The Secret to Adding Value through Data: Start with What Got You Here

The Secret to Adding Value through Data: Start with What Got You Here

Let’s start off by acknowledging the elephant in the room: the path to a more data-driven marketing strategy or more accountable media campaigns is almost never limited by access to data. If critical information isn’t currently being captured, figure out how to collect it.

So why is it so complex to answer simple questions using data that is so readily available?

In my six years leading Harmelin’s Business Intelligence practice, the answer is surprisingly consistent. To paraphrase the wise words of my (considerably wiser) wife: “It’s not what you say [with the data], it’s how you’re saying it.”  Data itself is straight-forward. An action either happens or it doesn’t, and the result is documented. Things get hairy once we try to talk about the data.

As it turns out, marketers and media professionals have an incredibly personal relationship with the information they consume. Rather than build on knowledge that’s been acquired through years of practical experience, many efforts start by trying to hit the reset button and start fresh.

To make things more complicated, the “best” data historically has been owned by departments outside of marketing that either have their own way of communicating (looking at you, Finance), and/or have their own governance around data collection and availability (IT).

Marketing teams can add value by making new data available, but we risk alienating our greatest resource, our people, by prioritizing the value of abstract numbers over actual experience. There’s no easy way to resolve this, but there’s a pretty simple way to get started: empower more upfront participation from non-technical staff. Too often, the emphasis is placed on a “tool” being the answer to a business challenge.

Our CTO likes to remind us that the tools at our disposal are the proverbial “new sneakers.” We may have the best intentions of being more active, but the shoes themselves aren’t going to move us, tell us where to go, or help us gauge our performance. At best, they might be more comfortable. At worst, they’ll sit in the closet after the shine wears off. Neither is a particularly good outcome given the investment and stakes that often accompany these projects.

While it’s tempting to want to make “everything” available and pull back the curtain on a world of information never thought possible, that’s the equivalent of asking a novice runner to tackle a marathon on their first run. It’s going to be overwhelming, uncomfortable and, likely, disincentivize participation due to the scale and complexity of what you’re presenting them.

Instead, Harmelin’s best practice has been to go directly to the people who might “wear the shoes” and understand what it will take for them to make that first step. By investigating ways to add value to someone’s job as it currently exists, invaluable context can be acquired about how to integrate disparate data sources, which in turn will make the idea of working with data more palatable to newcomers. It’s less something new that they “have to” work with than something which amplifies the intrinsic value employees already provide.

In the race to be more data-driven, getting the context right can make even the most limited execution more valuable. Design and depth alone rarely add the same value. Trust your “coaches” (technology experts) to select the right equipment and find the best route to get you there, but make sure the staff is being empowered to help set the pace.