October 24, 2016

Mo’ Data, Mo’ Problems. Sometimes.

Let’s face it — We love Big Data. It’s invaluable when it comes to learning lessons from the past and predicting what we can (or should) do in the future.

Big Data is great for helping clients predict which projects will be more successful. It’s also a pretty handy way of proving the value of the tactics you’re already using. However, there’s a ton of confusion about how, when, where, and why to use Big Data, and it all stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of its value to companies. Spoiler alert: It can’t fix all your marketing problems. It can help you find better opportunities to make a bigger impact.

Analysis Paralysis

You have more data at your fingertips than you know what to do with, and it’s tempting to get your hands on all of it because you know how important data can be.

It’s a trap that a LOT of companies fall into: “If we collect all the data, we’ll unlock its secrets to making our marketing tactics produce results!” But it just isn’t that simple, because data capture alone doesn’t actually help you learn anything. Captured data and utilized data (with actionable insights) are very, very different things.

The sheer volume of data isn’t enough to guarantee effectiveness either, and worse, it often muddies the waters too much to even provide you with anything valuable to use. A vast sea of data can be overwhelming enough to derail important decision-making, too. That’s what we call Analysis Paralysis, and it is no bueno. Here’s the cure:

1. Start with a gut check.

It all starts with your marketing strategy. What are you trying to accomplish? Maybe you’re in growth mode with the main goal of acquiring more customers. Maybe you really want to improve conversion rates, so you need to figure out why your customers are coming to your site but not staying or buying.

Once you have a strong goal-centric vision in place, you’ll know which types of data to focus on and what you can do with them. (If you don’t have a marketing strategy, stop everything you’re doing. You need that first. If you don’t know where to start, talk to someone who can help.)

2. Choose wisely.

While the available data may be endless, it’s best to limit yourself to the stuff that’s relevant, reliable, and actionable.

Don’t waste your time with data that has super tight constraints, especially in sample size or time. When it comes to customer behavior or company performance, for example, a daily report is virtually meaningless. Better to go with monthly (or even quarterly) metrics, where you can identify outliers before they ruin big decisions.

Similarly, if you don’t know what to do with a piece of information right now, it’s best to bench it. You can always revisit it later as your marketing strategy evolves, but until you have a clear path for acting on a specific piece of data, don’t bother letting it complicate things.

3. Learn from the best.

Rely on the latest industry and academic perspectives regarding data reports and the marketing strategies they fuel. You can use what others have studied, tried, liked, hated, succeeded, and failed with to create your own set of best practices specific to the types of marketing strategies you want to employ. Armed with those best practices, it’s much easier to zero in on the right types of data and ignore the ones that don’t offer you much benefit.

4. Use context clues.

If you want Big Data to be meaningful, it needs context. Analyze the figures against your buyer persona or journey to learn what these numbers mean in the real world. (Note: Like your marketing strategy, if you don’t have user personas or customer journey maps, get them done ASAP. Yes, it matters. A lot.)

When you put your data into the right context, you’ll see patterns and stories emerge. It might be a time-consuming endeavor, but there is no substitute for taking a thoughtful, contextual look at your data beyond just raw numbers.

One more thing…

Remember that as powerful as it can be, Big Data isn’t a magic pill. It’s another tool to add to your marketing toolbox – and a valuable one, at that. But it takes a lot of time and energy to use data properly, and what’s more, to capture the right types of data in the right ways to actually predict – let alone improve – future performance.

Data can help you build a cohesive marketing strategy and give you targeted insights for refining execution at the campaign and customer level. Data analysis points out problems with your current strategy, giving you suggestions to optimize your performance across multiple marketing channels. It can help you deliver a more personalized and effective experience to your users by defining success.

In short, Big Data doesn’t replace your marketing strategy; it enhances it.