One of the most straightforward and yet difficult questions to answer in marketing strategy is whether we should be fixing what’s broken or doubling down on what’s working for us. The answer to that question has to be governed by several things:
- Do we have the resources and capabilities to fix what’s broken?
- Do we have the resources and capabilities to do more of what’s working?
- Do we know from our data what situation we’re in?
The first two questions are straightforward to answer. If you’ve got an SEO problem, for example, and you have no SEO skills in house and don’t have a capable partner, then you can’t really fix the problem.
The same is true for what’s working. If you’ve got a thousand bucks to spend on advertising and you’re getting great results, but your company is budget-constrained, you can’t get more money no matter how well it’s working.
Assuming you have answers to both of those questions – you can fix what’s broken and/or you can do more of what’s working, you have to come up with an answer for the third question.
Do you know what situation you’re in?
Two Methods for Situational Analysis
Here are two straightforward methods for situational analysis. The first is for data where you have positive and negative data, such as the data in Google Search Console or other similar SEO data. Let’s say we have a table of pages that have gained search traffic in the last month, and pages that have lost search traffic in the last month:
Perform these two basic tests:
- Is the biggest positive value greater in magnitude than the biggest negative value? For example, if my best performing page earned 200 clicks more last month and my worst performing page lost 100 clicks, that would be a case where the best performing page was greater in magnitude of change than my worst performing page.
- Is the sum of my positive values greater than the sum of my negative values? For example, if all my losses add up to -10000 and all my gains add up to +5000, I would have a net loss of -5000.
If my biggest positive value outweighs my biggest negative value AND my net value is positive, then I should double down on what’s working. The negatives don’t outweigh the positives.
If my biggest positive value doesn’t outweigh my biggest negative value AND my net value is negative, I need to fix what’s wrong immediately. Things are going completely the wrong direction.
If it’s a mix, look at the net value. If the net value is negative, err on the side of fixing what’s wrong UNLESS your biggest positive value is overwhelmingly greater than your biggest negative, at least a 2x difference.
For data where you’ve just got a series, like the standard chart in Google Analytics:
We’ll want to run a trend analysis to determine what the trend is. Refer to this post for details on the trend analysis methodology. In this particular case, I’ve run the following analysis:
We see that at point 1, there’s a slight downward trend, but the p-value at point 2 says it’s not statistically significant and the R^2 measure is almost zero, which means our trend analysis says there isn’t a meaningful trend here (R^2 < 0.65, p > 0.05).
So what does this test tell us to do?
When we have a statistically meaningful trend that’s positive, double down on what’s working.
When we have a statistically meaningful trend that’s negative, fix what’s broken.
When we have no trend or a trend that isn’t statistically meaningful, err on the side of fixing what’s broken.
Why Err on the Broken Side?
Marketing tactics and execution are a lot like a car. You can squeeze a lot of performance out of a car by making a bunch of tweaks, but there are upper limits to what you can do based on the kind of car you have. A NASCAR vehicle’s top speed record tends to be lower than an F1 vehicle’s top speed record because they’re just built differently.
And like cars or fitness or any number of disciplines, something obviously wrong creates much more drag than doing everything except one important thing right. In SEO, a server that spits out error codes will impose a far greater penalty on your site than anything you get right. In email marketing, sending to bad addresses will do more harm to your email list than any acquisition tactic will do good. In advertising, bad targeting will hurt your ads more than changing and tweaking your copy a million times.
However, when things are working, when you’re punching above your weight, when your campaign is on fire, make the most of it. Make hay while the sun shines, as the adage goes, because those moments when everything is working perfectly are relatively few and far between. Take advantage of them while there’s advantage to be had.
Use these two tests to understand what your data is suggesting you do for a course of action. It’s better than guessing, and it will help you make good decisions faster.
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