A Gentle Introduction to KPIs

A quick opener

There are a lot of words that get thrown around when we talk about measurement. Words are used frequently and interchangeably, and as a result, incorrectly.

The most frequent of which is the term KPI – Key Performance Indicator.

The keyword here being Indicator. Not benchmark, not score, just indicator.


Let’s Speak Regular English


Let’s stop talking about marketing for a second, and think about something more relaxing… Driving.

We’re going to go on a drive to a cottage up north, but we need to reach our destination before 6pm… Or everyone starts eating dinner without us. First world problems, I know.

So it’s 4 pm right now, and we have to travel 200 km to get to our destination by 6pm. So we need to maintain 100 km/hr for exactly 2 hours to get there on time. Simple stuff.

In measurement terms, we have three things to use to figure out whether we are stuck with leftovers or not:

1. Our starting location (a benchmark)

2. Our speed (km/hr – an indicator on our dashboard… See where I’m going with this?)

3. Our destination (A goal)

Of these three things – we can only affect one of them. Our speed. We can speed up, slow down, or stop completely.


Let’s Apply It Now


This metaphor for marketing is an apt one for thinking about Key Performance Indicators. Simply put, KPIs are those measures of our work that tell us if we’re going fast, slow, or stopped. They don’t tell us if we’ve reached our destination, or if we haven’t left the driveway yet.

So switching back to marketing and communications, picking the right KPI means picking some kind of movement-based metric that helps us see if we’re on track, or if we need to push the gas pedal down harder.

We may be tempted to want to have 1,000 followers on Twitter, or 100,000 website visits, but these are destinations, not measures of speed. Twenty new followers/week, or 10,000 additional visits/week on the other hand, are things we can use as KPIs to see if we’re going to approach our target or not.

These are vanity KPIs and I don’t recommend using them, but they work as examples for now.

So now we know what a KPI is. In my next post, I’ll dive deeper into establishing the right KPIs for your own efforts.



This post was originally published on Jon Litwack’s personal blog.

Find out more about KPIs from Jonathan at, or follow him on Twitter @jonlitwack.