If marketing were an apple pie, data would be the apples — without data supporting your marketing program, it might look good from the outside, but inside it’s hollow. In a recent survey from Villanova University, 100% of marketers said data analytics has an essential role in marketing’s future. With everyone on board with the importance of data analytics, it’s surprising that as of 2020, only 52.7% of marketers were actually using analytics in their marketing efforts (according to Marketing Evolution), and only 9% of marketers polled by Gartner’s Marketing Data and Analytics Survey said their company has a strong understanding of how to effectively use data analytics.
This illuminates a disconnect: Marketers understand data’s significance, but they don’t know how to use it to best serve their business objectives. Becoming a data-minded marketer is a process, and the stats clearly show a large number of marketers are still engaged in that process. With a little guidance, you can avoid some common marketing analytics mistakes to make your data journey smoother.
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Mistake #1: Bringing data into marketing too late
That feeling of figuring out the perfect anecdote for an ad, tagline for a brand, or video concept for a new product launch is what keeps so many marketers going. That’s why it’s understandable that having to nix a brilliant idea because it doesn’t align with your data is painful — it’s also often necessary; you must learn to kill your darlings. This is a place where data can help marketers make smarter decisions, versus going with gut instinct.
When you choose to ignore the directions data dictates, you could be choosing to ignore the main objective of marketing: to connect with your audience and inspire users to take action.
“There’s this tendency to build an idea and assume it’s going to be effective, but what marketers need to do is take a step back and let data inform development,” says Deven Wisner, Managing Partner of Viable Insights, a data evaluation firm that specializes in helping business build stronger data foundations to improve organizational success. “We need to be willing to reflect along the way, pivot when needed, and be agile — data allows us to do this, but we need to build the mentality of leading with data.”
This mindset is still something many marketers need to adopt. In a recent Gartner survey, 32% of marketers said that data conflicting with their intended course of action was ignored. However, as Deven states, avoiding data insights and going with your gut is like choosing all the wrong answers on a test despite your professor giving you the right ones. Data can’t help your marketing efforts if you won’t let it.
Bonus tip from the mind of a marketer:
“Data and creative should live together,” says Partnership Director of Kicks Digital Marketing Brooke Heffernan. “When you discover data that means something, you need to be agile enough to make experimental changes.”
However, Brooke cautions marketers to still put creative efforts at the forefront of business objectives and have them supported by data, not controlled by it.
“Data doesn’t need to define creative; however it is so insightful to target where you market and give you a deep understanding of your audience and how they behave,” Brooke continues. “If you know who your audience is, where they are, and what they care about, you’ve solved half your equation. Data makes a big difference here.”
- Pull data before beginning a major marketing project
- Use your findings to define your key audiences and their behaviors
- Use data to build creative ideas to reach your audience
Mistake #2: Choosing the wrong data visualization to present your data
Data visualizations are graphic representations of data. Instead of seeing rows upon rows of data and trying to discern a meaning, visualizations display essential information in the form of charts, graphs, line plots, scatter plots, word clouds, infographics — anything that visually tells the story of your data.
These visuals are often used to build dashboards, which allow users to view crucial data all in one place, and they are customizable based on each user and their needs. The trouble is, marketers aren’t necessarily data experts, and without background knowledge, choosing the right data visualizations to represent your data can be overwhelming.
“A lot of people want to pick the sexiest or coolest visual, but that’s where we end up completely misrepresenting our data,” Deven says. “Sometimes we pick the chart before we know our data. We must first know the data to find the visualization that fits.”
By diving into your data before you have your heart set on a visual, you can effectively determine which graphic will tell your data’s story best. For example, if you are looking to discover your most profitable months in the last year, a scatter plot would likely be a confusing choice. A bar chart organized from lowest to highest profitability would be a better option as it would allow users to see insights with ease.
Work with your org’s in-house data experts to build analytics into your workflows that will make sense to all your users and drive meaningful decisions.
Mistake #3: Making vanity metrics your main event
Every marketer knows that your energy, creativity, and sometimes sanity go into making captivating work. There’s nothing better than learning a video went viral or a social campaign generated thousands of likes, follows, and comments … or is there?
It’s easier now than ever to lose sight of what’s truly important in marketing: generating leads that turn into conversions, turning conversions into loyal customers, and evolving loyal customers into brand advocates. When the primary focus becomes likes, retweets, follows, and comments — also known as vanity metrics — marketing efforts become less meaningful for your long-term goals.
Vanity metrics ebb and flow like a tidal wave, meaning they can easily consume your marketing efforts. It’s crucial to balance the data from these metrics with that of engagement metrics (the data that ignites customer action). Think of vanity metrics as a supporting layer that is peeled back to reveal core metrics, such as brand interaction, lead generation, and conversions.
“Vanity metrics aren’t useless. They can be important for brand awareness, but they don’t necessarily equate to sales,” Brooke says. “Vanity metrics should be your keyboardist, not your lead vocalist.”
Mistake #4: Relying too heavily on data
Record scratch — yes, there is such a thing as putting too much emphasis on your data and not enough on your people. Marketing is a human-centered industry often fueled by emotion and grown by inspiration. Taking people out of the decision-making equation is a fast way to lose your impact and actually dilute your data.
“Too often we expect data to give us all the answers, but in reality, humans are a really important part of decision-making,” Deven says. “Without people, data is just information floating around.”
When presented with data, it’s you and your team who will make impactful work out of rows of information and visualizations. Data doesn’t have the ability to build copy, well-designed campaigns, ads, and videos — your people do. When we use data as a fundamental part of building meaningful work, that’s where we find value.
“Your people, your process, your performance always matter,” Brooke says. “Data is a piece of the puzzle and a valuable tool if it’s used in order of priority within marketing, but you can’t forget the human factor.”
Mistake #5: Failing to build a data-focused culture
“You don’t know what you don’t know — not everyone is a data expert,” Deven says. But not being a data analytics guru doesn’t mean there isn’t room to become a novice, intermediate, and eventually knowledgeable resource.
“A marketer may not be an expert at data analytics, but what you need to think about is, How can you become even 10% better at it?” Deven says. “The answer is you need to build a data-focused culture.”
This doesn’t happen overnight or even within a few months. True data culture must involve continued education, efforts, and engagement from marketing leadership and senior management all the way through to junior employees. If everyone accepts and embraces data analytics as a cornerstone of marketing, that is when culture begins to emerge.
This process can be difficult, especially when the topic of data has become as trendy as customized face masks and as popular as Marvel movies. Like anything in marketing, doing something for the sake of doing it will never lead to success. This mentality needs to be implemented when building data culture as well. Don’t just do it because data is a buzzword; do it for the extended health of your marketing efforts and business.
“People collect data all the time without knowing how to use it,” Deven says. “It’s essential to shift the focus away from data being this cool thing and refocus on how we can embed data into organizations for a true organizational shift.”
As a digital marketer, Brooke describes the process of building a data culture as self-awareness for your agency.
“You can learn to love your body and it still be a work in progress, and that’s how it should be creating a data-minded marketing culture — you need to appreciate where you are, what you’ve learned, and create realistic next steps to achieve your goals.”
No one has to become a bona fide data analyst for this culture to thrive, but there does need to be a foundation of basic principles that marketers must appreciate so data can become a priority. Once this basis for analytics appreciation has been seeded, infusing analytics into workflows will take your organization the rest of the way to becoming truly data-driven, putting the right piece of actionable intelligence in front of the right person at the right time, in the right way for them to make the best decision possible.
“There are some really powerful insights out there,” Brooke says. “And it’s never a bad time to start becoming aware.”
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Madie Szrom is a Content Writer at Sisense. She has more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing, working with the City of Indianapolis, Riley Children’s Hospital, Viable Insights, and others. She’s been published in Shore Magazine, the Indy Star, and Time Out Chicago. Her long-term literary goal is to write a book of essays and be published in the New York Times.