Better Insight from Your Data in 5 Simple Steps

An image to illustrate the concept of gaining marketing insight from data.

“How do I get more marketing insight from my data?” It’s one of the most common questions I’m asked, and it’s the key to doing good communications measurement. The answer is vital to the measurement process, and, also, by the way, vital to your own process in your career. These five steps are a good place to begin:

Step 1: Start with a thorough understanding of the audience.

Who is asking for your results? Who will see your monthly, quarterly, or annual reports? Who are the folks in power who are most likely to stop you in the hall and ask things like:

  • “We want to do another campaign like we did last year, but I need to know how well it worked,“ or
  • “We’re getting our butts kicked by the competition! What are they doing that we’re not?” or,
  • “Give me some good news to tell the boss; I’ve got a meeting in ten minutes, and he’s pissed.”

Before you even get close to analyzing data, you need to figure out what “insight” means to them. To the best of your abilities, get inside their heads. Here are a few things to find out:

  • What is keeping them from getting a bonus?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What’s keeping them up at night?
  • How do they like to receive information? Do they get their information from the print edition of The Wall Street Journal or TikTok?
  • On a scale of 1 being a puppy and 5 being a jury in a murder case, how long is their attention span?
  • What’s their background? What did they study in college? Are they more MBA or MFA?
  • Do they speak math or English?
  • Are they going to read your report on their phone or print it out and read it on a plane?

Yes, this sounds like an odd place to start. But I’ve presented insights and reports to clients for more than three decades, and I’ve had incredible insights ignored because I used too many numbers, and just as many ignored because I used too many words. I even had one report rejected because of the colors I used in the charts!

Step 2: Gather your team and figure out what questions they’re being asked, and what answers your insights need to reveal.

Schedule a meeting with anyone on your team that gets asked random questions by leadership. Questions like:

  • “How do I prove that we need this budget?” or,
  • “What will it take for me to say ‘No’ to that idiot down the hall who keeps coming up with insane ideas for stuff we have to do?”

The point is, what are the answers you need on a regular basis? Those answers need to be part of your insight.

You also need to have a list of the decisions that you, your team, your boss, and your boss’ boss are making on a regular basis. Typically, you need to know whether you need to add resources or spokespeople or change direction. Those answers are what your insights need to reveal.

Step 3: Decide what you really want to know.

Gather your team and conduct an “I wish” exercise. Go around the room and get each person to articulate what they wish they knew. Write all the answers down and group them according to subject. For example, 5 people might wish they knew something like: “I wish I knew the most efficient way to increase engagement with our employees,” or, “I wish I knew if all this social media stuff was having an impact.”

The category with the most “wishes” is what you tackle first. That’s what you really want to know.

Step 4: Decide where the marketing insight is going to come from.

Insight almost never comes from just one data source; it comes from several sources that are braided together. Your most Ah-ha! moments will come from incorporating cost or revenue data into your results. So, for example:

  • Combine donor and/or contribution and/or membership data for your non-profit to determine which tactic(s) were most effective and why. 
  • Combine HR data with your internal comms data to figure out the most cost effective way to increase employee engagement
  • Combine media results, web analytics, and social engagement scores to start to get a picture of what kind of story drives traffic to your e-commerce site, and what kind of amplification it gets to make a sale.
  • Or, combine data from your events with data from survey research to see what type of event—online vs. IRL, splashy vs. intimate—has the greatest impact on your trust levels with a specific audience.

Step 4: Look for failure first.

You learn much more from failure and mistakes than you do from success. So decide what success looks like: is it high quality media coverage, high engagement, goal conversions, trust levels, or what? Then rank your campaigns and activities from worst to best. Now look at what did work, and what didn’t.

Does anything surprise you? Why? The answer will be the start of your insights. Understanding why something didn’t work and why something else did is the foundation of insight.

Step 5: Illustrate your story.

Before you start distilling your marketing insight into a story, study this book: Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers, by Chip Heath. It’s a quick read full of excellent examples and advice, and it will change forever how you communicate data.

Then take your Ah-ha! moments and insights and decide what story you are going to tell. Ask yourself:

  • What does management need to know?
  • What will fix or improve my performance the most?
  • What do I need to change about how we communicate?

Select the data and the chart(s) that best illustrate the answers to that story. Throw out any that do not.

I’ve found that the most effective type of chart is one that shows resources vs. results. Like this one:

(Thanks to Katie Ostreko, Director of Marketing and New Product Development at izzy+)

This sort of 2 x 2, value vs. cost chart compares the resources required for your program or campaign to the value you’ve delivered. That value is typically measured by a quality index, an engagement index, NPS scores, goal conversions, or whatever you are using to define value.

The second-best chart is one that shows your results compared to the competition over time. Whether you are measuring share of voice, or share of quality, or share of search, nothing gets the attention of senior leadership faster than showing that you’re getting your butt kicked by the competition. And if you don’t have competitive data available, show your own results over time. It’s a great story to demonstrate that what you do now is more effective or efficient than it was. It’s an even better one to show what needs to be fixed or changed in order to improve.

And that’s it. That’s how you can find insights in your data. And, if you need help finding more marketing insight, drop me a line at ∞

Big thanks to pixel2013 on pixabay for the image up top.

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