Followers, impressions, reach, subscribers, visits, users.

These are some of the most common “vanity metrics” I’ve seen in public transit. They make marketers look good, but they don’t help you measure or improve actual bottom-line results.

The most important metrics for transit marketers are meaningful and actionable. What does that mean, and how do you use them?


It’s common for transit marketers to report what I call output metrics to executives and boards because they’re the biggest numbers available and they prove they’re doing their jobs.

Impressions and reach are good examples. But you might as well report your media spend, because all you have to do is spend more on advertising to boost those numbers. Same goes for traditional channels like direct mail.

It takes courage to report meaningful metrics, or present output metrics in a meaningful way.

I’d suggest presenting output metrics alongside cost metrics (creative, production, media buys, time) for an accurate picture of the wide end of your marketing funnel. Educate your leadership about the importance of reach and frequency to build awareness and consideration, the starting point for more meaningful and actionable metrics.


Metrics are actionable when you understand them, know how to take advantage of them, and know how to manipulate them directly or indirectly.

A digital display ads example:

  • Vanity metric: impressions
  • Cost metric: CPM (cost per thousand impressions)
  • Actionable metric: clicks, or better yet conversion rates and follow-through after those clicks.

Especially when combined with audience segmentation and testing a variety of advertising creative combinations, click rates and conversions can tell marketers where to invest more and less. Responding quickly to these cues leads to better bottom-line results.

The best transit marketers focus on these actionable metrics, helping executives understand how they can inform wise marketing decisions.

Sometimes actionable metrics will suggest a course of action that diverges from what your management and elected officials expect to work. This can be a difficult situation to navigate, but facts are facts.

For example, I often see agency leadership direct transit marketing towards seniors. This may be a major segment of the potential ridership in some communities, but transit riders skew younger in general. A chain of actionable metrics can show how difficult and expensive it is to convert this segment into frequent riders.

If marketers can steer the agenda over time to focus on actionable metrics, then you’ll be in a position to present the facts and let leaders reach their own conclusions.

They may still send you in a less effective direction, but at least you tried!

What’s Your Experience?

Help your fellow transit marketers by sharing your experiences with transit marketing measurement.

  • What metrics do you find most and least meaningful and actionable?
  • What metrics does your leadership use to make decisions?
  • What do you find most difficult to measure?

Leave a Reply