Friday, June 8, 2012

Data analytics: hard numbers don't equal hard facts.

The zeitgeist in my world right now is that if it's measured, it exists. I'm not down with this zeitgeist, especially not in my fuzzy digital B2B marketing universe. Not because of a standard-issue "it's a feeling, man" liberal arts stance. At least not entirely. It's more because I worry that we digitally-oriented marketers often look at the data we collect through the wrong lens, leading us to believe we have answers when we don't even have the right questions.

For example, the standard goal for advertisers since the beginning of time has been customer response to a "call to action." And that continues to be the case. It's like ringing the bell at the top of a hill. You count the number of folks who make the call or start a chat or click the shopping cart. If the bell rings often, bravo! If not, back to the drawing board.

If you're Amazon selling Kindles, that works. If you're Boeing selling Dreamliners, not so much. Most of my clients' offerings are closer to the latter, dominated by large-scale, sophisticated technology products and services for big organizations. Potential customers often fly to client headquarters for executive briefings. Many have been assigned salespeople dedicated to serving their every whim. So I'm skeptical that many quality leads would come from clicking on a CTA button to chat with a college student moonlighting at a contact center. And in fact, that college student might hurt the cause more than help it.

Yet we still hanker for that CTA bell ring.

Why? Because it's measurable. And measurable seems objective, a solid representation of the truth. It is a truth, as long as the data is good, but also potentially also a misrepresentation of the truth, a trickster hiding behind hard numbers to tell tall tales.

Another example. It's tempting to use pure unique visitors as a measuring stick of site effectiveness. My client's site gets millions of hits every year. Good news, right? Problem is, only a small percentage of that audience makes meaningful purchase decisions, and an even smaller percentage makes the big dollar calls.

In an Atlantic article about the fate of news in the digital age, Slate's editor David Plotz says:

"It's not about getting the most readers; it's about getting the 'most best' readers."

Spot-on, at least for my world. So until we get a metric that measures characteristics such as "most best," I'm inclined to be skeptical about many of the marketing conclusions we make from metrics.

This is no lightweight subject, and I plan on revisiting it often. In the meantime, I'm eager for any and all tutelage. So please, tutor away.

2 comments:

  1. Addendum: Of course analytics can be mindblowingly insightful, CTAs (of one kind or other) are critical, and unique visitors can be goal number one. It's not the validity or importance of these tools I'm questioning, but the misinterpretation and overweighting they sometimes receive.

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  2. Analytics should be used to inform, not to limit the universe.

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