Giving Up Your Data Porn Addiction

There’s a lot of data out there. A lot.

And if you’re a marketing professional, you very likely see huge PowerPoint decks and Excel spreadsheets filled with charts, graphs and pivot tables containing lots and lots of data month after month after month. But what do you do with it all?

Here’s the thing: unless data is actionable, it’s porn.  And unless the key measures by which you judge a company’s success are creating value – for consumers and for shareholders – there’s very little hope that that company can succeed over the longer term.

Too many marketing organizations spend too much time generating, curating and presenting data, most of which has almost zero hope of going anywhere. Frankly, many marketing organizations use this onslaught of data to hide from difficult truths—such as failed campaigns or ineffective marketing strategies and tactics.

Even when marketing organizations track and report on data that is actionable, it’s the convenient sort:

  1. Page views
  2. Conversion to sale
  3. Time on site
  4. Revenue
  5. Number of “Likes”

These are great measures for diagnostic purposes. They’ll help you to assess short-term issues and keep you on track in terms of blunt-force, bottom line-orientated activities.  And, conveniently, these types of measures are often the easiest route to a regular bonus payout.

But I would argue they’re the wrong measures if what you really want is a company that’s not only viable in the short run, but is growing both consumer and shareholder value over the long haul.  Companies that are stagnating or declining too often fall back on measures like these because they’re obvious; because they’re easy.  Because they’re convenient. They’re blinded by data porn and convinced that a tenth of a percent of movement in any direction for any one of these convenient metrics constitutes a big win.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Companies that are creating customer and shareholder value every day aren’t focused on convenient measures (even if they do pay attention to them).  These sorts of companies have measures for things like:

  1. Brand loyalty
  2. Consumer brand evangelism
  3. Customer engagement
  4. The economic value of a customer
  5. The value of a brand

Companies like Apple have always been more interested in measures such as brand value and consumer brand evangelism then things like conversion-to-sale metrics. Make no mistake: Apple deeply understands its sales conversion metrics, but what it values is something different. You can see that in its advertising, in its messaging, in its website, and, most acutely, in its products.  Which is why they are the most valuable company on earth today.

Measures such as these (and others) can be more difficult to get at, but not impossible.  More importantly, by adopting measures such as these you make an important statement about the kind of company you are and hope to be. You say to the world: we’re placing our chips here; measure us on this. 

Avinash Kaushik, of the Occam’s Razor blog, says you are what you measure.  If this is true, do you want your company to be defined by its page views or by the passion of a large and growing audience for your brand? 

You can take the easy way out and choose to measure your success with metrics that are more diagnostic than strategic. You can sit back and collect bonuses for moving some arbitrary measure one tenth of one percent in some month or other.

But here’s the problem with that approach: long term, company leaders and investors won’t see the value in your contribution as a marketing professional. They’ll see you’ve met all your objectives but they’ll also see the company still hasn’t moved from its place of stasis or, worse, decline.  They’ll wonder why the company always seems to hit its marketing objectives but never manages to add shareholder value.

Staking out some high ground, and claiming measures that are as much about creating long-term value as they are about achieving short-term incremental gains, can be risky.  Such measures may be harder to achieve. Yet the rewards can be so much more dazzling. Moreover, if you can convince the whole company that everyone should be concerned about these sorts of measures, imagine the magnitude of change that would follow.

If you and your company are addicted to data porn, start taking steps to end it. First make sure all the data you present is actionable—that some result can naturally flow from the information.  Then, start thinking about measures that have substance and merit and might create long-term customer and shareholder value. Those are outcomes worth fighting for.

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