As I was getting ready to take the Google Analytics Certification test, I did quite a bit of reading (and note taking) in the digital fundamentals course to prepare myself. It took me back to my college days and the thrill of learning something new that would carry me through my work or life; something that had weight. Ever get an idea so simple, you’re surprised you’ve not heard anyone else say it quite that way before? It feels Earth shattering (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t).

When we’re brainstorming new ideas, we often get emotionally attached to what we come up with. We have opinions about what will work best for any given situation, based on our own past experiences. We trust our guts (and have an implicit bias) that our brilliant idea will work best to meet our marketing goals, rather than trusting the data to suggest what will and won’t work. Our ideas, while indeed brilliant, might not be the right fit for the goal.

One side effect of this way of thinking is that our ideas never really differ from one challenge to the next. We’re focused on the tactics that we know rather than opening our minds to big ideas we can embrace and use to change the game. Imagine proposing the same ideas over and over, year after year. Eventually, our stakeholders, clients or executives will get bored or frustrated by the repetition, especially if the ideas haven’t delivered results in the past.

How do we filter our own biases out? The solution is simple: opinion out, data in.

To make data-driven PR work, we must rely on data, not opinion or instinct, to make decisions and come up with ideas that lead us to success.

How do we do this? In the beginning of any campaign or program, we must discover what’s worked, what has not and what the overall landscape looks like. We start with data from past campaigns, past events and past goals. We must look at competitors to understand what they’ve done. We have to examine our audiences to see where they are headed and how behaviors have changed.

By looking at past data, we know what’s been done and can determine what needs to be done next. We can explicitly rule out things that haven’t worked, especially if they’ve failed repeatedly. We know X tactic doesn’t work, so let’s stop thinking about that approach and think about everything from a different perspective.

To quote Sherlock Holmes from A Scandal in Bohemia, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

An example: a client recently approached us asking to advertise on a particular social network. We looked at the numbers, at past performance and at the platform’s results in general. They didn’t deliver results. We cautioned our client that they were spending money to address the wrong audience with the wrong method for achieving their goals. They chose to move ahead, but more cautiously than they had planned, and when the first wave of relatively poor quality results came in, our data was validated.

Not only did we have the data to back up our recommendations, but we gained the trust of the client by relying on what numbers and charts were telling us about why the program wouldn’t work. We made recommendations for different platforms and tactics, and those have since born much greater, more impactful business results.

While relying on gut instinct works in the movies, in real life, it’s better to rely on data that tells a story vs. our feelings and opinions. Data can tell you a very different story if you’re open to hearing it. Do the hard work up front of gathering data and research, avoid making decisions before you’ve reviewed the data and understand when your own biases are coloring your judgement. You’ll be much more likely to experience the marketing and communications success you’re seeking.

Chel Wolverton
Account Manager, Marketing Technology


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