Everyone knows you can lie with statistics. So why are we so convinced we can find the answers to all business problems in data?

But try walking into a meeting today without a PowerPoint crammed with numbers. Before you can finish your reasoned explanation of an exciting, innovative idea, someone will invariably interrupt.

“Where’s the data?”

Data-Driven Thinking

Within the past decade, data-driven everything has become the holy grail of business operations. Now even people who still value their instincts are likely to pretend otherwise.

But hold on.

“While data marketing might be the best thing since sliced bread, the human factor still remains one of the most critical parts,” according to Elissa Fink, chief marketing officer at Tableau. “The data does not tell the whole story, you need human judgment to interpret, understand, compare and contrast, to make decisions.”

Data Points

Of course, you can squeeze plenty of insights from data. Businesses have the potential to know their customers in a deeper, more meaningful way than ever before, thanks to marketing analytics.

Marketing analytics — the practice of measuring, managing and analyzing marketing performance — enables you to assess the performance of your programs and maximize its effectiveness.

But every time the discussion turns to data my mind skips to a song my grandfather played over and over again. Recorded by Peggy Lee, the song asked an existential question: Is that all there is?

Is that all there is? is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.

Shades of Gray

Rather than break out the booze, perhaps everyone should break out an image of a zebra … just as empirical evidence that things are rarely black or white.

Heck, until recently, scientists thought zebras were white with black stripes. But new research shows they’re black with white stripes.

The point is there are very few clear choices that eliminate confusion. Everything is, to invoke an overused expression, a shade of gray — including whether to use data or rely on your gut.

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The best approach to take is holistic: Make use of relevant data but temper the insights you squeeze from it through the lens of your own experience, “an unconscious form of intelligence.”

4 Data Realities

Data, like instinct, is nuanced. Ask enough data professionals to identify common realities about it, and you’re likely to experience déjà vu. Certain themes come up over and over.

  1. It’s challenging to work with inconsistent data sources. It can be difficult, time-consuming, or both to aggregate data in an efficient way. Collecting and analyzing massive amounts of data from sources such as social media, social media monitoring reports, paid media, and site side traffic reports can reveal interesting and useful patterns. We need better ways to quickly import various data sources and create the charts and visualizations that will drive decision-making.
  2. Not all data is created equal. Each data source has its own biases and deficiencies. To make optimal use of that data, you have to understand the methodology behind it. You have to ask, “How is the data collected, and is it biased toward a specific perspective?” There’s no shortage of data. The challenge is finding the best data to meet your objective.
  3. Dirty data is worse than no data at all. Dirty data is littered with corrupt or inaccurate records. Cleaning (or updating) it will reduce your bounce rate, eliminate duplicate data, enhance accuracy, and improve insights. As a first step, ask everyone on your team to periodically remove or update the data they have entered.
  4. Too much data can make you lose focus. Extraneous data can divert your attention from key performance indicators (KPIs). The challenge is to identify the high-value data that supports each KPI without shifting attention to a secondary performance indicator. If your company’s data and analytics are over-complicated, take a step back, simplify, and reassess so your goals are aligned with your strategy.

Need help creating an effective brand experience strategy? Contact Chris.Spears@arke.com for more information.

Noreen Seebacher is the content evangelist at Arke, where she researches, writes and continues her long career in news reporting as a brand journalist. Noreen lives in Beaufort, South Carolina with her husband, her dog and four formerly homeless cats.