What You Lose When Data Collection Is An Afterthought

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Once looked at as optional, gathering, mining, manipulating, and understanding data is a staple for nearly every marketing team. As marketers move into additional marketing channels, juggling multiple data sources makes it more challenging and exasperating to understand the value of each different channel’s contribution to their marketing activities.

If you’re like the majority of marketers, the problem is not collecting data—that is easy to do—rather, it’s making sense of the vast amount of data and using that insight to create and organize actionable items that will bear fruit for your business.

The reality of being a good marketer means you have to be a good data analyst. However, you don’t have to be part of the 68 percent of marketers who consider data the most painful part of their job. You don’t have to operate in a murky data ecosystem—you can find clarity by focusing your marketing experiments with data outcomes from the start.

There are ways to take data and continuously draw meaningful and accurate insight from it, all while boosting return on investment for your company.

The key: Don’t make data collection an afterthought.

In this article, we’ll tell you what you stand to lose when data collection is an afterthought and how to avoid this common scenario. After this, you’ll be able to build iterative marketing experiments and shine as a marketer without getting burned out by analysis paralysis.

What You Stand to Lose

For many marketers, the process of pulling together data points often occurs after a campaign has run, and it is a means to evaluate the campaign’s performance. But this is a short-sighted way of thinking. In this way, data collection becomes an afterthought.

A successful marketing campaign begins and ends with data collection—period. Otherwise, what you lose are:

  • Leads and sales opportunities - Data, when drawn before a campaign and during, can tell you a lot about customer preferences and trends, as well as where customers are struggling the most with your business’s products or services. You can make adjustments based on these insights and redirect the course of a poor-performing campaign, or thrust a well-performing campaign into overdrive.
  • Perspective on campaign outcomes - Repeatable revenue streams are critical to growing your business. You should be able to point to a specific campaign and invest more heavily into it.
  • Proven value to your business - The ability to measure costs is key, but having the ability to measure the business results that come from marketing strategies will drive better business conversations around marketing.
  • ROI for your company - When you measure, manage, and accurately analyze marketing performance through data analysis, you optimize ROI by minimizing wasted marketing dollars.

How to Draw Insights from Analytics

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed after you’ve gathered weeks worth of data on your digital marketing campaigns. As you sit there staring at large sets of documents or analytics dashboards, you could think to yourself, “Where do I start? What is the data telling me? What does all of this mean?”

Take a sigh of relief, because you aren’t the only one.

Data causes marketers the most pain in their jobs. A survey of more than 500 marketers, found:

  • 48 percent struggle to understand how marketing activities contribute to sales.
  • 47 percent struggle to turn data into insights.
  • 45 percent struggle to turn insights into actionable items.
  • 37 percent struggle to move data between systems.

The majority of this pain stems from organizing and making sense of large volumes of data collected. In essence, marketers have more data than they know what to do with and they don’t have the right tooling in place to clearly see actionable feedback. The result is marketers operating in a murky data ecosystem.  

If you don’t have a process in place to break your data into digestible pieces and objectively interpret it, you could end up with no insights or, equally as bad, false insights—both of which can be extremely costly to your business.

Here are some steps to effectively and accurately interpret your data:

1. Narrow Your Focus

Analysis paralysis occurs when marketers try to analyze everything. While every piece of data can seem important, it’s not. Instead, narrow your focus to the metrics that will provide the most relevant insights for your business.

Your business type, industry, target audience, and revenue model will affect the relevance of different metrics, so do research and have discussions with your team to determine the KPIs most important to your business. This could be:

  • Conversion rate
  • Total revenue
  • Average order value
  • Orders completed
  • Cart abandonment rate
  • Drop-off rate within the checkout process
  • Visits
  • Page views
  • Leads generated
  • Clickthrough rates

Once your primary and secondary KPIs are defined, you’ll know what metrics to pull and analyze.

By going into the process knowing what you’re looking for, you’ll be far more productive than going in blind.

2. Be Impartial

Confirmation bias has caused many marketers to have selective thinking when it comes to analyzing data—they favor or seek information that confirms their hypothesis and ignore anything that contradicts it. This leads to statistical errors.

Once you determine what metrics you will analyze, you should not only analyze them objectively, but run repeated tests to confirm your findings.

3. View Data from Every Angle

Data tells you more than what is happening. If you dig deep enough, you can determine why it is happening. This is the true nature of data insight—not just seeing what is happening, but searching for why it is happening.

When you know why a campaign is performing as it is, you put yourself in position to effectively optimize and strategize. You’ll be able to reverse the course of poor-performing campaigns and develop formulas you can repeat to get the same or better results out of well-performing campaigns.  

To get to the “why” of every campaign, you have to look at data from a variety of angles.

For example, you see a high bounce rate. The “what” in this equation is people are not clicking beyond the first page. They gloss over the content and its context, then leave shortly thereafter.  

Rather than just assume people don’t like the page, think of other possible reasons:

  • Could it be page load time is too high?
  • Where are the majority of customers coming from? What’s their expectation when they get here?
  • Are you lacking continuity? Where are you asking customers to go?
  • Are consumers finding it difficult to understand the value of your product or service?

Pulling and comparing multiple metrics, as well as conducting exit/consumer surveys, will answer these questions, and give you your “why.”

Now, this brings us to the next point.

4. Analyze Multiple Metrics Together

A single metric examination can provide false results/insights. To get a more accurate interpretation, you will need to look at how different metrics relate to one another.

For instance, you see an average visit duration of 3 minutes for a specific section of the site. After you launch your advertising campaign, you see this number drop—1 minute and visitors move on. This should raise a flag, especially if you know time on that page requires more than 1 minute and that conversion rates go up as time on the page goes up.

If you were to just look at the one metric—average visit duration—by itself, you might assume that the campaign was a failure. While this may be true, the change in average visit duration could also signal that the campaign was a success, that consumers were able to see the value of your product or service faster and moved through the funnel more quickly.

But you’d never know if you just looked at this one metric.

In fact, Marketingexperiments.com faced a similar issue, only in reverse. They were working with a B2B company and noticed the average visit duration to be almost 40 minutes, which is very high. The company’s site has several pages with a lot of content, including video interactives.

At first glance, Marketing Experiments could have interpreted this as people are reading and interacting with the pages. But they chose to compare this metric to the number of pages per visit—and the results showed them something different!

When they looked at the number of pages per visit, visitors were only spending time on 1.5 pages. This drew alarm for their marketing team because the likelihood someone would spend nearly 40 minutes on 1-2 pages is low.

They then threw in a third metric, looking to the most viewed page, which turned out to be the homepage. It is bare compared to other pages, having only a little content.

The more they dug, the more they learned “why” average visit duration was so high. It turns out that one of the links on the homepage opened to a new tab and the homepage was still open in visitor browsers—they were passed to a different page in a separate tab.

Had they settled with their first assumption based on a single metric, it would have cost the client handsomely. This is why you need to look at multiple metrics together, so you can better interpret the data and get to the “why.” Answering the question “why”—and asking yourself the question at least three times as you explore your data—will help you comprehend your visitors’ thought process and conclude what works and what doesn’t work on your site.

How to Ensure Future Data Collection Isn't an Afterthought

OK, you know what you can lose and how you can draw insights from data, but do you know how to ensure you don’t slip back into old habits later?

Use these tips to make sure future data collection isn't an afterthought:

1. Have a Clear Strategy

A clear strategy aligned to business objectives will lead to better data management and insights.

We use a Digital Strategy Map. Unlike a documented digital strategy, which can be rigid and hard to adhere to when deploying marketing strategies, this 2-D map follows an agile marketing methodology.

Rather than using a documented strategy that is built out with long-term projections and doesn’t provide the flexibility to adapt to changes in the marketplace or consumer behavior, Digital Strategy Maps allow our team to work on digital campaigns from month-to-month. Along the way we track our KPIs, test, gather data and brainstorm as a team to understand how certain campaigns are performing (and why).

Armed with this knowledge, we take those insights and make them actionable for the next month, repeating the same process of tracking, testing, gathering and conceptualizing.

But they do so much more for us. They:

  • Surface and document our customer’s journey - As the map spans each phase of our customer’s journey, we gain insight into the fears, motivators, demotivators, and educational hurdles consumers face as they interact with our company and products or services.
  • Assess where our digital strategy pain points are - Not enough customers in the top of the funnel? Proposals not getting sent out fast enough? Discussions around the flow of the customers through the digital experience are easier for us to envision, and that creates dynamic discussions around competing priorities.
  • Visualize the different fronts where you are trying to make improvements - As we roll out our agile digital strategies month-to-month, we can iteratively scope revisions so we are able to swiftly respond to changes in market conditions and consumer behavior. With a visual map, our team’s fresh ideas for digital strategies and improvements are easily reviewed and groomed before the next agile marketing sprint.
  • Give our team a full perspective on the priorities across our organization - By having monthly ceremonies to review each upcoming sprint, our team can ask questions and toss new ideas into the backlog without interrupting the direction of the current campaigns. Additionally, we may find that our team will highlight risks for delivery and help us build a better outline of scope, costs, and timeline for delivery.

2. Experiment

Experiments are the best way to test your hypothesis. You’ll prove or disprove theories concerning your marketing efforts. Experiments are most helpful when you are trying to validate an assumption about your target customers.

Your focus should be to capture a kernel of truth about the customer, who they are, and what they respond well to.

Most marketers have an idea per business goals. They say, “If I change X, will Y grow 50% so I can hit my quarterly quota?”

That thought process is too large in scope. It is too blunt to work in the tightly complex digital experience we all orchestrate these days.

Tests should be run before you commit to investing sizably in a campaign. It will ensure you get the best ROI.

Start with a hypothesis. Can I show correlation? Test that. Can I show that the attribution scales linearly with a solid return? Test that. Can I show that additional optimizations increase conversion to exponential returns? Test that.

There are many testing tools at your disposal. A/B testing and heat mapping are just two that give you insight into the way your customers are using and engaging with your website.

A/B testing allows you to test multiple versions of your web pages. The engagement with each version is measured and collected in a statistical analysis dashboard, where it is analyzed. The results help determine whether the change had a negative or positive impact on your conversion goals, or whether it had none at all.

Heat mapping is a visualization map that allows you to see where and how visitors interact with your webpages.

Using A/B testing and heat mapping in tandem, along with analyzing metrics about those pages, will help you better understand how to convert customers based on their behavior and interests.

When you test and plan you not only lose your fear of what the data is showing you, you iteratively validate insights for future rounds of investment (new marketing campaigns).

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