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The Biggest Mistake in Marketing Data

Stevie asks, “What’s the single biggest mistake a business can make when it comes to data?

This is an interesting question because there are so, so many things we do wrong with data, but if we step back to look at the big picture, the answer becomes clear.

What is the big picture?

The Strategic Success Framework

My love of cooking analogies is what defines the strategic success framework:

Strategic Success Framework

Every successful project, plan, and company has these things in common:

  1. A clear outcome or goal. If you’re baking a cake, you should know what a cake looks like, what it tastes like, what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re trying to accomplish something in marketing, this is the outcome you’re looking for.
  2. A recipe. Again, if you’re baking a cake, a list of steps would probably be helpful, directions and guidance. In marketing, these are your processes, the things you do – in sequence – to achieve the outcome you want.
  3. Ingredients. The right ingredients are the foundation for your outcome. If all you have is a bag of sand, no amount of talent, tools, or recipes will ever permit you to create a delicious cake. In marketing, data is one of our ingredients.
  4. The right talent. Who’s doing the baking? What skills and experience do they have? A master chef can make do with average ingredients, but an incompetent chef will ruin even the finest foodstuffs. In marketing, these are the people who do the work.
  5. The right tools. It’s awfully hard to make a cake with nothing but a frying pan, no matter how good or expensive it is. It’s almost impossible to cook a great steak with a blender. In marketing, these are all our various software and services.

What Could Go Wrong?

So, to Stevie’s question, what’s the biggest mistake a business can make when it comes to data – in our analogy, data are our ingredients.

What could go wrong with our ingredients, if we’re baking a cake?

  • We could have bad ingredients. Spoiled flour. Rancid butter.
  • We could have the wrong ingredients. Baking soda instead of baking powder. Cream instead of milk.
  • We could have missing ingredients. Forgot to buy sugar at the store.
  • We could have inaccessible ingredients. Maybe you store your milk frozen to keep it from spoiling, and you need to bake a cake right now.
  • We could have ingredients we’re not permitted to use. What if we’ve got great flour but our outcome is a gluten-free cake?

Let’s take this framework and apply it to marketing data. What could go wrong with our data?

  • We could have bad data. Data that’s corrupted, that’s keyed in wrong, that’s polluted.
  • We could have the wrong data. We didn’t do proper requirements gathering, and we collected data that doesn’t answer our questions.
  • We could have missing data. Someone forgot to put Google Analytics back on our website after a redesign. We forgot to make a field required on a form.
  • We could have inaccessible data. Our data is trapped in a format or a system that our data analysis systems can’t use, like a CRM that can’t talk to Google Analytics.
  • We could have data we’re not permitted to use. Another department, another team has data we need and because of things like organizational politics, we can’t get at it in a timely fashion, if at all.

The Biggest Mistake in Marketing Data

Of these things that go wrong, is there a biggest mistake? It depends on the organization and which will be the most difficult to fix. Some organizations have so much technical debt – deferred maintenance and fixes – that even a relatively simple problem like dealing with missing data can be a massive undertaking.

Some organizations have so much internal politics and strife that much of the data is impermissible to use – and because of those politics, change will be difficult, potentially impossible.

Generally speaking, in any of the consulting engagements that I do with Trust Insights, there are three areas that may need change: people, process, and platform. These correspond to recipe, talent, and tools in our cooking analogy.

Platforms – tools – are the easiest problems to solve.

Processes – recipes – are more challenging to solve but typically are solvable.

People – talent – are the most difficult to make changes in because people take longer to change and are usually more resistant to change than processes or technologies.

The bottom line, however, is that the biggest mistake of all is not trying to solve the most serious data problems. If you just throw your hands up in the air and give up, then nothing improves – and that’s the biggest mistake you could make in any data endeavor. Use the frameworks above to figure out what kind of problems you’re dealing with, and then start chipping away at the problem. You don’t have to solve it immediately – but you should start solving it today, a tiny bit at a time.


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