Don't Let the Analytics Tail Wag the Strategic Dog - InformationWeek

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Data Management // Big Data Analytics
10:00 AM
Lauren Tucker
Lauren Tucker

Don't Let the Analytics Tail Wag the Strategic Dog

Don't let a sense of urgency or artificial deadline destroy your analytics strategy. Plan and think thinks through.

A dog’s tail is for balance, navigation, and efficient communication. A dog that chases its own tail just goes in circles. This is what it feels like when the context of urgency puts more focus on the math of advanced analytics tools than the business and marketing strategies these tools are meat to serve.

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Sophisticated advanced analytics tools like target, media, and marketing mix models can take a number of steps to get off the ground. Proof of concept, data strategy and hygiene, data architecture, analysis, and interpretation of findings are all important stages in developing a successful analytics project. But with so many steps, the marketing leader and champion of these projects can find it difficult to connect the dots back to the original business questions that inspired the analysis.

The routine context of urgency is often the culprit. My team is often brought into the middle of a project, ostensibly to provide course correction when “the numbers don’t look right.” Because the projects are so far along at the time we swoop in, it’s tempting to focus on math rather than the underlying strategic assumptions related to the business dynamics, assumptions that significantly affect which inputs to use and how the data is structured. Unfortunately, the business dynamics that inspired the project can get lost in the furious efforts to make the math work in the time allotted.

While time may seem the enemy, it can also be the key to ensuring these projects successfully provide the decision support needed for the long term.

Take the time for a thorough discovery It will save you time. Remember the old saying, “Measure twice. Cut once.” A thorough business discovery informs and clarifies the underlying assumptions of the analysis before the project gets too far down the road. Too often the sense of urgency lops off the time needed for the project team to get a solid understanding of the relationship between the business dynamics and the essential question driving the analysis, leaving the data scientists to rely to heavily on their own judgment as the art and science of analysis comes together. Key stakeholders may perceive this as a “black box” or a lack of transparency, a perception that will make the results harder to assimilate. The best results come from the combination of data plus the collective wisdom of the team, and taking the time to immerse the data scientists in a thorough business discovery provides them with the guide rails they need to identify the most correct, the most relevant solution.
Give more time to the project It will pay now and later. Taking the time to ensure that the results of any analytics endeavor passes the smell test will encourage the organization to embrace these tools in the future. I’ve worked with clients who face the choice of getting the wrong models done on time or the right models done late. There are times when initial results call into question the underlying assumptions, which may mean revisiting the methodology, the data inputs or the data structure. Course correction is an option and there is no shame in taking the time to pursue it. You were probably making some profitable decisions before you embraced analytics. These tools aren’t meant to provide “The Answer,” so don’t wait for it. But taking the time to get the project right means you can take some of the fear and uncertainty out of making future decisions.
Make time to take in the results Your patience will be rewarded. This is complex stuff. If your organization is to benefit from the analytics age, you must make time to digest and internalize the results. Unfortunately, the context of urgency can hurt your long-term efforts to promote data analytics as a core strategic tool. In my experience, when qualitative research like focus groups or intensive interviews misses the mark, no one seems to dismiss the approach out of hand, but advanced quantitative tools don’t often have a second chance to make first impression. Creating the space and time for stakeholders to internalize the results and get comfortable with implications will keep your analytics program from getting derailed.
Create time for test and learnYou’ll uncover powerful inspiration. For me, fearless creativity and innovation are the true beauty of integrating advanced analytics into your marketing strategy. The future will only bring more untested channels and marketing tactics, and consumers will always seek novelty and change. Relying on the tried and true won’t cut it if you want to find repeatable success in this dynamic market. Innovations in technology, mathematics, and statistics offer opportunities to experiment with complex simulations of your future marketing ecosystem so you can have the confidence to try new approaches today.

When you put time on your side, the strategic imperatives can remain out in front while the analytics provide you with the decision support needed to achieve repeatable success.

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