Digital Analytics: Getting the Right Information

How do you organize your actionable information from digital analytics?

Good marketers are curious people and seek out information. This is a good trait, but too much of a good thing…

Organizational Culture

Information overload is a major challenge for many people and organizations. We have come to a place where we want information as it happens, 24/7. This is a bad model for managing a company, or even our daily activity. People tend to become overwhelmed and paralysis sets in, relegating them to rote activities that have little foundation in the data.

When I work with clients, one line of conversation inevitably focuses on actionable information. To get there, organizations need to get better at aligning goals across employees, set these up in their analytics programs, providing access to digital analytics in a timely fashion (does not necessarily mean 24/7), and trust people to ‘do their job’. If your organizational culture allows you to get to this point, then there are a few things you can do with information to make it more consumable and actionable.

Segment information into types

Define information types in terms of their level a relevance to your objectives and the actions you can take. I like to look at information in three broad buckets: Actionable, Interesting and Alerts.

Actionable information sounds easy on the surface, but truly defining it for individuals and giving them access to it, can be challenging.  Actionable information needs to meet certain criteria:

  1. Your actions directly impact the information you see. It is not just that you can take action based on what you see, but what you see is impacted by your actions.
  2. It has to be gathered over enough time for the results of your actions to manifest themselves in the information.
  3. You have to receive the information frequently enough that your next actions are still relevant.

For any individual, the amount of information that fits that criteria is very small. As a general rule, the broader your authority the more time your actions take the become visible in the data. A manager of a paid search program can see their impact day over day. The director of digital strategy can take a month or more to see their results. Reports with truly actionable information should be concise. Big reports tend to include a lot of noise; small reports tend to be better.

The next type of information is Interesting information, and is the most abundant. This is data that may be connected with your role, but which is not directly affected by your actions. Back to the paid search manager and director of digital strategy. The manager can’t take action against total site visitors, though the stats may be interesting to him. For the director, the price per click is not something she can affect (unless she is engaging in a role several levels below her pay grade), but she may be interested in it.  If we look through our in-boxes, we notice that they are flooded with interesting information that tends to distract from the actionable information.

Alerts are just that, information that alerts us to the fact that something unexpected is happening. This can be good or bad, but it is related to the impact of our actions and are not (at least we hope) popping up on a regular basis.

What do you do with this?

  1. Create reports or dashboard that are laser focused on the information your actions directly affect. Remove the superfluous data.
  2. Only receive reports as frequently as needed to take action. Getting reports everyday if you only take action weekly or monthly is a waste of your attention.
  3. Review company email distribution lists – the ones you send and the ones you are on. Cull these down to the absolute minimum. Receiving several emails each day with reports that are not actionable to you is a waste of your time, and the time of others.
  4. If you are in the right position, ensure that there is one source (one truth) of information and all people have appropriate access.

As marketers we tend to be curious. So our day is not totally consumed with actionable information. We want to read interesting things about our company, our industry and our roles. Set time aside for this so that it does not interrupt your workflow, before or after you core work time. Stay curious, just in a structured way.

One of the reasons I am given for why people look at reports that are not actionable is that they want to be sure nothing is going wrong; they want to spot problems before they have an impact. This stems for a fear that something will be missed. Rather than review non-actionable reports, this is what we use Alerts to handle. Set up your parameters and create alert emails when things fall outside them. Most analytics packages have these (we use Google Analytics).

One of our best traits as marketers can also be our Achilles heel. Structure your information and organize your day to allow for your curiosity while not interrupting your workflow, and your productivity will increase.

Related to this are the roles of “influencers” and stakeholders. These are people who affect our ability to hit our goals. Understanding their metrics, and what they do to achieve them is important to our results. But, that is another topic to tackle in a future post.


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