Ever encounter a situation where things seem backwards? Maybe you’ve seen a parent being told what to do by a child or a customer being berated by a service rep. It makes you wonder who is in charge or who is working for whom. I have another thought along those lines today, and it has to do with data. There was a post from AdAge by their data reporter, Katie Kaye who wrote the following about the NY Times piece on Amazon:
The article should inspire us to question the value of decisions based entirely on data to create business efficiencies at the expense of human empathy and the arguable imperfections that can benefit any organization or project.
I like that. It makes you ask who is in charge here: the humans or the numbers. We all ingest more data than we can consume, and, unfortunately, some of us allow that massive intake to be regurgitated as unconsidered decisions. That’s a bad idea. The data is there to serve us, not the other way around.
I’m the first to say that we need lots of data. Without impartial feedback, we’re flying blind, and data can help us make better decisions. The key there is “help US”. Data without the context of a plan is useless. Data that’s not actionable is useless. Data that causes us to overreact, however, is dangerous. If you watched any election coverage last night, you probably heard a lot about early results and the need to wait for data from key precincts. How many times has someone in your organization overreacted to an early piece of data, only to find out that it was not at all typical of the overall results? We need a plan, we need context, and we need a little patience.
When we chase after outliers, we’re working for the data. That’s backward. Data, and all the other technological tools in our arsenals, needs to work for us. Make sense?
Someone probably made you read Samuel Coleridge‘s Rime Of The Ancient Mariner along your educational way. It contains a couplet that got me thinking about data:
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
We spend so much time collecting and attempting to analyze data and yet it seems difficult to “drink” from the overwhelming amount we have. I wonder if we keep an eye on the reasons why we gather data in the first place. In my mind, there are two main reasons to collect data:
- To form actionable business questions
- To measure how where we are today is different from where we were yesterday
Let me take a second to discuss them. When we gather information from a customer or potential customer, we should always have a reason for doing so. Otherwise we’re just filling up our data storage with bits we’ve got no need to store. A recent IDG Connect study found that the biggest hurdles facing companies in terms of data were poor data quality and excessive data, so we need to think before we gather. Some of the information they will give you (name, email, maybe a physical address); other information you’ll take yourself (usage patterns on the web and/or mobile, information our of social profiles, etc).
We ought to be using some of that data to educate our fans about our brand and industry. That falls under the “actionable” category. What results do we want from them? How can we tell if we’re moving the needle? One big day of traffic might be an aberration but trends tend not to lie over time. I like this quote from the report:
The true value of Big Data is in the ability to leverage it for development of an informed strategy. Organizations need to move beyond a focus on just managing data to extracting trends and insights that will drive business outcomes.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information you have, you probably have too much. It’s probably not properly focused. We need to collect as little data as possible – it’s much easier to drink a glass of water than an ocean. It should be just enough to generate insight and not enough to foster confusion. Which are you doing?
One of the more interesting experiences is my first trip through a new client‘s analytics. Much of the time I will have asked them before I look what conclusions they are drawing from what they’re seeing. They are often very detached from the reality of what’s going on, usually because of a couple of reasons. Given the emphasis on data these days, this is a problem, so let me mention a few things and hopefully you can ask yourself if they’re true about your data.
The first reason is faulty setup. One client was all excited about their volume of traffic and the depth of visiting until I told them that they weren’t filtering out visits from their own office. Once we did that the traffic declined quite a bit (but was obviously more indicative of what was going on). Another reason is that there is no filtering in place for spam links. I’m not sure why these companies (whose names I won’t cite here to give them any more visibility) refer traffic to so many sites, but it has the effect of ballooning bounce rates, decreasing time on site, and distorting a few other things.
Another reason the data is less useful is that they haven’t set up site search to report. Most sites of any size have a built-in search box. Analytics can report on what is searched for. This can help spot problems in navigation or topics that need to be given more prominence – maybe promoting them to a main navigation tab, etc. Sometimes the client has an app that replaces their mobile web experience but they’ve failed either to install analytics or to link them to their web reporting. Both are huge data fails
Finally, and this one is a bigger problem than most of the others, clients fail to figure out why they have a website in the first place. What is it that they want users to do? Buy something? Fill out a form? Visit a particular page? Those should be set up as goals and successful completions should be counted. They fail to link all their other tools such as Webmaster Tools or their paid search such as AdWords into the analytics suite. All of these things allow you to figure out the most cost-effective ways to use marketing and your site to drive revenues.
It’s funny to hear people talk about big data when the reality is that they still haven’t figured out the little data. Once you’ve got the little data under control, you’ll be well-prepared to add additional layers to the complex views that result. Got it?
Attention business people! We have a problem. OK, many of us have more than one, but the one to which I refer is pretty important so listen up. In short, our customers don’t trust us. Think I’m kidding?
The latest Pew study is out and as the release about it said:
In the almost two years that have passed since the initial Snowden (former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden) revelations, the public has been awash in news stories detailing security breaches at major retailers, health insurance companies and financial institutions. These events and the doubts they have inspired have contributed to a cloud of personal “data insecurity” that now looms over many Americans’ daily decisions and activities. Many find these developments deeply troubling and want limits put in place, while some do not feel these issues affect them personally.
Some may not feel that but the vast majority do. Most folks believe it is important that they be able to maintain privacy and confidentiality in commonplace activities of their lives. Most strikingly, these views are especially pronounced when it comes to knowing what information about them is being collected and who is doing the collecting. Compare that belief with the data:
- 76% of adults say they are “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that records of their activity maintained by the online advertisers who place ads on the websites they visit will remain private and secure.
- 69% of adults say they are not confident that records of their activity maintained by the social media sites they use will remain private and secure.
- 66% of adults say they are not confident that records of their activity maintained by search engine providers will remain private and secure.
- 66% say they are not confident that records of their activity collected by the online video sites they use will remain private and secure.
So what can you do right now to help? Be transparent about what you’re collecting and why. Don’t bury that information in your Terms of Service. Explain who has access to the data, how it is shared (or not) with business partners, how long it’s retained, and offer to present the user with a copy of everything you have. Most importantly, to the extent you can, allow the customers to opt-in and explain why that’s a good thing for them. Turns out it just might be a good thing for your business too.
Do you do business with people you don’t trust? Why should your customers?
There was a piece on MediaPost about how the broadband providers and their trade associations have gone to court to prevent the FCC from imposing some of the new rules on how those providers may behave. The specific ones upon which I’m focused today are the ones concerning privacy and data collection. The article explains the issue nicely:
They specifically complain that the FCC’s decision to treat broadband as a utility also empowers the agency to impose privacy rules that could curb its behavioral advertising efforts, which involve targeting ads to users based on the Web sites they visit.
“Today, broadband providers can lawfully use information about customers’ Internet access services and usage to develop customized marketing programs that benefit both the provider and its customers,” AT&T and the others say in their court papers.
On the surface, maybe they have a point. After all, many of us prefer to see targeted ads and as someone who has made a living off of marketing programs I’m all for them. There is, however, a broader issue and it’s one of which any business who collects data (that would probably be YOU, dear reader) needs to remain cognizant.
The amount of data your wireless and/or broadband provider has about you is staggering. They know where you’ve been and when. They know what you research and with whom you communicate. This fabulous piece demonstrates what all of this data retention means. Ad targeting is one very simple use, but what happens when some insurance company decides to work with a broadband provider to find speeders and raise their rates?
Honestly, I’d still be OK with all of it with a very big IF. Ask yourself this: do you know what’s being collected and do you know how it’s being used? I can can “yes” to the first question and a very big “no” to the second. I’m not a tin-foil hat guy – I don’t think there are seriously nefarious things going on at the ISP’s involving data misuse (the government is another matter). I do think, however, that data collection needs to be explained to consumers in simple language and with sample data. I think we all need transparency and the ability to opt in, not the demand that we opt out. Having some protections in place isn’t a bad thing. After all, the brief history of the commercial internet is rife with bad actors (see ad injectors, malware distributors, browser hijackers, etc.) who will do just about anything to line their pockets.
How do you see it?
A piece from the eMarketer group caught my eye yesterday. The headline was Marketers Can’t Avoid Technology Anymore.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Off the top of my head it made me wonder who exactly was trying to avoid it since there isn’t a single company that comes to mind where technology isn’t sort of a big deal. As it turns out, the article was about a subset of tech, big data, and how professionals need to up marketing technology investments if they hope to make sense of this data as well as to focus on integrating technologies and data across channels.. No doubt with a big caveat.
This hints at the issue:
April 2014 research by Accenture also found big data was top of mind for the majority of executives worldwide, with 59% saying it was extremely important. Of course, technologies are needed to make sense of and combine all of this information, and Accenture noted that using such tools to understand big data could transform an entire enterprise—if done correctly.
It’s the “done correctly” part that’s the caveat. The road to understanding doesn’t begin with technology. It doesn’t begin with a fully integrated series of systems or a huge data warehouse. It starts with something much simpler that’s often overlooked. It starts with some basic questions.
- What do we need to know?
- Why do we want to know it?
- Once we know it, what actions can we take to use it to grow our business?
- How is what we have going to improve our relationship with our customers?
- When prospects encounter us, whether online or off, which of these data points will help us convert them to customers?
My guess, based on a fair number of experiences, is that many of the aforementioned companies are just puking up data instead of using the data to develop actionable business information. The eMarketer piece concludes this way:
Companies that avoid implementing and using marketing technology to make sense of data have an uncertain future. Nearly 80% of execs agreed that companies that did not embrace big data would lose their competitive advantage—and possibly face extinction.
I agree with that but if they don’t do the above while traveling the road to understanding and having asked some questions before they embrace and develop big data, extinction is just as likely.
What’s been your experience with this?