data driven

Becoming Data Driven

This cold open was originally featured in the March 10, 2021 newsletter found here:

The First Step To Being Data-Driven

Yesterday, I was checking out a discussion thread in Slack (you’ve joined our free community, Analytics for Marketers, yes?) and someone asked the question, does using Title Case (every word capitalized) in social media captions garner more engagement than someone using Sentence case (first word capitalized)?

That’s a fascinating question, and certainly one that is knowable, that is answerable. But the question itself is what got me thinking. This person, Diana, was curious about something, and asked a question that needed data and analysis.

When we talk about organizations being data-driven or not being data-driven, very often we’re talking about how data is used in the decision-making process. If data is what you go to first, you’re data-driven. If something else is used first in the decision-making process (opinion, experience, intuition, emotion), then at best you’re data-informed but probably just not using data to make decisions.

Diana’s question matters so much not because we’re making a decision with data, but because she’s asking about data at the start of the process, rather than the end. When you build a culture of being data-driven, you start using data from the beginning of the project you’re working on, not as an add-on later in the process.

So what’s the secret here? It’s a core attribute you have to find and encourage in people: curiosity.

Incurious people and organizations tend not to be data-driven. They have an answer in mind, they have an outcome in mind, and they have absolutely no curiosity, no desire to dig deeper or to know more. They have a destination they’re driving to, a way they prefer to go, and nothing will sway them from it.

Curious organizations and people begin with questions they really want to know the answer to, and are willing to do the work necessary to get the answers. Unsurprisingly, once they have the answers – extracted from data and analysis – they’ll use the answers to make decisions. They too have a destination, but they use data to get to that destination in the most efficient and effective ways – and are willing to change when the data changes.

The challenge for all of us is to foster curiosity. It’s all too easy, every day, to just want to plow through the to-do list, check things off, and be as productive as possible. Our organizations demand that of us, so if we do not explicitly allocate time and resources for curiosity, we’ll never get to it.

How do you foster it? One simple trick that Katie did when she managed a team of 10 marketing technologists at an agency (agencies aren’t known for encouraging a lot of formal professional development) was to require every team member to present once a month at an all-team meeting; each week, 2 people would present on something they researched and learned to the rest of the team. At the beginning of the month, we’d ask people what questions they got from clients or other people at the company, and build a training calendar around those questions. Then individual team members would go off, do their research, and present their findings.

Fostering curiosity is all about giving people the time and space they need to be curious, and encouraging it as part of your workflow. Done well, it satisfies professional development and training needs, opens up new business opportunities, and builds the foundation you need to be truly data-driven.


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