the roots of the measurement that we rely on everyday as researchers are harmful, there is always a danger in continuing to unintentionally perpetuate that harm in the work we do.

2. Othering

Research shapes what is seen as “normal” and “other.” And one of the most common ways that this is presented in measurement is through metrics for collecting demographic data. Often, dominant identities can become the default in how we create measurements and metrics. This is typically the case when we’re not being intentional in rethinking presumed “normal” identities.

When that intentionality is not present, we can also fall into having assumptions about our audience or not actually understanding them as much as we think we do.

3. Harmful Language

When creating measurements, another challenge that comes up is actively working to embed inclusive communication and language. Language is power; it influences the way we and others perceive reality and act. So when we include harmful language into our metrics, we’re telling our audience that we don’t care about them and their experience.

Considering language also means thinking about how the metrics we develop are creating power dynamics and erasure. For example:  

  • Are we arranging identity options in a hierarchy based on privilege?
  • Is the group with the most power/privilege also named?
  • How are we considering intersectionality, if at all?
  • Which identities are generalized under an umbrella term and which ones aren’t?

4. Measuring Identities

Figuring out how to measure identities in and of themselves within research is an ongoing discussion and debate. For example:

  • Should identities be an independent or dependent variable?
  • If so, are we relying on these identities from solely a biological perspective without recognizing the fact that these identities are largely social constructs?
  • Are we using identity questions to represent issues at large and creating assumptions about lived experience?
  • Are we actually needing to measure people’s demographic information or is it a proxy for something else entirely?

So What Can You Do About It?

Research is a system. These issues go beyond you as an individual, your team, or your organization. Systemic problems can feel overwhelming because they are so large and aren’t simple to solve. But remember, systemic problems affect many individual people.

You do not need to personally fix or address all of this. In fact, awareness of the challenges and any and every small step you can take to address them in your research will have an impact.

We invite you to our author’s panel on December 15 at 9AM PST celebrating the launch of our new book where we will illuminate further insights and approaches on the “How”.  And through doing so, guide your business practices as consumers continue to demand diverse, socially responsible, and authentically Inclusive Marketing.

Change starts with you, after all.