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What Is(n’t) Your Data Telling You?

By April 17, 2017News & Viewpoints
Charts and analytical data on the tablet screen

Marketers and communications teams live in a time of abundance. Over the last 15+ years, the incredible growth of digital channels has created the opportunity for us to know more than ever before about target audiences, track website visitors’ behavior, and monitor customers’ activity. There is literally so much data being generated, logged, analyzed and packaged that we had to coin the term “big data” to underscore just how much stuff is going on.

An outgrowth of this data has been the explosion of analytics and intelligence tools to help wade through and understand these oceans of information. Between free tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Page Insights and the plethora of paid tools at the modern marketer’s fingertips, it’s understandable that we can fall into the trap of simply reading out the information that is provided rather than first asking ourselves what we’re trying to learn.

How’d that Facebook campaign do? Here’s the CTR. What’s happening on the website? Pageviews are up. The problem is that we’re responding to an inquiry, but we aren’t answering the question in an actionable way.

Know What You Want to Know

The most important part of a measurement plan isn’t how many data points, segments or slices of data can be presented (the answer is universally going to be: lots), but rather the ability to give you meaningful, actionable information and insight. The key is having a good sense of what your program is trying to accomplish and spending time to develop and align your measurement model to those objectives.

Depending on your role and needs, the focus of your plan will vary: it could be about performance (does the page/campaign/ad unit achieve its goal?), conversion (making a sale, capturing a lead, encouraging a download), operations (are the pages loading fast enough/are users finding the most important content) or some other priority.

A measurement framework should provide feedback that helps you evaluate your effort and make adjustments that can improve performance and help you reach your objectives.

Know What You Will Do When You Know

A second critical factor when you look at your data and measurement plan is knowing what you will do/recommend based on the information you’ve collected. Thinking about what action you will take in response to data ahead of time forces you to elevate the information that you need to support decision making and leave behind some of the potentially interesting, but not actionable information that might otherwise add noise to your analysis. For executive reports in particular, this rule should be ruthlessly applied — observational curiosities test the patience of team leaders, who are generally keen to get past the “what happened” to get to the “so what” and “what do you recommend.”

Depending on your role and objectives, the metrics that matter might be very different, and there is no one size fits all solution. The DevOps team for instance is going to be very concerned with things like page load speed and error pages that have no relevance for the sales leadership (until it impacts their conversion rates at least). The content team might be focused on pages that aren’t getting enough visibility. The marketing team could be primarily interested in conversions by channel. Each of these may be the “right” metric for the case. The key is thinking about your measurement plan as a performance gauge can help focus your reporting on what is most important and drive progress towards your goals.

Know When You Know Enough

Once you’ve selected your metrics and confirmed they are actionable, insight can (and should) be produced on an ongoing basis. Your data shouldn’t be looked at exclusively at the conclusion of the campaign or in a quarterly review meeting. The trap to avoid at this stage is over-analysis. We all know it can be tempting to dive into the countless facets of information that can be accessed in a tool like Google Analytics. Resist this temptation!

It’s okay (and fun!) to go exploring from time to time, but work to make sure your measurement stays focused and avoid paralysis by analysis. When you have enough information to make a decision based on your data, stop and implement. 

If your data expands your knowledge and helps you understand what is happening in your digital world — awesome. If it becomes a compulsion, less awesome. Keep your head above water and focus on information that helps you make better decisions and adds value.

The Simple Truth: It’s Still All About Goals

For measurement to produce value, it has to start and end with goals. If you don’t have a solid answer to why the website/communications program/promotional campaign exists, it will be difficult to define what success looks like. On the flip side, if you can’t explain why the measurement you’re looking at supports/influences that success, it will be difficult to make the information actionable.

As you build out your measurement program, ask yourself:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish? ← focus on your goal
  2. What do I need to know from the data to help me reach my goal? ← align measurement to your objectives
  3. What will I do differently based on the information I’m getting? ← Ensure your measurement plan is actionable
  4. What ISN’T the data I’m looking at telling me that I need to know (and how can I get it)? ← Identify/address gaps in your plan

If you can answer all of those questions, you’re on your way to an effective measurement program and getting the most out of your digital data.

Travis Austin is a senior partner in Stratacomm’s Washington, D.C. office, and leads the firm’s digital and creative team. Need help with measuring your communications program? Tell us how we can help you.