Don’t Let Data Make Decisions For You

Posted November 2, 2017

Data won’t solve your problems.

It’s shocking, I know. We’ve been told by marketing gurus” and Silicon Valley that data is the single must-have that enables great products. It’s the golden age of analytics,” after all. Startup culture has seeped into marketing culture, and now everybody tells you that data is key to making good decisions. You must track your website, your social media, and all your KPIs ad infinitum.

It’s a load of crap.

The thing is, you know it’s crap. Just because we can measure more things than ever before doesn’t make the data more inherently useful. Now we’re all just wasting a lot of time on data that doesn’t matter. If your website strategy and social media investments are working, you would know because your business would likely pick up steam too. Any data beyond that might be helpful in diagnosing the problem; but while numbers don’t lie, they don’t exactly tell stories either.

There’s a reason most of us don’t read math textbooks for fun.

This isn’t a diss against all data. Analyzing results is a necessary evil in business, and one that some people really like. How much growth did you have quarter over quarter compared to last year? Did you grow your customer base, or is it mostly repeat business? How much profit did you make this quarter? Do those metrics align with your goals? If not, how can you improve them next year?

These questions are worth asking. Data isn’t the problem. You should use Google Analytics (or your preferred equivalent) to track your website, and to measure what’s working. That data is great, but making changes based on data is reactive.

Twitter is a great example of a company that reacts based on analytics, but ends up making poor decisions with that data. Twitter has an ad market that’s arguably successful, and lots of data on their users. But every quarter, they realize their metric of active daily users is decreasing, and they’re finding it hard to increase the new people on Twitter as fast as they’re losing them.

Their solution to this was to start trialling 280-character tweets, and change stars” to hearts”. This is misdiagnosing the problem. The problem is the harassment and hostility on the platform, but data doesn’t tell them that information. So they continue to fumble about in the dark, like mice looking for food and falling for all the traps.

Similarly, airport security increases with every new terror threat. They’re armed with data, but they’ve made poor decisions. Airport security is 95% ineffective. Instead of finding good (creative) ways to solve problems, they react to the latest terror attempt. They’re doing what they can with the latest information they have.

And that’s why relying on data for your decisions is dangerous. Data only tells part of the story, and it often tells the story too late. It tells you the direction things are trending, and like steering a boat, it often takes a long time to turn that data around.

If your website is losing momentum, there could be any number of reasons for that. You’ll need to try different things to see if you can pick the momentum back up. And you can use analytics to track how well those things are working, and find out if they’re worth doing.

But data doesn’t solve the problem.

Creativity does.

The best solution to data you don’t like is creative problem solving. Talk to your customers. Find out if your website is useful for them. Think outside the box, track what you can, and find if it’s worked. Adapt quickly. It’s the same thing you would do in any other area of your business.

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