What’s the point in benchmarking?

The ability to benchmark any performance has an important role in any marketing and consulting industry. It tells you what you’re doing right, or where you’re lacking in your understanding of the market. You can determine industry averages, trends over time, or impacts of certain events in the relevant platform ecosystem.

But benchmarks, and specifically industry benchmarks, provide different focal points for different platforms; and are quite often misleading when compared to a tailored platform. Really, whether you’re a new market entry from an existing corporation or you're simply attempting to improve your platform’s day to day engagement, there’s only one thing you should be considering;

What does my own data tell me?

For a new market entry, industry benchmarks may not be the most appropriate target to compare yourself against. There’s always a period of time where you're likely to find traction in your product, and give yourself a grounding. And even if you're one of those new market entries that surpasses all expectations immediately, where do you go from there? If you completely surpassed where you should be in such a short time, then you’ve already got the recipe for success within your own platform - utilise that data to grow.

Shorter term targets should be focused on sustainability and growth, but should be dictated by the platform you’ve built, rather than the market you’re competing in. If you look at Tesco’s attempt to enter the US groceries market, they were too focused on maintaining their European model to ensure their own sustainability: this failure to adapt ultimately led to Tesco’s overseas withdrawal after 6 years, costing the chain £1.2bn.

At the other end of the scale, consider a market leader. Then what’s the point in industry benchmarks? You could set growth targets, assuming the headroom exists - but if your platform is far and above all the others, any comparisons against industry benchmarks will always be irrelevant. If you want to remain on top of the market, then you should be looking to improve on the platform already at the top; and if that happens to be yourself, there's still no need for industry benchmarks. Consider the Facebook application for smartphones. With 126m app users in 2015 alone [2], why compare it to any other mobile social platform? Google has dominated the Search Engine market, but can anyone really say that it has been able to compete with Facebook as a social platform? Even with Google’s spend on acquisitions such as YouTube and Motorola, Google+ still doesn't seem to have any comparison to Facebook as a social presence. As long as Facebook takes heed of its competitor’s developments, there shouldn’t be any issue.

But there have been some instances where being an overly ambitious market leader has caused the downfall of the company. Between 1983-1986, Commodore Computers had the market all to themselves. With nearly 50% of the market share and selling over 2million units a year, Commodore completely outshone the likes of Apple, IBM and Windows. However, the company attempted to develop a new computer for the market, it didn’t take. Instead, the then-discontinued original computer continued to sell, and when the market failed to transition to the newer machine, it caused the eventual downfall and bankruptcy of the company in early 1994 [3]. They created the benchmark for three years with their original invention, but didn’t adhere to the market benchmarks they’d dictated, and fell when they aimed too high, too soon. There's nothing wrong with ambition, but their belief that the market was ready for a new product left them in disrepair when the gamble backfired.

Finally, let's assume that you’re fairly established. You can use industry benchmarks to compare where you are in the market against other brands. But how many brands are truly happy at being mediocre, when there’s opportunity everywhere? If it’s a question around sustainability, that should come from looking at the value of the platform, not the value of other platforms. If it’s a question of growth, and you might be underperforming against any industry benchmarks; any targets should be born out of the platform you own, and how you’re investing in it. Regardless of your competitors, the feasibility of those industry benchmark targets and the longevity of your platform will only be ascertained by your own data; casting your eyes outside of your own box may provide you with some misleading thoughts, with inevitable consequences.

Industry benchmarks may dictate the strength of the industry, but not necessarily the strength of your platform.

It’s all relative:

But actually, to individual and bespoke platforms, benchmarks are not indicative of successes or shortcomings. They're indicative of where you might be in relation to an average - but in such a growing, digital age, the average is constantly changing, and benchmarks may no longer be the best gauge. If you want to see if you're being successful, or where you're falling behind, simply look at your own internal performance. Benchmarking, platform growth and target setting should all come from within your own platform, and your own data.

Your own data is unequivocally the best benchmark for that, as only your own platform is a good barometer for your performance. You can pinpoint success, and you can replicate and replenish your platform by doing that – with the obvious caveat that we’re living in an ever-changing environment, and there’s always an opportunity to develop and stay ahead of the curve.

Data is the currency of the 21st Century. So utilise what you have available; there’s a logic to everything in this universe, so let's be smart about it.

Context is everything:

So, industry benchmarks? I'm not a fan, not for existing platforms. If you’re changing your platform, or you’re developing a new feature - then yes, they can give you some indication about the market and what you might expect: but it won't tell you about how you progress within your existing platform.

That development can only be measured when you have that context around where your platform sits in the market, and the leanings from your previous endeavours.

Here at iris Concise, we've developed an Instant View model that allows us to evaluate holistic performance of a platform across a number of key metrics by sourcing a wide range of data feeds, aggregated into a handcrafted dashboard - big data, made easy.

And as I've alluded to, I believe that any focus on platform improvement should be dictated by replicating past successes, not attempting to replicate other products through jealous eyes. To improve, you need to understand where you've benefitted, and where you've succeeded.

And Instant View gives you that in the palm of your hand.

 

Sources

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22168463

[2] http://time.com/4156902/most-popular-apps-2015/

[3] http://articles.philly.com/1994-05-08/business/25829860_1_commodore-officials-irving-gould-services-and-computer-bulletin