Why It Matters How You’re Using Your Data

Posted on by Patty Odell

Is your organization leveraging analytics as a transformational force or a defense mechanism?

“There’s really very little excuse in today’s marketing departments to not use data,” argues LinkedIn Head of B2B Product Russell Glass. “If you’re not using data to make your decisions, or at least to inform your decisions, you’re probably not doing your job.”

actionable dataReproaches like Glass’ have compelled many organizations to construct façades of “data-drivenness” to paper over what Google Digital Marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik calls a HiPPO—Highest Paid Person’s Opinion—approach.

This is particularly common in my field, healthcare marketing, where organizations have been relatively slow to construct fully functional data-driven, decision-making architectures. While most healthcare marketers regularly consult with some sort of data analytics team, only a select few are leveraging their data in a way that manifests its full potential.

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The result? Insufficient “analysis” layered over decisions that have often already been made—a practice that does a great disservice to organizations that may stand to benefit from the full power of transformational data analytics.

Data as a Defense Mechanism

For many companies, data analytics have traditionally been most valuable as a tool of retrospection—an exercise that provides marketers with answers to questions like, “Did this campaign reach our desired audience?” “Who were my most valuable customers last year?” and “Did engagement spike at specific times or in specific locations?”

Data-driven postmortems in this vein are invaluable—marketers need to know what went wrong in a campaign in order to improve their efforts the next time around—but they also lay the groundwork for the problematic conflation of confirmation bias and retroactive justification.

Organizations adhering to a HiPPO approach will use data selectively to retroactively justify their decisions, providing the appearance of data-driven decision-making without the underlying substance. This might secure a project or two here and there, but in the long run, it’s a highly unsustainable approach to modern marketing.

For the many organizations that continue to take this approach, marketing decisions are driven not by data, but by the experiences, intuitions, and hunches of their CMO (and/or other high-level stakeholders). Sometimes these “gut reaction” strategies are effective, sometimes they aren’t. Either way, they’re not truly data-driven.

Using Data as a Change Agent

That’s not to say that companies shouldn’t use data to retroactively evaluate success—they absolutely should. But are those companies consistently using that retroactive analysis to drive efficiencies in their day-to-day operations? To create and inform new ideas? To identify new growth opportunities?

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