In The Trenches

How to stop data madness

Published on August 15, 2016 Back to blog
Cartoon Man Puzzled by Data on Computer

Lately, I feel like I’ve been looking at lots of data. And, to be honest, I like it. Coming from a media and research background in my early days in this business, I grew a deep affection for numbers.  I enjoyed spending endless hours studying reach and frequency calculations, analyzing  research reports, and comparing indexes on everything from buying behaviors and media habits to  social preferences and mindsets.  

Of course, that was back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s – before “big data.” Now, virtually everything we do is being tracked. And, as a result, the world has gone data-crazy. It seems like the more numbers we can show, the better.  But, today, I urge you stop the madness.  Data is wonderful. But, we must consider quality over quantity and approach it systematically to make sense of it. 
Today, I have five simple recommendations for anyone looking to make sense of data (and I encourage you to share this with anyone who maybe preparing data reports for you).

1.  Always have a benchmark
Whether it be an industry benchmark, prior period result or even an estimated goal, data is meaningless without a point of comparison.  Never provide data without some reference point (unless, of course, it is intended to set the benchmark).

2.  Take an aerial view before jumping into the weeds
Before analyzing every piece of data to find tiny nuggets of insight, look at the major objectives such as sales, conversions, or calls to identify what may require closer investigation.  As you discover anomalies, dig deeper to find what may’ve caused them.

3.  Less is more
Charts and graphs are great. But, they can be as much of an eyesore as an excel spreadsheet if you try to put too much into them. Ask yourself what really matters, and just report on that.  There’s always room for an appendix is someone needs more info.

4.  Tell a story
Data can tell a very interesting story.  Rather than spending time on the boring parts of the story (non-essential data, or data that doesn’t provide new insight), focus on where the action is. This is what we care about the most – and what gets everyone excited.

5.  Make it actionable
Data is useless if you can’t act upon it. When you make an exciting discovery, you need to do more than just report on it. You need to identify how act upon it. If something had a negative impact, how can you shut it down? If something has a positive impact, how can you replicate it and build on the learning?

I love data, and believe in the power it provides. But, if we don’t approach it thoughtfully, we will drown in it.  So, rather than putting an anchor around our necks, let’s approach it like Michael Phelps and we’ll all get gold medals for data. (Sorry, I couldn’t help the Olympic reference).

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners