Metrics that measure consumption vs metrics that measure the satisfaction of real needs

Edited excerpt from Is anything worth maximizing? by Joe Edelman:

Metrics have allowed us to scale up the size of our organizations. But they’ve also created a kind of tug-of-war. On the one hand, we have the nuanced values of individuals. On the one hand, we have the simplifying assumptions of economies and organizations. These two are in constant tension throughout the economy.

Overconsumption comes from tweaking products and channels so as to maximize sales, views, and clicks. That has trade-offs for long-term satisfaction, and for wellbeing. If we keep focusing on sales, views, and clicks, we’ll wind up fat, depressed (or on Prozac), socially isolated, diabetic, bloodshot staring at screens or jacked into VR, and surrounded by piles of junk we regret buying.

When governments or big businesses focus on consumer spending, on consumption, they’re missing all the reasons that people buy and focusing on the buying behavior itself.

Same with overconsumption of media. There are reasons that we want to read and learn. Reasons we want to know about our friends’ lives, or just to see a photo of someone we love who’s far away. But when a business like Facebook tries to maximize engagement, it loses track of those reasons; it treats us as engagement machines. We go over-consumed, but under-fulfilled.

When people discover that a new organization has metrics that hew closer to our real values, users will fly to this new provider. Engagement maximizers won’t see it coming. And the new metrics of the new organization will become the new standard throughout the relevant markets. I call this the flight to higher ground. It’s happened many times in the last hundred years, but I believe we can go much further.

(1) Cf. How tech products misframe our choices, and product managers should do better.
(2) Cf. Provide what your users really want.

3 thoughts on “Metrics that measure consumption vs metrics that measure the satisfaction of real needs

  1. I love this. Lately, I’ve found myself looking for products that aren’t sticky–they get things done for me, but I don’t have to spend a lot of time with them.

    I have a minor quibble with the last paragraph. I don’t think consumers are paying attention to the metrics companies are using to measure success, so *discovering* a company has changed KPIs, will not cause a switch. A switch is much more likely to occur when a consumer realizes the new organization is getting the job done faster, better, cheaper, which is a likely result of the company changing their KPIs to “hew closer to our real values.” A product team would do well to choose metrics that match their customers’ values, but I wouldn’t recommend a marketing team tout, “we target metrics that match your values.”

    • I agree, Jared, although I don’t think he was saying that customers explicitly evaluate a company’s metrics, but that they intuit what the company is optimizing for from the service it offers.

  2. I hope Edelman is right. There is entirely too much focus on “habit forming” or “addictive” products especially in the app space. In the content marketing space there are more strategies that look like fast food. I hope consumers–perhaps led by younger consumers who are digital natives–will become more thoughtful over time about what they spend their attention on and what information they choose to consume.

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