I recently had the opportunity to present to an analytics class at the Western Washington University College of Business & Economics, my alma mater. I was asked to talk about the value of a career in analytics, which was a relief, as the course curriculum around regression analysis and predictive modeling was a bit over my head as a business owner vs. subject matter expert. That’s why we’ve hired a smart team to manage analytics for Anvil’s clients. Having learned from my time in EO, I elected to speak from my experience, rather than give straight advice about a career in marketing analytics. Below, are the first ten of my twenty insights from my career in digital marketing. Part two will be coming soon! Enjoy.
Perception becomes reality
When I first entered the working world in 1994, I quickly learned that perception trumps reality. At my first internship at a global agency in Seattle, I was humbled by how little my coworkers thought of me and my PR intern role. My perception was that I could and would change the world in my 3-month unpaid internship, and their perception was that I was enthusiastic but clueless and certainly shouldn’t be given any major responsibilities. Both perceptions had merit, but the point was, neither was backed by data, as there was insufficient history on both sides. Turns out, my coworkers were more accurate than I, in that I was clueless, yet enthusiastic. In my next entry-level PR job in Portland, one of my direct managers gauged my bandwidth and productivity based on how much paper I had on my desk. Since I was the first of the digitally-curious generation X, I preferred not to work with paper and lived in Word and Excel, and thus was given more projects than my coworkers. Getting frustrated by the situation, I quickly learned to ‘play the game’ by stacking papers and books on my desk and carried around manila folders full of blank copy paper around the office. That manager never bothered again, happy to see me finally ‘fully-productive.’ I also learned to arrive at least 2-5 minutes before the boss arrived at work and leave within a similar timeframe after their departure to look more committed. Sad but true.
Stay close to the money
At my graduation party after leaving WWU, my wise uncle reminded me to “stay close to the money.” At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. I quickly learned, however. Within a year of starting my career in PR, I realized I was at least two degrees from the money. My client paid me to secure positive press coverage, which, in turn, would influence buying behavior. The clients would judge our impact based on column inches of ink and expensive perception surveys. Once I transitioned my career to the world of digital marketing, I quickly understood what my uncle meant. I went from two degrees from the flow of money to directly on top of it, once I started optimizing my client ecommerce websites for 14 different search engines. I could tell my clients that I was driving traffic that generated qualified leads and sales, and I quickly became indispensable. With so few people in the world of digital marketing back in the late nineties, it was difficult to fire someone who was driving revenue. That truth allowed me to build a career in measurable marketing.
What gets measured gets managed
One of my mentors and former bosses once told me “what gets measured gets managed.” The saying had a good ring to it, but until I started managing people, I had little understanding of the impact of that statement. Since then, I’ve learned the hard way to measure what I want to manage, whether that be client or employee success. For my agency, keeping a diligent eye on client profitability is a key performance indicator (KPI). For employees, we look at employee bandwidth utilization, case studies and testimonials, among other metrics. I also learned that measuring the wrong metrics can lead to mismanagement of resources. For example, putting too much emphasis on billable utilization diminished the value of the team’s total contribution, including non-billable professional development, marketing and other responsibilities. Measuring holistically lead to greater insight into the team and appreciation for their roles in our success.
Measure what matters
A related lesson to measuring what you manage is to measure what matters. This insight hit me like a truck back in 1996, when my healthcare client based in Alabama asked me to provide weekly traffic reports for their website at the end of each week. For a month or two I faithfully faxed the Excel chart to my client (yep, old school), without a peep. One Friday afternoon, I decided to skip faxing it, figuring I’d send it Monday morning, since they didn’t seem to care. I was wrong. The following Monday morning, I arrived to a handful of emails and angry voicemails wondering where the traffic report was, as the executive team and board relied on that data. I then realized that this relatively simple “vanity” metric mattered deeply to my client and I’d underestimated that reality. I diligently reported the site traffic data for the remainder of my interaction with that client, but also used it as an opportunity to expand the discussion to include additional metrics that may also provide insights into the company’s health and future growth opportunities.
Visualize the data
I’m sometimes amazed I’ve built a career on the foundation of data and analytics, considering math was my least favorite and competent disciplines in school. Thus, I’ve learned to visualize data that otherwise seems nearly meaningless to me. I’ve pushed my team to do the same for clients, as many are also as visually-oriented. I’ve built a series of dashboards I use to manage my business, from sales and marketing to operations. I find it easier to identify trends and opportunities through visualization. We’ve built similar reports for our monthly client reports as well. At the end of the day, many humans are visually-oriented and tend to cognate data when it is presented visually, and I believe my success and that of my agency (Anvil) has been based on our ability to present a visual narrative to the data we track and analyze.
Clearly define goals and associated metrics
The most successful client engagements I’ve been a part of across 9 agencies and 20+ years as a marketer had one thing in common: clearly defined goals and metrics. Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a large national bookseller, increasing ROI through troubling times for the company. Unfortunately, after nearly a year working together, we could not agree with the CMO regarding objectives, strategies, tactics and metrics. Realizing we were set up to fail, I resigned the account. More recently, a similar ecommerce client we enjoy working with shared disappointment in our performance, despite a lack of clearly defined accountability, goals and metrics. From our perspective, our output and performance were strong, yet our client was measuring us on different metrics and data. Apparently, my learning curve is relatively flat and I’m now requiring the goals and metrics definition as part of our onboarding process with all new clients.
Measure the past to inform the future
History is a rich source of insights, especially if we pay attention to the lessons within the data. The U.S. armed services are particularly adept at this. Any given weapons may have a small user manual, but the required reading surrounding the use of that weapon is exhaustive. One of the most powerful tools we use as a leading indicator of our future success at Anvil, is Net Promoter Score. Twice a year, Anvil sends a brief survey to its clients to evaluate the quality of their experience. The process helps us identify strengths and weaknesses and improve the customer journey. It’s also known for being an accurate leading indicator of future company health. There are many ways to leverage historic data to inform future decisions, so make sure you build surveys and analysis into regular business rhythms.
Act on real-time analytics
What is the point of building and sending out surveys if you don’t act on the insights? More importantly, the impact of responding quickly and adjusting based on those insights can have exponential impact. A few years ago, I was teaching a workshop in Singapore and was staying at the Pan Pacific Hotel. Halfway through my visit, I received a mid-stay survey. I was pleased with the service and only casually mentioned the bed was firm in the comment box (as I had a stiff neck from travel and thought a softer mattress would have been better for me). I submitted the completed survey around 1 pm and was back at the hotel by 5 pm (still jetlagged) and about to take a quick nap before dinner. I received a call from the front desk at that moment, asking if I’d had an opportunity to check out the new pillowtop mattress. I was blown away that they’d read AND acted upon my survey. More than seven years later, I’m still telling that story, and it cost them very little to delight me, beyond creating a responsive corporate culture. Related article: Impact Marketing: Winning Customers with Quick Wits
Predictive analytics are the future
For years, I’ve been pushing my team and clients to think two steps ahead. Predictive analytics have been around for some time now, but very few companies have the interest and ability to implement a predictive analytics program. While large consumer and tech brands have leaned forward on predictive analytics, tools are becoming increasingly more affordable, which provides an opportunity for smaller organizations to benefit from algorithmically-driven sales and marketing programs that anticipate and leverage trends in buying behavior.
Good analytics intersects art and science
Having grown up in the world of market research, I’ve always been amazed at how infrequently small companies invest in research and how much large companies do invest. Unfortunately, most marketers see researchers as nerdy wonks, and not artists. Good research can provide validation and great research can provide amazing insights. One of the best examples of research-driven creative is the Got Milk? ad campaign. Regardless of the scientifically-proven health benefits or adverse effects of milk consumption, one nugget the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners gleaned from its focus groups was simply that milk made certain foods better (cookies, ice cream, etc.). The ad campaign took a creative approach to sending that message. Thus, the Got Milk? campaign become one of the most iconic and successful ads of all time.
Over the past few decades, I’ve learned a great deal about the power of measurement, and the above insights are just a handful to get conversation going. Before you comment below that I missed a few lessons, wait for Part two, coming soon. Stay thirsty for learning my friends.