Marketing Is Drowning In Data, Yet It’s Starving For Answers

ANSWERS, NOT DATA. Why some marketers succeed with analytics and others don’t. (A Medium book). Introduction.

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“There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one.”

C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Ferraris are distinguished by an unmatched combination of beauty, power, and responsiveness, plus a unique sound that is as carefully tuned as a piece of music. But owning a Ferrari F8 Tributo doesn’t mean you are Michael Schumacher and can win a Grand Prix. You’ve got to learn the skills of how to be a world-class racecar driver, which takes a certain inner DNA of how you operate; disciplined mastery of foundational concepts; skills more powerful than intellect; and a keen awareness on how to win. Yes, you need a top car. But cars need drivers to win. And if you don’t win, then the team owner finds a new driver, not a new car.

This sounds like the plight of the modern marketer, especially the CMO. As my friend Bob Van Rossum, President of Market Pro Inc., the best marketing executive search firm I’ve ever worked with, reminds me, the average tenure of a chief marketing officer keeps falling, now about 3.6 years. CEOs are demanding more and more out of marketing, and they want it quantified; growth, return, efficiency. They want it fast. They want it now. All the while the complexity of the job is increasing, especially around the topic of marketing effectiveness and analytics.

It’s with analytics where I’ve observed most modern marketers have their driving blind spot. Yes, marketers have plenty of tools, charts, reports, and an avalanche of data. But most marketers, if they are honest with themselves, struggle with the accelerating pace of the quant side of analytics-driven modern marketing, which is more akin to applied engineering. And in many cases, modern marketers don’t even know, that they don’t really know, what they need to know about analytics.

It’s about Answers, Not Data. And quant skills are the table stakes you need to find answers. But what skills?

The skills needed are vast, and it can be difficult to navigate. And by quant skills, I don’t mean knowing this or that software tool. In my career as an analytical leaning marketer, I’ve identified 11 essential behaviors, habits, and skills needed to thrive in the fast-paced high-pressure world of modern marketing analytics.

Before covering what they are, let’s do an exercise in one of the skills, knowing versus believing, and how discernment is required for this.

What follows is my professional background. After reading it do you think or believe I have the chops about the subject matter in this book?

Here’s my LinkedIn profile, but in summary, I’ve been fortunate to have:

  1. Been a CEO, President or VP/General Manager seven-times of B2B and B2C, online and offline, businesses from dollar zero/start-up to $350 million.
  2. I got my start in marketing as a marketing and product manager at Honeywell, and over my career, I’ve been a six-time CMO, including twice for billion-dollar-plus businesses. Currently, I’m CMO for the largest company in the world providing learning products, education, and services to the early childhood education market.
  3. Been a founding/startup executive of three award-winning venture-backed startups: one was named by Forbes as a 2013 top-12 disruptor, another was named a Shining Star by the Obama White House, and the third was named a top 10 start-up in higher education by EDUCAUSE.
  4. Worked as an Operating Partner and consultant for top-tier Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and their portfolio companies, such as Bain Capital, Vistria Group, Founders Fund, and Learn Capital.

From reading that, do you conclude I have a sufficient analytical knowledge base for this book? That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s actually quite important since one of the questions you constantly need to consider when working with analytics is “What is my evidence?”

So, do you think I pass the test with the above information?

If you said yes, what in the above is evidence I know anything about analytics? The above says I’ve been a successful executive, especially within marketing, I’ve been part of several start-ups, and I’ve been a consultant to venture and private equity firms. The above actually doesn’t say anything about me knowing anything about analytics.

You might say to yourself, “He must know something about analytics to have had those successes.” That’s an assumption built on thin ice and is one of the pitfalls of people working with analytics; which is making hops in logic that aren’t there. In other words, believing something that’s not supported with data. And data comes in many ways, not just numbers.

Nevertheless, I hope you’ll continue reading and take a leap of faith. If anything me bringing up this question is now a wee bit of evidence, though small, that I know something about analytics, as do you think someone who doesn’t get analytics would bring it up? Hold your answer until chapter 2 when we dive deep into knowing versus believing.

Let’s return to the usage of analytics within marketing. Throughout my career, I’ve used analytics at the core of my and my organization’s successes. I’ve had enough successes and disappointments that I’ve learned that a marketers’ success with analytics isn’t so much about having more data, as the profession is suffocating with data out the wazoo.

Don’t get me wrong. You need data. However, most organizations already have plenty of it. What businesses are starving for are good solid insights and answers. Nevertheless, some marketers thrive with quant topics, and others don’t. Why is that?

Here’s the secret. Sustained success requires something beyond tools, software, or even AI. Just like a winning Formula 1 driver, success in modern marketing analytics requires its own set of a certain inner DNA of how you operate; disciplined mastery of foundational concepts; skills more powerful than intellect; and a keen awareness on how to win. The marketers who thrive with analytics have them, and we’ll cover them all in the 11 chapters within Answers, Not Data.

But at the start, let’s begin with a question about where one focuses their energy. Are you someone who focuses on Data? Or are you a person who focuses on finding Answers? There is a big difference.

What’s your focus? Data or Answers?

W hen I was a Partner at Marketing Rules, my PE and VC clients would bring in people like me, what they call Operating Partners, to help the portfolio companies improve on marketing, sales, operations, and other functional topics.

One of my PE clients asked me to spend time looking at the marketing staff, processes, and systems within a $50 million medical supplies portfolio company in the MidWest USA. During an onsite visit, I sat in the company’s weekly product & marketing meeting. I recall about six or so product managers, and marketing managers, made presentations over about two hours, with maybe an additional twice as many people in attendance.

What I witnessed was an arms race among the presenters to see who could present the most slides with the most granular data. It was slide after slide of regurgitating numbers. There was no time to absorb, discuss, or decide upon meaningful action. But besides that, it wasn’t clear to me what was the purpose of the gathering.

As I listened, I was having difficulty making sense of it all, even though I think I’m pretty good with numbers as I’m a Civil Engineer, and I taught high school computer science. But in that room, I felt like Mr. Gumby from the famous Monty Python skit; my brain hurt.

One of the reasons you hire a consultant is to ask the tough questions that others, including the client who hires you, are afraid to ask. You’re not trying to be a jerk, but oftentimes your role is to be a paid provocateur. On this gig, that was my role. It was time to earn my pay.

My recollection is I asked one of my typical questions, something like, “I’m new here and so can you help me with some questions? Why are you presenting this information to us? Why is it important? What would you like us to do now that we know it?”

The room was silent. And so it is in too many marketing organizations when someone asks that question. Don’t feel bad if this sounds like your company, as I can assure you it happens everywhere including at world-renowned multi-national Blue Chip companies and at well-financed hot-shot start-ups.

What it says is we as marketers, and for that matter, other business functions too, are too focused on the data, and not focused on the answers. The paradox then is we live in a world drowning in data with the data growing exponentially, yet we simultaneously are starving for answers.

And by ‘answers,’ I don’t mean blurting out rote facts such as conversion is up XYZ, or eMail click rate is ABC, or average order value is down 123. The answers I’m speaking about are the ones that provide an insightful understanding of what is happening, why it is happening, and what to do about it happening so that you don’t sit around later asking yourself what the hell just happened?

The eleven critical skills of effective marketers working with analytics

Here are the 11 behaviors, habits, and skills covered in Answers, Not Data. I publish a chapter each month. Each chapter includes stories from/about world-known trailblazers, people I’ve worked with, other exciting characters, and my own personal experiences; sharing examples of modeling these 11 concepts for success, or setbacks by ignoring them. Depending upon the chapter I include a mixture of qualitative and/or quantitative examples.

Chapters currently available are hyperlinked.

Chapter 1: A Rebel Who’s A Quant Can Be A Valuable Asset
Chapter 2: Know The Truth, Don’t Just Believe It
Chapter 3: Why? The Most Powerful Question You Can Ask
Chapter 4: Regressions And R-square Are Your Best Friends
Chapter 5: Quantify The Qualitative
Chapter 6: Don’t Wing It. Use A Checklist
Chapter 7: Presence And Intuition Unlock Unseen Data Patterns
Chapter 8: Intentionality Has Infinite Organizing Power
Chapter 9: Beware Of Bias And Spellcasting, Including Your Own
Chapter 10: You Neutralize Resistance With Collaborative Persistence
Chapter 11: Your Data Doesn’t Mean A Thing If You Can’t Convince Others

Are you ready? Start your engine. Let’s go.

Click here to continue on to Chapter 1

Rebel who’s a quant; CEO / P&L from $0/start-up to $300M+; 6 time CMO, including two billion-dollar-plus; founding team of 3 award-winning startups.

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