There was once a story about a farmer and a pig. Every year the farmer would enter his prized pig into the ‘biggest pig of the year competition’. For the first few years, whilst not a winner, the farmer was proud of his entry and the results of his work. Each year, he reviewed the pig and planned what
he’d feed it over the next 12 months to make it even bigger. And then he did just that – executed his plan and fed the pig accordingly.

In an attempt to help her husband grow his pig to be the best and win, his wife bought him a measuring tape. Not just any old measuring tape, but one where he could measure every single part of the pig – his waist, his neck, leg sizes and even his tail. “Wow,” said the farmer, “I can see exactly how much my pig is growing throughout the year and understand what food helps him grow bigger, quicker!”

As the weeks went by, the amount of measurement taken by the farmer increased. His notebook quickly filled up as he became more and more precise with his measurements and details. In fact, it was taking more and more time to keep track of all the measuring. As the weeks went past, the pressure grew as he became more and more excited about the competition and the results of this year. “The results must be amazing, I’ve been working so hard measuring everything I’ve done to help the pig grow.”

Then the competition arrived. The inspector came round and measured the pig. The results weren’t good. “Smaller than before?!” exclaimed the farmer. He couldn’t understand how or why this had happened. He reached for his notebook and started looking through all the data he’d built up and collected throughout the year. The inspector looked over his shoulder at the book and responded, “Maybe you should spend more time feeding the pig and less time measuring it.”

As the farmer calmed down and took in what was going on, he realised that he hadn’t been using his data productively. It hadn’t helped him make decisions as he didn’t know where to start. He hadn’t executed his plan as well as before, and he certainly hadn’t revised it throughout the year based on
all of his measurements. Even worse was his horror when it dawned on him that he hadn’t actually put any more time into feeding the pig than before – with all of the time spent measuring, he’d been spending less and less time feeding the pig.

The Truth

Okay, I’ll be honest and come clean. There is no famous story about a farmer measuring his pig. But, I’m pretty sure you’re all too familiar with the wider concept, there are a fair few ‘farmers’ in the modern marketing world. Measurement is great when used to justify actionable outcomes, but taken alone, data is nothing but useless information. It’s what you do with it that really matters. So in order to avoid falling into this trap – ask yourself two simple questions when looking at measurement data:

  • Is this data actionable – what decision will it help me to make?
  • Am I measuring because I can – or am I providing my business insight to shape decisions?

By taking these two questions into consideration you can ensure the data you’re looking at has genuine value and you aren’t wasting your time looking in the wrong places for insight that doesn’t exist.