Side View Of Businesspeople Examining Graph On Computer At Workplace

Businesses have never had as much access to data as they do today. In the age of digital marketing, a massive amount of information is collected on everyone and everything connected to the Internet. The ease and scale with which a marketer can conduct research, track user behavior and connect the dots between dollars spent and consumer action were inconceivable just a few short decades ago. So why is it still such a struggle to turn this data into something useful?

I regularly see two major areas of frustration in the world of marketing analytics. There are digital campaign reports, dashboards and presentations bursting with widgets and charts that don’t actually say anything. These include scorecards with raw metrics like website bounce rates without context. Time series charts plotting click-through-rate (CTR) over time that show no variation. Tables listing cost-per-thousand (CPM) for each site advertised on and analysis saying one site cost two cents less on average, therefore it must be the “winner.” In short, a bunch of raw, likely trivial data with “analysis” disconnected from what is important to stakeholders in a company.

The second area of frustration I see is many businesses don’t even have these reports. Their marketing team or agency provides little to no information and they struggle for any informative way to make decisions. I am not entirely sure which situation is worse.

With a topic as complex and multifaceted as data analytics, where do I begin? I have a simple suggestion: a company’s goals.

The number one question I ask when discussing a marketing campaign and the data collected is, “What are we trying to achieve?” When I ask this I don’t want to hear, “Get a good CTR” or “increase site traffic.” I want to know what the business goals are.

This should be a simple answer. “We have a product or service to sell.” It should be specific. “Product X is our leader; product Y is struggling.” It should be measurable. “We need to see a 10% increase in sales in the next quarter or product Y is gone.”

Knowing why I am marketing on behalf of a company dictates what data to focus on. Not every situation is about selling a product. Not every campaign will be able to directly measure the business goal. Marketers still need to find a way to tie their activities to larger business objectives just like every other department. That should drive the strategy – what is tracked and ultimately how the data is analyzed.

In a scenario like the one above, a marketing campaign can be used to reach a targeted audience and tell people about the benefits or key differentiators of a product. I might recommend retargeting an audience through various advertising channels leading people who are exposed to ads toward a measurable outcome. There are thousands of things that can be measured and reported on along the way. Just because one can measure and report on every one of those things, doesn’t mean one should.

I use data analysis and reporting to explain how marketing activities lead to measurable outcomes that ultimately serve business goals. Hundreds of marketing metrics are used by tacticians to increase performance and make decisions. The CEO doesn’t need to hear that tale.

In our “product Y is tanking” scenario I might ultimately send potential customers to a website. I often see dashboards and reports filled with metrics like bounce rate, time on site, pages per visit and other metrics from Google Analytics. This is where I ask another simple question. “What do we want people to do on the site?”

When people are visiting many web pages it might be a good indication that they are engaged. It could also be an indication that the information they are looking for is difficult to find. A metric like bounce rate could indicate low activity. If the action we want visitors to take is to call the phone number listed on a landing page and they call, it doesn’t matter if the bounce rate was 100%. They did what we wanted them to do.

Focusing on goals gives meaning to metrics. All the data and metrics used to express information only make sense in the context of how they relate to a desired outcome. These need to be measurable activities that indicate whether people, if influenced by marketing, will ultimately take the desired action.

For a marketing campaign these goals aren’t always direct sales of a product or service. They could be activities like signing up to receive an information packet, downloading a document, viewing a video, filling out an application, calling a trackable phone number, subscribing to a newsletter. Things that indicate the people being sent to a sales team from a campaign are likely to convert.

There are also times when simply exposing audiences to information can be valuable. For example focusing on growing the reach and frequency of a digital advertising campaign in a new market or from a coveted target audience displays real impact. Growing likes, subscribes, comments and shares from these groups can indicate marketing is having an impact with our newfound audience.

The crux of this is simple…use data to understand if marketing actions impact goals. Don’t focus on whether marketing metrics are simply rising. Uninformative reporting is almost always metric-focused, not goal-focused. I often see raw data and vanity metrics thrown in a dashboard or a report with the hope that insight will jump out eventually. It won’t.

You may be a marketer working with an agency or vendor, a business leader looking over a report from your team, or a sales director staring down the marketing person you don’t quite “get” finding yourself unsure what it all means and struggling to move the conversation forward. Be the person that asks the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?” Then ask, “Does any of this tell me if we are doing it?”

Originally published by the Rochester Business Journal