Is your marketing data-driven or data-inspired?

While it can feel like you may be getting nowhere with your data, the reality is the insights you derive are becoming more informed, more nuanced – leading to more data-inspired marketing – instead of living solely in a binary, black-and-white world of data and data reports. How can you become inspired by data, and not just driven by the numbers presented on your reporting dashboards?

Analytics can serve several functions for a company

You will not find many companies who would say that data isn’t important – but if you go and ask those companies how they’re using data, they fall into two likely categories:

  1. They expect the data to determine in black-and-white terms what is right and wrong, what’s good and what’s bad.
  2. They want the data to inform their business approach, to provide context and a deeper understanding of business factors.

Is one of those better, or more valuable than the other? Not necessarily. Ultimately, it will depend on the decisions you make and the type of business making them. From a marketing perspective, binary decisions are tough to quantify or fully contextualize because of the multitude of marketing formats any given customer is presented with before making a sale – it would be tough to say if a digital banner, a TV spot, Google search or some combination of factors explicitly led to a sale and why.

While most marketers may want or dream of having a data-driven, quantitative approach, we end up on the data-inspired side.

Can data determine right from wrong?

Well, no – at least not usually in a marketing scenario. But, there are cases where data can be used for that, such as with small binary or tactical decisions. For example, do people prefer a blue M&M or a red M&M? What tends to happen is that these smaller questions with a binary outcome lead to more questions – why did someone prefer the blue over the red? What variables led to that decision and so on. It may feel at this smaller scale that you’re not getting anywhere, when you are really getting more informed with the more questions you ask and have answered.

The key is having your expectations surround the use of data reset ever so slightly. If you are in a business, you need to be honest with what you’re using data and analytics for. If it’s the tactical, micro kinds of decisions you’re relying on data for, then that’s a healthy binary/data-informed environment.

However, if you need to make or consider large-scale changes to the company, to the way the company operates, you’d want to shift your use of data from that binary expectation to being informed and inspired by your data. Those small, binary bits of data should accumulate over time into an informed decision made by more than just numbers.

How this looks in practice

Take small, incremental steps to get smarter about the business over time and get smarter about this decision that you think you’re going to make. That way, it becomes less of a black and white, right vs. wrong hypothesis, and more of a gradual, informed approach to a larger business change.

For example, say you have a client who is not seeing a return on media dollars spent as they have done so the same way for several years. Something needs to change, right? Any type of meaningful and substantial change has to be tested. So, you develop a test in part of your overall media market spend, in a particular city and execute the change. If the test group achieves a good result, and surpasses the threshold established by the traditional approach or a subset (control group), then you know your new approach would be viable.

Knowing that, or having that data test and result in hand, you realize several things: there are likely other variables you identified that you were previously unaware of and you start to think strategically – that maybe you need to throw out some of your original methods. You’re making a data-inspired, strategic decision.

If you or your organization tend to lean more toward being driven by, rather than inspired by data, consider adding more inspiration to your approach and use of data to drive decisions. The potential for uncovering your next “Aha!” moment could be right in front of you.