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Many marketers decide to pursue this career path because they enjoy creativity. Maybe you're the type of marketer who likes thinking about the impact that colors have on your website or an email design. Maybe you want to use your communication skills to craft amazing videos or articles. Or perhaps you enjoy the psychology aspect of marketing — thinking about what makes the audience on the other side tick.

Whatever appeals to you, you like using your right brain abilities to be a “maker” at work.

At the same time, marketing today involves more number-crunching and data-diving than ever before, with marketing teams reviewing every tiny aspect of a campaign for success and failure metrics.

For those of us who feel more creative than data-obsessed, this can be kind of terrifying.

In this week's episode of the Marketing Cloudcast, we talk to two experts about how all of us — even the non-math majors — can become more data-driven marketers:

  • Annie Cushing, data geek and founder of Annielytics.com
  • Alice Avery, Assoc. Product Marketing Manager at Salesforce (and the person I often turn to myself with data questions!)

Here are a few takeaways from this episode, which you can preview here.

For the full conversation that's filled with many more insights, subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play MusicStitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

 

Accept that the data may tell you something unpleasant.

 

According to Annie, the first step to becoming more data-driven is to accept the fact that our data might reveal a truth we're not thrilled about. She says, "It's scary because a lot of times, [data] suggests change. It can tell us that something that we're doing — that we're really wed to — is failing.”

And that's okay. Part of becoming more data-driven is to divorce ourselves from the idea that every campaign or initiative is going to be successful. The data shows us both what works and doesn't, so we can focus more of our effort on what does.

 

Incorporate data in decision-making early in a project — not only after the fact to report.

 

Marketers know that we need to report on the success and performance of our work. Blog traffic, conversion rates, click-through rates — we have tons of metrics at our disposal to let us (and our bosses) know how our work is doing.

But instead of just reporting after the fact, data should be used earlier in the decision-making process to help us decide where to focus our efforts. You can look at performance data for previous projects, new customer and audience data, or whatever's relevant to the task at hand. The point is to involve data from the outset.

Annie explains, “I think data should be introduced as early as possible. A lot of times that can be challenging because you may have someone who's in a position of authority iwho comes to you with a hypothesis that he or she is already pretty convinced about. You don't want to be the wet blanket. But the earlier you can bring data into the process, the better, especially before people really get behind an idea."

"I think bringing data into the embryonic stages of a new product, process, or campaign saves people a lot of aggravation later on — and a lot of pivoting."

 

Stop looking at data only in aggregate.

 

Especially for those of us who don't thrive on numbers, it may feel easier to only look at data in aggregate instead of taking deeper dives. But Annie says that's ill-advised. She shared this cautionary tale: “I had a client that was a college, and they were running AdWords campaigns.They brought me in to pull together a dashboard for them. Now, I wasn't analyzing their data — I was just pulling together their dashboard. But in doing so, I realized that around a third of their AdWords traffic was coming in from porn terms."

That’s right, completely unbeknownst to this college, they were bidding on keywords for adult content.

The client was only looking at how much they spent on advertising each day and total revenue, not individual keywords. The moral of the story: a routine careful audit of your data is important.

 

Start simple with some A/B testing.

 

While managing vast amounts of data and metrics for Salesforce, Alice is constantly looking for new ways to improve performance without excessive heavy lifting. She says A/B tests are a great way to do this. And regardless of if you're in email, social, content, or another type of marketing altogether, there's a type of A/B testing that you can implement right away.

“A/B tests are something that analysts talk about all the time, and it feels very scary to a lot of people," Alice says. "I actually don't do super complicated A/B tests because you can start with something simple. For example, when we're creating a new asset in market, and we have a debate about what is the right message to put in this, we'll make two versions, put it out in two campaigns, and then see what worked well."

Alice believes marketers don't do enough A/B testing, and instead, they march forward with one test and don't have a second option. A/B tests are a great way to hedge your bets and incrementally improve performance over time.

 

Create benchmarks unique to the work you do.

 

Alice says that all marketers can become more data-driven by creating benchmarks for success. Too many marketers focus on numbers that sound impressive. They'll say, "Hey, this blog post got 3,000 views — that's great!" But is that really a great number compared to past posts, or compared to the average post a year ago? Take time to find your own marketing benchmarks so you can truly measure success.

Alice says too many marketers publish content, "look at the visits after a week, and then make pronouncements like, 'This didn't do well' or 'this did really great.' Well, compared to what? Instead, look at how this message is doing in a variety of different places compared to other messages. That can give you a more complete picture of what's going to resonate in the long term, and really drive an entire strategy change for your messaging."

 

Set up a snazzy dashboard so you actually enjoy reviewing your data.

 

One reason some marketers avoid data in decision-making is because it can be unwieldy. Spreadsheet attachments and rows of cells don't really invite curiosity, and they're rarely user-friendly for those who want to dive in more (see the above point on not looking at data only in aggregate).

Annie says, “The reason most people think of data as scary is that so much data is trapped in these really hideous tables. You open up a table and you just see numbers. You're like, 'My eyes don't even know where to rest. I'm just seeing numbers jump out at me and I don't know what to do with it.'

If you think about the struggles that we all have, we're balancing email, we're balancing social media — we're balancing all of these different things. Then you open up a spreadsheet and you just kind of want to know, 'What am I supposed to do here?'"

An awesome dashboard lets you review all of your data in one place, with managers and team members having full visibility into metrics. With a dashboard that lets you work from any device and drill into the data exactly how you want (plus customize charts and graphics for how you like to review numbers), you'll be much more likely to become a data-driven marketer.

Hear more of Annie and Alice's stories from the front lines of marketing data on the full episode of the Cloudcast. You'll also hear why Alice thinks marketers of any background can become analysts, if you're looking to make a career change.

Several weeks ago, the Marketing Cloudcast got an upgrade to an entirely new format and style (think narrative with multiple guests — more Freakonomics, less live interview), and I'd love to know what you think! 

Join the thousands of smart marketers who are Cloducast subscribers on Apple PodcastsOvercastGoogle Play Music, and Stitcher.

Tweet @youngheike with feedback on this episode — or ideas for future guests and topics.