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7 Warning Signs Your Marketing Isn’t Data Driven

Posted on 12.10.2015

:: Heather Burton, Webtrends ::


All marketers say they are – or want to be – data driven in their decision making.

They want to base strategy and spend on solid facts about which campaigns work and which don’t. They want to make changes to their websites and other digital properties based on a crystal clear understanding of how customers behave and interact while on those sites. They want a rock solid connection between key performance indicators (KPIs) and the data that confirms the success or failure of their goals. 

Unfortunately, most marketers are not making data-driven decisions on a regular basis.  

To be a truly data-driven marketing department, your team will likely need to leverage data from a number of systems (CRM, e-commerce, marketing automation, etc.), but it’s essential to have a strong foundation using digital analytics. Digital analytics – ideally tracking a comprehensive mix of Web, social, app and other digital properties – provide accountability for meeting goals and give visibility into the all-important customer interactions with your company. And it’s not just about having analytics anymore. Today, it’s about collecting the right data for your business, having the right processes in place to analyze and share that data, and being able to quickly turn insights into action to reach your goals. That’s easier said than done.     

Below are seven warning signs that you’re not using analytics to boost your data-driven marketing – and some ideas for how you can avoid or overcome them. 

Warning Sign #1: Measurement isn’t part of your marketing planning process. 

Your team spends countless hours developing new content, planning innovative product launches, setting up new advertising campaigns, and the like. If the initial planning sessions for those efforts don’t include a discussion on how to measure success with data, there’s trouble on the horizon. 

The downfalls of not planning for measurement until a new campaign is launched are steep. Let’s say you’re a B2B company and you deploy a new landing page with a whitepaper (goal: lead generation). You’re planning to spend a good chunk of budget on promoting that piece of content through channels such as PPC, paid social and banner ads on key publication sites. If you didn’t determine a measurement strategy up front, how will you know which channel drove the most (quality) traffic and the most leads? How will you measure success and make more informed plans next time? 

Solution: Data-driven marketing requires a culture of measurement – it must always be part of the conversation at your organization. Sure, it’ll take time, but it is the foundation for building future success. You can get started by: 

Identifying the areas to measure that will help your team get the most value and insight. Start by asking what is most important to your business. In addition, look at the areas where decisions are being made without data. Prioritize those areas that fit both.

Focusing on campaign measurement as most marketing teams usually spend a good deal of money in this area. Be sure you have a strategy using tracking codes on URLs so that you can see exactly what’s happening with your spend.  

Identifying benchmarks from past performance and setting goals based on those numbers.

Warning Sign #2: People in your organization don’t trust the numbers.

This one is a doozy, and unfortunately, very common. Eighty-one percent of companies believe data is essential to their marketing success, but a whopping 84 percent of organizations are experiencing data quality challenges, according to a recent Experian Data Quality study

If people don’t trust the accuracy of your analytics, the most powerful outcome from the data goes out the window: action. 

Solution: Boost trust in your data by taking these steps: 

Have a validation process to ensure you’re collecting the right data to answer important business questions. Is your site tagged properly to measure what you need to measure? If you don’t know, you can audit your tags using a technology like ObservePoint.

Educate your team. Data and analytics literacy is important. For example, if someone on your team pulls a report using the wrong metrics or date range, they may think the data isn’t accurate but it’s actually the setup of the report that is incorrect.

You’ll never have 100 percent perfect data (because of click fraud, browser crashes, bots, etc.), but you should have a standard for data accuracy that everyone agrees to. For example, the acceptance of 98 percent accuracy, which will allow you to move on to taking action on the data you have rather than being mired down trying to chase the 2 percent that doesn’t really matter.

Identify and agree on critical metrics. Then, compare apples to apples. Don’t start comparing results between tools such as a marketing automation platform and a Web analytics solution. Pick the right tool and metrics for the job and stick with them.

Warning Sign #3: You’re only looking at traffic and pageviews. 

Imagine this: Your latest campaign just kicked off and you see the pageviews start to increase. Suddenly, there’s a rush of excitement. You’re glued to the dashboard watching for more views, but then you realize…does this really matter? Who cares if the campaign drove a 25 percent increase in traffic, if your conversions are down by 3 percent?

There are vanity metrics and there are actionable metrics. When you start tracking a campaign or scenario, you need to think about whether it will help you take action, make decisions and meet your business goals. If not, don’t focus on it. In general, actionable metrics will help you measure business performance around revenue, customers or specific functions and user behavior relative to the experience on your digital properties.

Solution: Data-driven marketers pay attention to the metrics that really matter. To know what those are, don’t look at the list of dashboards and reports – instead, start by asking questions about your business. What are the key indicators for the health of your business? These likely include financial metrics (e.g. margin, profit, ROI), marketing leads, trials and customer lifetime value. Pick the top few that matter. Then, look at your analytics to figure out how to get at those metrics, which may fall into these categories: 

Campaign performance – measure the success of your inbound marketing investments

Conversion rates – understand who is converting and where

A/B/n test results – know which experiences are delivering for users

Paths and funnels – look at the flow of visitors into your different scenarios and the results to identify issues or untapped opportunities

Warning Sign #4: Everyone sees the same data.

You’re collecting data that may mean nothing to someone and everything to another. If all stakeholders in your organization have access to the same dashboard or set of reports, then you’re certainly missing the mark with some of your audience. Remember, when people are overwhelmed by a sea of data, you can bet on the fact that many will tune out. 

Solution: Provide value to your stakeholders by customizing their experiences and delivering the right data, at the right level and in the right way. Keep in mind:

With dashboards, reports and data visualization tools, it has never been easier to present appropriate analytics data to key stakeholders. 

Data needs to be relevant to the role of the person. Marketing managers should get one view to help them measure and understand day-to-day results for their programs and campaigns. The social media manager should have a customized dashboard of KPIs relevant to social channels. Execs should have a view relevant to their needs— likely a roll-up, high-level dashboard that shares business results.

There are many easy-to-use options to present data in a way that helps tell a story. Tools like Power BI, Tableau and Klipfolio are democratizing data analysis and storytelling. These visualization tools can help you combine all your data sources to the right views to the right pairs of eyes. 

Warning Sign #5: You can’t answer questions on the fly.

Have you ever looked at a report and it brought up more questions than answers? Or, more likely, have you been asked follow-up questions when you present reports to others that you can’t answer immediately?  

When you see unexpected behaviors or anomalies in your data, you need to be able to answer those questions and drill down deeper. The thirst for information is unlikely to be quenched by one static report.  

Solution: Use ad hoc analysis to complement trend reports and dashboards. 

Getting more data than a snapshot report can provide the insight needed to adjust campaigns or customer experiences. Ad hoc data exploration can provide insights such as:

Specific details about visitors exhibiting interesting behaviors in a report – look at geography, device, etc.

Finding the common thread – time, segment, content, etc.

Following the outlier – look for the outlier and continue to dig until you find the correlating group of events, users, pages, etc.

Self-service ad hoc analysis is helpful for marketing managers to answer their own questions on campaigns and digital properties. This approach allows valuable data analyst resources to stay focused on empowering executives with in-depth analysis and recommendations. 

Warning Sign #6: There’s no analytics training for new employees. 

Employee turnover is inevitable, but when one walks out the door holding the great majority of your company’s analytics knowledge and there’s no one waiting in the wings, your efforts are going to take a major step back.  

Solution: Both analysts and end-users should be properly trained on your analytics technology and your internal processes and governance. For most companies, it’s vital to have a dedicated analyst on staff, as well as a backup. There are certification programs available for analytics proficiency that can be beneficial. Formal documentation and governance of the following will help with smooth training:  

Report and dashboard organization

Roles and data access permissions

Integrations with other data sources and data analysis tools

Tag structure

Warning Sign #7: You’re not making decisions based on what the data is telling you.

If your program is all report, report, report and no action, there’s a problem. The real value in analytics is when it’s a catalyst for positive business change. If you are just collecting and analyzing data without communicating insights and recommendations, than it’s likely your team doesn’t understand it. 

Solution: Solid governance of your analytics program that defines roles, responsibilities and processes is key. With a solid foundation, work to tell a story with the data. Explain what the data reveals now as compared to the past and identify specific opportunities for change. Take those opportunities and implement a culture of consistent of testing, hypothesizing and applying learnings. 

Put in place the solutions outlined above and without warning, you’ll become a data-driven marketing pro.


Bio: Heather Burton is the Senior Manager of Marketing for Webtrends. Her team leverages insights from data to drive content strategy, advertising spend and website development.    

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