Back to Basics: How every marketer can tame the analytics beast
Incorporating analytics into your work isn't as challenging as you might think once you find the right resources (and many are free).
For most marketers, analytics exists in a magic Pandora’s box, encompassing everything from CPCs to CTRs, from algorithms to artificial intelligence, from machine learning to quantum computing — with a bit of blockchain sprinkled in for good measure.
Buzzwords aside, the barriers to incorporating analytics into your life aren’t as high as analytics behemoths may make it seem. To the contrary, once you clarify a few misconceptions, you can make this seemingly enigmatic field not only relevant but also remarkably useful.
You don’t need an Excalibur
Cost is an often-cited obstacle to starting a data journey. Despite the shiny advertisements you may see for Adobe’s Marketing Cloud (which costs upwards of $100,000 a year) and the dozens of LinkedIn messages you get from martech salespeople; you don’t need Fortune 500 money to take a stab at unlocking analytics. Google Analytics, Google Search Trends, Hotjar and HubSpot are just a few examples of industry-standard platforms that can dramatically improve your decision-making capabilities for free.
Even better, these platforms are made for data amateurs. Their interfaces are straightforward, and if you get lost, there are countless tutorials, help forums, boot camps and even classes to help you. Google also offers a certification program for Google Analytics, complete with videos and walkthroughs. It’s perfect for anyone who needs a place to start.
Don’t let the tool guide the craftsman
Marketers often forget that data is merely a tool. Expecting a Google Analytics tag to fix your website is like throwing a hammer at your newly opened IKEA purchase and expecting a sofa to emerge.
In other words: Collecting data is the easy part. Understanding what to do with all this info is where the magic happens.
So, spend a few weeks studying how to interpret data. Bootcamps and classes are always helpful, but the secret that every engineer already knows is that Youtube and Google are your best friend. Dig out your notes from that statistics class in college and learn how to run a simple correlation in Excel. An investment of your time today learning how to interpret data will pay dividends for the rest of our career.
There are no sure things in marketing. Even scientists (and yes, I mean the ones in lab coats) often need years of data collection, rigorous modeling and endless testing to prove a hypothesis. And that’s in a lab. Imagine what happens in the real world, where things are constantly changing and driven by deadlines.
In this chaos, it’s no surprise that data rarely provides a bullet-proof answer. Sure, you can add more expensive technology, but it’s important to remember that, as marketers, we’re dealing in the realm of probability, not exact certitude.
What’s more, it’s okay to be wrong. Take every failure as a badge of honor; minimizing risk does not mean avoiding it entirely. A 95 percent chance of sunshine tomorrow still means that rain is a possibility, but also, your decision to not bring an umbrella isn’t necessarily incorrect. Make peace with the risk as long as you separate logic from emotion. In the long run, your data-driven approach will result in far more wins than losses.
You’re a solver of problems, not a creator of reports
All too often, people associate analytics with reporting. While reporting is critical, it is merely a means to an end. No business has ever been transformed by a single report.
Data is meant to be used as an unbiased means to test something. Nowhere in that definition does it stipulate that you must create daily, weekly or even monthly reports.
As we’ve seen, data takes time to collect. And while you should consistently check your data, it’s up to you to find the reporting cadence that works best for your team.
Then, instead of focusing on frequency, you can focus on presentation quality. Data is like a foreign language; it’s only useful if someone else understands what you’re saying. So, make sure your reports are thoroughly readable. Be concise, use visuals and err on the side of plain language. Above all, always return to the core business problem you’re trying to solve.
Next steps in your journey
Contrary to conventional wisdom, analytics isn’t shorthand for building sophisticated statistical models. Properly understood, analytics is a philosophy that embodies something much simpler: applying the scientific method to test your educated guesses. Whether you’re running a simple paid Facebook campaign or trying to get into shape for that Bahamas cruise this summer, you can leverage data to make more targeted, meaningful choices.
The reason you’ve read this far is that we agree on a key point: every marketer needs to integrate analytics to succeed in this digital world. In an age where it’s hard to keep up with the jargon, I fully empathize with those who view “analytics” as some enormous, mystical beast. On the contrary, understand that analytics is much more like a puppy; managing your data may be a little unruly at first, but with enough consistent training and respect, the lessons you learn will last you a lifetime.
A data journey can start tomorrow with nothing but a problem to solve or a hypothesis to prove (and a laptop with an internet connection).
So tell me, what are you waiting for?
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