Getting dumber with data

Graham Cooke, managing director of QuBit Digital and former global leader on Google’s strategy for conversion rate improvement, explains how the amount of data generated today can appear overwhelming and what information marketers should be focused on.

Graham Cooke
Graham Cooke

A concerning trend for today’s markets is the amount of data reporting overload we have to deal with and how it effects our decision making. Data has increased more than 40 times over the last 10 years, but have we become equally as efficient as marketers?

The answer is often a resounding ’no’ – the economy has not grown 40 times nor have businesses revenues yet we have access to richer, real-time data from an even greater range of sources. Take for example the deluge of emails we receive daily. There is virtually no business without email, however the gradual creep of new messages in our inbox is not making us any more efficient. This information overload is starting to really dangerously effect some organisations and I am hearing more and more schemes from no emails on Thursdays to only being allowed to check your emails in the morning.

Imagine if we did the same in digital marketing – ’no Google Analytics Tuesdays’ or only check the CRM reports when there is a full moon. As crazy as it sounds businesses in digital are dealing with a data explosion over the last five years that is gaining pace rapidly.

This data is a double-edged sword, you cannot survive without it, however if you look at it too much you can become stagnant and slow to make big decisions. During my time at Google we went through a phase where there was a report for everything, everywhere – as an organisation we had to go through a process where we would interrogate any report and insist that we should only look at information that enabled the business to make fast, effective decisions. A report that was just another set of metrics in a spreadsheet was depreciated very quickly – as it would just cause decision-making hesitation.

To understand where we have come from you only need to look back 50 years ago when a national retailer would have many days to join up all the figures from their stores and marketing campaigns, as the till receipts and figures were sent to head office. The processing of this limited amount of information enabled these companies to make the right, considered decision as it was all the data they had, and it was interrogated in the right way. They would pour over it, combine it with real insight and then make big decision on whether to open another store or start a new marketing campaign.

In digital, businesses are bombarded with information from sources like website analytics, CRM, search marketing, seo and social media reports – it’s difficult to know what is the most important thing to look at and where to act to fix the problem. We are at risk of desensitising our decision making and missing the bigger opportunities. The most successful companies of tomorrow are going to be the ones that understand how to sift through this information, derive insight and make business decisions from it quickly.

To prevent ourselves from getting dumber with data we need to ask what are the most important metrics to look at in today’s business? This can be anything from how a click through rate is impacting your conversion rate to how the different product category pages are performing. Ironically, in order to get better at this we need to go back to old methods of just asking the customer. We have a tendency to over engineer passive tracking and reporting systems in order to second guess what they’re thinking. At QuBit Digital we have seen that some of the most effective ways to derive game changing insight and increased revenues is to work with targeted exit surveys driven by analytics and statistical methodologies to prioritise the opportunity. Let’s make data sexy again by actually getting it to tell us about our business.

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