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In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss math. Specifically, what are the math skills that marketers of all stripes, but especially those who have an interest in marketing analytics, marketing data science, and machine learning/AI applied to marketing need to know. Do you need a Ph.D.? Do you need to spend a year in a data science bootcamp? The answers might surprise you.

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn
In this week’s in In-Ear Insights, we’re talking about required math skills in our analytics for marketers Slack, which by the way, if you’re not a member of please come on over to dot AI slash analytics for market was Bill asked when we spoken Social Media Marketing World I asked a rather pointed question what if I’m bad at math I respond to drum that you may not have had the best teachers because math is a language. You can learn other languages, you can learn math, and he had a follow on question. What mathematical skills do you believe are required to work with marketing analytics effectively? So Katie, do you want to know which of those you want to tackle first, like, are you bad at math? And also, what math skills do you think are necessary to be good at analytics?

Katie Robbert
So I’ll tackle the first part of it. I am self admittedly bad at math. I always have been. I understand the concepts of it, but I definitely transpose numbers. So I was always really good at geometry and proofs and those kinds of things. So there’s a side of math that is very logical to me. You know, I think I had decent math teachers, I have not been able to learn more than one language I, you know, at best speak broken English on a good day. So, you know, I don’t know that saying that you had bad teachers is necessarily the way some people are just not wired to be good at math, and I happen to be one of those people. That said, I don’t think you have to be have a PhD in math in order to be good at analytics. I think that you need to understand the fundamental concepts, you know, basic addition, subtraction, division multiplication, to get where it is you need to go because ultimately what you’re doing is you’re trying to answer a question. And so you know, maybe you rely on someone like a Chris pen to help you get to that. Answer. But ultimately, you need to understand what question you’re trying to answer first, because just looking at a spreadsheet of numbers is going to make your eyes go crossed and blurry. And it’s going to be really difficult to do. So I guess the first is to answer the first question. You don’t necessarily have to be a wizard in math, in order to be able to do analytics and reporting. And so the second question is, what math skills should I have? Well, again, have the fundamentals, understanding the concepts of how numbers go together, you know, you don’t have to be able to necessarily master things like regression analysis, but understanding what it is, is going to be really helpful. What do I mean, Chris, you’re gonna feel a little bit differently than I do about this.

Christopher Penn
Yes, and no. It may amuse you to find out that I was a straight c student in math for most of my life, except for Statistics and Probability which I failed. So that’s Certainly, there is I have no shortage of understanding the frustration people have. And my comment about bad teachers is exactly that. Because of those experiences I had. I didn’t have the best teachers, I had people who were extremely good practitioners of the field. But we’re not good communicators, and explainers of what it was that they were teaching. You’re absolutely right that the basics are essential. There’s, you have to develop also the mindset. And I think this is what you’re getting at as well in the minds of how do you think about the numbers when you have a row of numbers in a spreadsheet? What do you see a lot of people see the numbers, and then they try to look at them, and somebody is trying to do the math in their heads. And that’s a really bad idea because your brain is just not equipped for that. There are very few people who can do complex mathematics in their heads without any assistance. But when you start thinking about Okay, what do I want to know? The number one thing that people should focus on in analytics is change. What has changed when you look at your website traffic, your email opens, etc. A number by itself means nothing, right? The open rate for this week’s newsletter was 21%. Cool. So what is that good? Is that bad? Does it change from the previous week for the previous month? How does it compare versus other industry publications, knowing that gives context to the number? And that’s what I think a lot of marketers are actually looking for is the context. What does this mean? So that we can decide what we should do? And to your point, that doesn’t require much more than basic division, or you know, and some very simple formulas. The other area that I think is essential, and it’s an interesting thing to talk about is statistics and probability. Our friend and colleague Tom Webster over at Edison research has a very interesting perspective on this. He says that statistics and probability are not mathematics. They are it is a separate It discipline entirely. The fact that they both use numbers is true. But it’s like the difference between writing a white paper and writing poetry. They’re not the same thing. They both use letters and words, but they’re completely different in their, in their intense and outcomes. And there is a lot to statistics and probability that are I think are essential to mathematics essential to analytics. The first one being, even just knowing statistical validity is something statistically significant. We see this a ton, especially in email marketing. Our A B test here says that this email got 540 opens and this one got 539. Version A is the winner, huh? Nope. failed, you failed statistical significance. There’s no way you can attribute that with that small sample size. To say that a one and B did not if the likelihood of it being random chance is as high or higher than that outcome. So being able to do that type of math to even understand are is what my data is telling me valid is an essential skill. And again, if it’s not valid, you have no business making decisions on it. If you do, you’re going to end up shooting yourself in the foot.

Katie Robbert
So, would you say that most people know to even start with is my is my pile of data? valid? statistically valid?

Christopher Penn
That’s one of the starting points. Yes, I think

Katie Robbert
understanding Yes, yes. They do know, to start there.

Christopher Penn
I say that’s where you should start. Do people know that? No, absolutely not.

Katie Robbert
Yeah, that was my question is Do people know that that’s even where they should start. So for example, you know, let’s say I’m looking at the open rate of my newsletter. And, you know, I’m seeing a, you know, point 01 percent change week over week. In my brain, I’m like, oh, okay, it’s going up, therefore good. Yeah. Do I need to then worry about the statistical validity of that point? 01 percent? Or do I just care that it’s going up?

Christopher Penn
It depends. The key question is, is that happening because of something you’re doing? Or is it happening because of random chance of noise? Right? If it’s point 01 percent? If it’s point 01 percent, it’s almost certainly gonna be noise. Right? And so the thing to do there might be to look at a different timeframe. So week over week, month over month is, are you seeing greater aggregated change there and again, you can run a chi square test or a T test or a two tailed test, or whatever the stats thing you want to do to assess that, whether that’s the case or not, but ultimately, you want to know, is an action you are taking, having an actual impact or is what you’re seeing in the data noise? This is like, this is brain bending for a lot of people if you look in your Google Analytics, right? It says Yo, your users were down, you know, 1% for last week, it’s got that red our down, no, the bad things have happened. Are you sure? Or is that noise? Do you know whether that is a an important enough distinction? If your addressable audience is the entire United States, for example, and your traffic is down, you know, 1% that may not mean anything. On the other hand, if it’s, you know, if you have 10 users who doubt Well, you can have 1% of 10 users 100 users and you’re down one user, is that is that statistically significant? It might be, depending on your population. So there’s a lot of things you have to unpack it to figure out. is this important? Is this worth paying attention to? Is this worth worrying about? There are other cases where once you get into bigger effects, like we have a client that you know, less sick run over the last six weeks, while 70% of the traffic, guess what, that’s not Okay, there’s something clearly went off the rails there. And you should know the difference between those two different scenarios, you may not necessarily have to run a formal chi squared test to determine that. But you can clearly tell there’s a big enough effect like, yes, something’s up.

Katie Robbert
So I think that that’s an important distinction. Because, you know, I would probably take a while to figure out where to start with running a chi square test or even know that a chi squared test is the thing that I should be running. But what I’m hearing you say is, it’s less about math, and more about common sense. And I mean that, you know, very blanket statement, but what you’re saying is, if your usual audience is only about 100 people, and you lose one person and you see the red arrow go down, it’s probably not a big deal. But if your audiences usually 100 people and you lose 90 people like it’s It’s sort of that like, proportional, common sense of, I lost 10%. But my audience is a million people. So what is 10% of a million? And what else was going on? So it’s really having an awareness and understanding of a variety of different factors that may have been happening at the same time. So it’s the numbers, and all of the other situations around those numbers that contributed to why the number is, so a lot of it is really, you know, digging around and understanding the environment and understanding the time in place, versus just running some mathematical formulas to say, yes, this is a thing. So it Yeah, you know, so it’s really using your brain to say, Oh, well, I lost 10% of my users on a Sunday, but Sunday was Easter, and nobody was doing anything.

Christopher Penn
Yeah, there’s absolutely common sense and understand the context in which your numbers exist in and that’s hard for a lot of people. When you think about it, we look at things like national polls, you know, so and so politicians, you know, rating as this and you look at the under underlying numbers and they say, you know, we did a telephone survey of 1500 people you’re like, how can 1500 people represent a nation of 330 million? It’s because the scale and the sampling of the way you do the sampling, as long as you’re getting it evenly mixed, is good enough that you’re going to get a representation of the population as a whole. On the other hand, if you’re trying to survey the top 50 CMOS, you’re gonna have to serve me like 25 of them. You know, you can’t do one 10th of 1% cast one guy and extrapolate his opinions because there’s too much chance for variation in that small sample. When you’re looking at your marketing analytics, you have to ask yourself the same question. If you are a gigantic company, right and you have a realistically have a database of 100 million people. You can do sampling in a very small scale and be okay. If you’re like us, and your client list is not even in three zeros yet, and they have three digits, then yeah, you have to kind of ask pretty much all of our clients to get a sense of where our client base is. So it’s it’s that understanding when you look at any of your analytics that will help you decide is this lesson more important, our email marketing list when we started the company, like, I have 100 people on it, right? So when we send out a survey, we’d have to get a lot of responses back as that list grows and grows and grows. And now we’re in the thousands and soon to be 10s of thousands. We can sample a much smaller set because as long as again, as long as representative we’re going to get better results we’re going to be able to get better results from from the sample as a whole. This is all this stuff is why statistics why Tom says statistics is a totally separate division, you know, discipline than regular math. And the challenge for marketers is you kinda need both because you can’t have one without the other and get full understanding of your data and a full string of ultimately what it is you should be doing to make changes. That’s the other part that again, to Bill’s question, you need the common sense, you need the some of the skills. And then you need to do something with the information. Because if you don’t, you’re just wasted your time.

Katie Robbert
So, I think one of the things that, you know, any marketer should have in their toolkit is a really good working understanding of an Excel spreadsheet or a Google Sheet because you writing down the number so I have this really bad habit of taking notes in my notebook, manually writing down numbers, and then trying to do the math out by hand, I still operate that way, which is not the best way to operate. And so I have to get more disciplined about putting numbers into an Excel spreadsheet, because Excel will do the math for you. And so if you are someone who was bad at math, start to learn How these tools operate, you don’t have to do the underlying math. But understanding the formulas and how to apply them to a series of numbers is really going to help you shortcut. You know, that see in high school math. You know, you don’t have to be a mathematician. In order to use Excel, you just need to have sort of some of the understanding of how the functions work. So, you know, the average function, the sum function, the, you know, there’s more advanced things that you can do. But that’s a really great place to start if you’re not comfortable doing the math yourself. Oh, totally, totally.

Christopher Penn
spreadsheets. Modern spreadsheets are super powerful. There’s a tremendous amount you can do with them before you have to graduate to a bigger tool. There are some limitations and you know, some of those can bite you fairly early on, but you’ll discover them rapidly when when you look at a result and it makes absolutely no sense. The bigger problem that I think people run into with analytics is not having a plan of action for when the numbers tell you something. So this goes back to what we were talking about a few weeks ago with scenario planning, you know, the worst case scenario, the best case scenario, the do nothing scenario, right? If you haven’t written those out for your analytics, then you’re going to do the computation then have no idea what to do next.

Katie Robbert
No, I agree with that. And it’s, it’s the what are you going to do, but also, as I could probably cross this, cross it to this at this point is what is the question you’re trying to answer? Why are you looking at the numbers in the first place? You know, so? Yeah, it’s great that I can look at my website visits week over week and see if it goes up or down. But Have I done anything about it? No. And so why do I continue to look at this number, and then, you know, close the tab on my computer and walk away and go make a cup of coffee. You know, and it’s one of those things like it’s a very real thing that happens every week. I look at our Google Analytics and I’m like, Huh, okay. And then I move on with my life. Why am I looking at these numbers if I’m not going to do anything, so I need to figure out for myself, what numbers do I care about? And those numbers are the conversion numbers. People filling out a form on our website, taking action, raising their hand, saying, I’m interested enough in you that I’m willing to give you my contact information. That’s the number that I really care about. So why am I looking at the number of people coming to the website?

Christopher Penn
Yep, this is where amusingly the KPI mapping exercise really comes in handy. If you care about conversions, what’s the number that in directly influences conversions? It is actually users to the website. Yeah. And then it’s, you have the three what’s right, what happened? So what now what where you’re stuck at is what happened, right? You look at the number what happened. But we we don’t dig into the So what? Why did this happen? Why is that number up or down or sideways? Or you know, entirely made of sixes? Why? Do we do more with email? Did we say something clever on Twitter? And then what are we going to do about it? So the that middle piece is the gap if you are, if you are at so what and you’re struggling to get to now what? It’s because you didn’t do the why in the middle? Why is this number changing? And if you care about why is this number changing? And again, this goes back to Bill’s original question. Do you have to be good at math do this no, you can actually do this on Excel really easily. But you need to know that that’s the sequence. The recipe in order. math skills are like cooking skills, right? If you can cook and fry and bake and all this, that’s great. But if you don’t have a recipe or to your point and idea of what it is you’re trying to make, all those skills don’t mean anything. You can make a lot of really weird stuff. But at the end of the day, if you’re hungry, it’s not going to fix the problem. So I think that’s probably the meta skill that lays on top of all the math is context and purpose. Like we doing this?

Katie Robbert
That’s a great question, Chris, why are we doing this? But you’re absolutely right. That’s it you need to start with, why am I even looking at this information? Why am I going to break my brain to get the math to add up, if I don’t even know what I’m looking at. And I think that, you know, I, you know, can fall on the sword myself that I do it, it’s a bad habit that we all have. And when you’re limited on time, limited on resources, limited on budget, having the discipline or even awareness to start to focus in on only the numbers that matter are going to help you save your sanity. And it’s not a matter of being good at math. It’s a matter of having the awareness to say I don’t need to focus so hard on the number of visits to my website or what the bounce rate was, I need to worry about how many people took action and start there. And that’s going to help me refocus in. And so, you know, I think it’s an interesting question that they’ll raise. Because I think that there is so much of this focus on, I can’t do it because I’m not good at math. Where it’s actually, I’m not doing it because I’m super unfocused and don’t even know where to start.

Christopher Penn
Yep. We’ll close on a great quote from the interval, Seth Godin, who said about all analytics, if you’re not going to change what you eat, or how often you exercise, don’t get on the scale. Right? Because you’re not going to change what you do in your marketing. You’re not going to change how you approach your business, and then you’re not going to focus on the impact of the actions you take. Don’t bother measuring. It’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of effort. It will just frustrate. Now obviously, if your boss is telling you not to do the thing, you got to do the thing. But give that some thought to what Katie was saying if you were thinking about numbers you feel stuck? It’s probably because you haven’t figured out the why. And you’re trying to jump ahead to what should I do? And and you just get frustrated, understand what happened, know why it happened. And then that will give you the insight as to whether you can do something about it or not. If you’ve got a question like Bill’s that you want to ask us, stop, head over to the Trust Insights website, go to dot AI, you’ll find analytics for marketers or free slack comm into their newsletter, this podcast and so much more. We look forward to seeing you and hope that you are staying safe and well talk to you next time What helps solving your company’s data analytics and digital marketing problems. Visit Trust today and let us know how we can help you

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