For decades, we’ve been living with an ever-increasing pace of productivity. It’s happening in both our personal and business worlds. There’s a constant struggle to do everything faster, more efficiently, and with consistent results. We want to reduce wait time, maximize output, and save costs — all while satisfying our craving for innovation and progress. But with greater speed, there’s often haste. And hasty decisions can lead to errors in direction and missed opportunities.
This is true when it comes to “navigating the waters” of data analysis and strategy. To avoid missing the full story, we must intentionally sift for nuggets of truth.
The manatee backstory
(for non-Floridians and landlubbers)
The trichechus manatus latirostris, commonly known as “sea cow” or West Indian Manatee, is the iconic mammal native to the state of Florida. These protected heifer-sized, seal-shaped creatures can grow beyond nine feet in length, averaging 1,000 pounds. They live along the intercostal waterways within close proximity to large, ocean-bound channels. To protect this endangered species, there are strict boating restrictions in place. When the ocean tide comes in and waterways are deep, there is a no-wake rule for watercraft. When the tide goes out and the waterways are shallow, boaters can open their throttle as they speed out to the ocean. This may seem counter-intuitive to typical boat safety unless you’re Florida native. That is, until you discover what goes on beneath the surface.
Manatees love the intimate feeding places within the inner rivers and arrive with the incoming tides. These immense creatures will not feed when the tide goes out and the inner waters are shallow. They instinctively know high tide provides them a deeper, easier escape route if there’s danger. So, to avoid collisions with the manatees, boaters are allowed to zoom along during low tide but must honor no-wake zones at high tide. Makes complete sense with the right awareness and experience.
Analyzing marketing data is no different. For advertisers and marketers, today’s fast-moving riptide of technology, social, cultural, and other trends must be balanced by smart, patient, and intentional analytic discipline. The challenge is remembering to apply the best practices in the moment. Pace is key — allowing time for knowledge to build develops understanding that can be put into practice effectively.
Awareness is the first step in the process. In a Harvard Business Review article, Helen Lee Bouygues noted:
“Too many business leaders are simply not reasoning through pressing issues, taking the time to evaluate a topic from all sides. Leaders often jump to the first conclusion, whatever the evidence. Even worse, C-suite leaders will just choose the evidence that supports their prior beliefs. A lack of metacognition — or thinking about thinking — is also a major driver, making people simply overconfident.”1 (Emphasis added)
Comprehensive metrics is another important step. Real-time metrics are an ever-increasing priority and a driver of smart decision-making. However, marketing experts must also leverage “long data.”2 Metrics that tell a fuller, more mature story can offer insights that improve like an aged bottle of wine. In his article assessing Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s work, Jon Lombardo made the following astute observation:
“Sadly, marketing today does not think, measure, or invest in ‘long data’. …How is it that marketers spend so much more than is optimal on short-term, sales activation? The answer, in part, has to do with the fact that short-term sales activation can be measured in real-time, while brand building cannot be fully measured for 6–9 months, at earliest. …Even though common sense and econometric analysis show that brand building is more profitable, the seductive nature of real-time metrics lures marketers into a short-term trap.”3
Bottom line: Smart decisioning and wise marketing spend come from a balanced portfolio of both short- and longer-term data inputs to capture the full story, maximize learnings, and grow revenue.
So, taking a cue from the Manatee, four simple yet time-tested admonitions are these:
- Re-examine your current commitment to truly letting your data tell the full story. What did you see/learn that you didn’t expect? Did you thoroughly vet the results from multiple perspectives, departments, and skill sets? Is getting a quick decision and an immediate action plan overriding the importance of full, accurate, well-reasoned, and properly vetted data?
- Check your biases. Did you already have a decision in your mind about the data? Are you now simply filtering the outcome to support or rationalize your prior view? Are there blind spots you’re not aware of that a colleague could unveil with open dialogue?
- Cautiously come to conclusions so you don’t zoom past valuable insights. Are you willing to patiently test, modify and retest new/different variables prior to concluding that “This didn’t work”? Although the process of discovery can be challenging, it is most often invaluable in netting more comprehensive, longer-term data.
- Align with colleagues you trust. Find people who will help hold your processes accountable to the due diligence of well-informed decision-making. Don’t let haste shortchange your marketing efforts. As seasoned and tenured as you may be, will you value team-based collaboration above your own confidence level for the sake of making adjusted tactical strategies as strong and reasonable as possible?
When it comes to data mining, we must not forget to explore longer-term metrics — the deep, hidden and latent “sea cows” of the data oceans. Slow down enough to discover the actionable truths that are roaming below the surface of your mined data, for they contain enormous value. Their insights are often counter-intuitive to the currents we’ve been conditioned to see. Even more importantly, these insights can increase downstream impacts of our marketing strategies and lead to better products and services that deepen the engagement with our most valued assets, our customers.
1 “3 Simple Habits to Improve Your Critical Thinking” by Helen Lee Bouygues – May 06, 2019
2 “Fooled by Randomness” by Nassim Taleb
3 “The Signal to Noise Ratio” by Jon Lombardo; Global Lead, The B2B Institute – June 26, 2020