Delving Deeper Into the Meaning of Performance

Throughout 2007 I had the unique experience of interviewing on camera more than 50 highly respected digital media professionals about their views on "performance," asking them to define performance, both as it pertains to online advertising and in their life outside of work. My unprecedented front-row seat to some of the most brilliant minds in our industry was as inspiring as it was educational.

Having recently completed "The Performance Interviews," I'm excited to share my account of what we learned.

Our study in performance turned up several unexpected gems, but the common threads were just as meaningful in their ability to define our collective understanding of performance through so many unique voices of experience.

By far, the most common definition of performance had to do with setting goals, defining objectives and putting metrics in place to know whether or not you are performing against them--something echoed by Paul Santello, Drew Ianni and Brad Berens. Moreover, several people said that performance is when you exceed performance, a sentiment shared by Dawn Dumont, Mark Ribaudo, Mark Lam and others.

Amir Shaikh of Merriam-Webster shared the dictionary definition of performance as the "fulfillment of a claim, promise or request." He also described how performance is what you define it to be, and that it is a subjective, relative measure based on one's perception of what constitutes performance. A related thought offered by Rick Parkhill, Lori Schwartz, Amy Auerbach and others was the fact that not all performance is positive. There is actually such a thing as negative or bad performance, illustrating the importance of having a clear definition of what is good performance in order to know when you achieve it.

Another common theme had to do with evolution, and the ever-changing nature of performance--something mentioned by Amir Shaikh, Carrie Lane and Jeffrey Adelson-Yan. The notion of performance as a constantly moving target was captured best by Amy Auerbach, who suggested that you can always do better--and part of continually performing is accepting the fact that it's a process and not a destination, and you may never actually get there. Dana Todd spoke about "surfing chaos" and the learning that emerges from going through the process.

Other themes included being prepared, performing together and the importance of people and teamwork. The concept of a balanced lifestyle was also used to define performance. Some invoked Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest. Others suggested that life itself is a performance, and the idea that performance is occurring all around us, all the time, and at every level of life--in every conversation we have, every errand we run, from the actors on a stage to the delivery person who brings food to our door.

From a more pragmatic standpoint, some went right to the fundamental business proposition of whether or not our actions resulted in an intended audience buying a company's product or services. Randy Rothenberg articulated this best when he suggested performance is "the growth of our clients' businesses through engaging end-audiences and being as accountable as possible."

Some of the more unexpected and insightful concepts of The Performance Interviews included Rex Briggs' commentary on performance, at its core, having a degree of innovation associated with it. When the cameras stopped rolling after my interview with Rex, he challenged me to look beyond the most common performance themes, suggesting that the most interesting findings would lie in the opposing viewpoints, or those--like his--that were entirely unexpected.

Taddy Hall described performance as doing things to "change the rules of the game." Carrie Lane expressed the need for a new metric to gauge the success of video advertising. And Bob DeSena called for a deeper understanding of the implications of consumers being in control, and what that means to how we should perform with respect to content, targeting, engagement and audience measurement.

In addition to references to running by Paul Santello, Tim Hand and Bob DeSena, other metaphors for performance included Bill Jeffries' description of preparing for a challenging rock climb and Gay Gaddis' firsthand account of longhorn cattle breeding.

During each interview I asked what person embodies performance, and why. In addition to multiple mentions of Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Madonna, some of the more interesting answers ranged from "my wife" or "my grandfather" to names like Abe Lincoln, Jimi Hendrix, Penn & Teller, John Wooden, and organizations including The New York Yankees and Zildjian.

The purpose of The Performance Interviews was to explore the definition of this overused online advertising term, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a depth of meaning and importance underlying what might otherwise be considered a cliché. The more I peeled back the layers of this topic with each subject, the more I found myself inspired to perform at a higher level in my own business and in life. I hope you will be too.

Next story loading loading..