Why I Hate Impressions as a KPI for Demand Generation Marketing

In this new world of marketing, we are often inundated with data. While this is the beauty of the digital marketing era, it can also result in the misuse of that data to measure success of our campaigns. As digital marketers, we must be data-driven in order to be agile in making decisions and optimizations. It is our responsibility to understand the data, how it is measured, why we should be measuring it and how to use these findings prove our success or improve upon our misses.

Today I want to discuss a popular metric that is often disguised as a KPI, not only by agencies but also green marketers and executives. Let me first preface by saying, impressions are an important thing to measure (aka it’s a good metric) and in a lot of ways it’s important to understand from a cost perspective for paid media. However, I am so tired of agencies touting a demand generation campaign’s success based on the amount of impressions achieved.

To understand this “bold” statement I am making, let me first explain what a KPI is, how it differs from a metric and how impressions are measured across channels.

  • All KPIs are metrics, as they should be quantitative measurement of statistics describing trends. Metrics should be measured against a target and a KPI to measure the success of the campaign to achieve this target.
  • Impressions are the total number of times your ad was shown, keep in mind this is different from Reach, which is the number of individual people have seen your ad. Impressions are not action-based and are merely defined by a user potentially seeing the ad. In the world of digital marketing, you will find that most paid search, paid social, banner ads, re-targeting channels costs are set up to the charge based on CPM, or Cost Per 1,000 Impressions. This makes impressions an important metric to track in terms of costs, as this can vary depending on the demand for the audience you’re targeting at the time you’re running the ad.

Unless your KPI is to build awareness/thought leadership, impressions should not be used as way of measuring success of your demand generation campaign. Other KPIs to consider instead are Click-through Rate (CTR), Cost per click (CPC), or Cost per lead. When it comes to demand generation marketing, at the end of the day we are measured based on the opportunities that we bring to our sales funnel and revenue, not the potential a person has of seeing our banner ad. Therefore, I encourage you to push your team (whether that’s your agency, peers, or leadership) to look beyond this vanity KPI and look to downstream conversions as a better indicator of your campaign performance.


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