I hate exercise.

I love playing sport, but I’ve always hated getting fit enough to do it really, really well. Even when I was a (not terrible) footballer, playing up front, my game plan of standing around catching my breath for ten minutes at a time, before sprinting onto a through ball for 10 secs was effective, albeit pretty one dimensional. My teammates weren’t particularly keen on carrying a passenger either.

But as I enter middle age, with the spread to prove it, I now have 2 choices. Get fit, or be that guy on those ads who has a heart attack at 45 and misses seeing his children growing up and going to university and getting married. So like lots of other men my age experiencing that similar mid-lycra-crisis, I’ve taken up cycling.

Cycling used to mean getting to your friend’s house as quickly as possible and dumping your Raleigh Grifter out the front of the house while you played football. Now it means proper distances, spare gear for when you have to fix your bike on the go, proper nutrition and hydration, and lots and lots of technology.

I know, right? Technology? On a bike? This is great, because I love technology. Technology is going to give me the data, insights and motivation to push through my hatred of exercise, to deliver better stamina, more endurance and hopefully, a longer life.

My Fitbit monitors my heartrate. Strava tells me how quickly I made it from point A to point B. It also tells me how much elevation I climbed, and how much power I needed to do so. It tracks my ‘segments’ and tells me when I’ve beaten my PB on that climb/sprint, and it also takes all of my data and constructs training plans to tell me how to increase stamina and strength. GoPro captures it all for posterity.

Route, speed, elevation, power, heart rate, climb, descent – all trackable

And all this is important, because having never cycled further than about 3 miles in one go before, I signed up for a 90 mile ‘Sportive’ through the Peak District with 8,500 feet of climb, and have given myself 5 months to get fit. So there’s no backing out of training now – unless I want to come off the Peaks in an ambulance.

And of course, because I have ‘all the gear and no idea’, I don’t really know anything about how one trains for an event like this. Which is why I need a strategy. And a plan. And goals. And tracking. And measurement. And optimisations.

Data is available to track the impact that my activities (campaigns?) have on my fitness and health (my brand performance?)

Which is pretty much my day job as well when I think about it.

When I see clients who are start up businesses who are looking to launch their first campaigns, or more established clients who are keen to expand into new channels such as paid social, they are understandably very focused on their creative message and the value proposition that they have for their target audience. They’ve usually spent a long time investigating who that target audience is and have an understanding of how they should be targeted.

Where they often fall short in their knowledge is in the importance of testing, measuring and optimising to drive performance. I think some brands are still slow to understand that campaigns these days are dynamic and fluid and often end up being very different to that which was planned. This is because we can see real-time data and can set up rules and automation to react to the campaign conditions. Analysis of the data is arguably the most important thing about the campaign. Spotting trends or themes early can make or break the success of the campaign.

So what advice do I have for brands who are seeking to measure the impact of their campaigns more effectively? How do we provide our clients’ Marketing Directors with the data and insights to make them look good in front of their Commercial Director?

Here are some top tips on how to ensure that you’re measuring and optimising effectively:

Be clear on the objectives in advance and make KPIs SMART - depending on the channel or platform you’re using, it’s often possible to set target CPAs and have the campaign auto-optimise to them. At the very least they may be able to give you indicative traffic levels or indicative CPCs in advance to aid your planning.

Have a pre-agreed measurement plan. Base this on the appropriate volume of data collected, rather than time. There’s no point waiting a month to review performance if the data can tell you after a couple of days.

Have a testing matrix and keep it regularly updated. Agree in advance what tests you’re going to perform, how long for, and which proportion of budget you will allocate. If possible (channel dependent) track these tests with unique identifiers so that you can distinguish efficacy – sometimes when you’re testing multiple variables at once, it’s difficult to be clear what’s influenced an uplift (or decline).

Be bold with your optimisations – if you see a trend, act quickly. There are always factors beyond our control such as seasonality or competitor activity, so if you identify a rich seam then exploit it while you can. Because you’re going to continue to optimise, you can always pull back in a week or so if need be – and in any case, the landscape may change quickly and you may lose the opportunity

Layer up. If you have strict ROI or CPA goals – you can still be aggressive, but conservative. Start with a solid core of your campaign which you have strong reason to assume will be effective (brand terms in PPC, for example) and while you build momentum, you can then gradually add layers of incremental targeting, expansion and testing. Keep those that work, and discard and move on from those that don’t. After a while, you’ll have a much broader, scaled campaign, performing to your KPIs

If you have any other thoughts that I haven’t considered, please share them in the comments. The beauty of ongoing testing and optimisation is that there’s always an opportunity to try something new, and learn something more.

I am far more optimistic about my chances of finishing this ride now that I can see a data-powered training plan, with clear targets. I will be modifying my plan as I progress – I’ll probably look at building stamina and aerobic fitness first, before getting into serious hill-climb training. The key thing is, I’ll be able to assess my progress on a weekly basis, and adjust regime, diet, routes etc accordingly to ensure I continue progressing.

Wish me luck!