The Devil is in the data


6 min

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Technology is helping us harness data to get real-time business and marketing performance insights. Let people, as much as data, inform your initial goals. Big ideas aren't entirely being replaced by big data

“Every second article you read on the digital economy seems to be about data and its enormous capacity to change our lives - but will it be a magic, silver bullet?  Let’s set the scene a little first. The word “dashboard” now has a new meaning, it no longer conjures up images of cars or planes and how we measure our physical journey - these days it’s all about the tech trip we’re on. Today we’re drowning in data - but data without analysis is a mixed blessing. Data on its own adds nothing to our understanding of the world and how we can operate with purpose. The trick with data is to make it both meaningful and compelling.

Performance Marketing

At Frankly, we talk about Performance Marketing - wearing it as a badge of honour. It’s a term that’s been around since the early 2000’s but it is now really making the shift from a geek’s technical possibility into useful business tools. Today, real substantive tech solutions are delivering key business performance insights in real time. Let’s face it, you no longer just send out an email and hope - you can watch as subscribers around the world open it and take action.

Like all disruptive innovations, the “Performance Marketing” dream was ahead of its time without reliable delivery mechanisms. But the dream drives the tech - and over time the dream becomes a new normal. That’s where we are after 10 years of innovation, the tech we have now is more sophisticated and accessible than ever. Without a quality user experience, you couldn’t sell the tech, and so the market adapts.

Another set of tech dreams is now maturing in big data, machine learning and AI. Something that has been the province of geeks and dreamers is about to start delivering for business and for society in whole new ways. It’s a huge leap for businesses - and especially for those playing in an online world - but how do we connect with it and how do we guide the dreamers to make tools that work for business?

Where do you start?

It’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed - or hijacked by a tech-head who wants to build something NOW. So what the bleep do we do with all this tech? How can it enable us and keep us on track in a tangible way? Distilling it all down is a battle, no doubt about that. Don’t get lost in the tech - because the fundamentals haven’t changed since cavemen started trading flint axes for sabre tooth hides.  People still do business with people - to fill human needs. The starting point is your market, your business goals and your business purpose. What big data and deep learning can do - when they’re integrated and well-configured - is enable you to deliver audacious, ambitious goals - fast.

When you’ve got lofty goals, you need compelling data to ensure you’re hitting your stride. It’s worth taking your time to get your business set up for success. This means knowing where you are, and more importantly where you are going. You’ll want clear visuals and real time results, so you can check in and see what’s really going on – that’s where dashboards come in. Before you build your dashboards though, you’ll need to get your team in a room and get them to bring their big ideas. It’s still all about the people.  Source an expert facilitator to run the sessions if you need to work on a particular area of the business. The outcomes of these sessions will give you some major business objectives and help you form a strategic plan that everyone can buy into and use to drive results. That’s when you’re ready to brief your techs - when you know what to measure.

Beware automation

There’s a fundamental saying from the dawn of computing - “garbage in, garbage out”. The bigger the data, and the more complex the interpretation challenge, the more you need to test and validate. You probably know from experience that what you say and what your tech guru hears could be two different things.  Imagine how much more off-track you could get when you hand the learning over to a machine! Automation is amazing - when it’s done well. It handles tasks at a scale nearly impossible when completed by people.

But while you can delegate the delivery, the analysis remains an entirely human task. Algorithms – they have been touted the end-all answer to online activity, but they are there to help, not do the whole job for you. The set and forget method of a bygone era can’t work for us anymore. Billion-dollar software companies will take your advertising dollars and promise to do the best for your business, but at the end of the day, they don’t know your work like you do. If you’re creating content without constantly optimising based on results, you’re sacrificing true performance. The data is there to help you learn and evolve, so use it to challenge both your team and your methods.

From ‘Mad Men’ to ‘Math Men’

Some have said that data will kill advertising, I believe it will transform it. Data lets us cut away the weeds until only the purest content remains. Can any old-school print media veteran explain with absolute certainty the exact impact their advertising has had? The days of ‘the big idea’ driving traditional media are gone. Performance marketing means spreading your net wide and homing in on truly optimal content. Want to know how much revenue was a direct result of your ad? Data can tell you. Want to know which ads are turning people off your business? Data can tell you that too. You can let creativity drive your business, and it will usually work, but data will get you the best result 100% of the time. An effective business will monitor performance day in and day out while also not panicking at the slightest drop of a number.

It’s important to allow for freedom and constant testing to accompany cold hard numbers. Be on the front foot by arming yourself with knowledge and numbers but don’t put too much faith in them. If you see poor results, figure out why, but if you see good results don’t become complacent. Good results can always be improved, but if at the end of the day you’re sacrificing your business goals for the numbers, what’s the point?

At Frankly, we talk about Performance Marketing - wearing it as a badge of honour. When you’ve got lofty goals, you need compelling data to ensure you’re hitting your stride.
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