Marketing data isn't a panacea
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Marketing data isn't a panacea

Jon BrodyJon Brody

July 15, 2021

“Stop focusing on data” might sound odd coming from a marketer, especially one running a data-driven agency, but when it comes to running a stable and healthy marketing organization that drives the most performance, focusing less on actual data is indeed quite important. 

Why focusing on marketing data doesn’t work

In marketing, much like in life, you don’t have full control over all the outcomes all the time. Even within the prism of marketing itself, there are constant macro conditions that influence your CPMs, but also outside marketing there’s tons of other departments (product, sales, finance, etc.) that are ultimately contributing to your marketing outcomes in a positive or negative way. You only have control over the decisions you make.

The risk of being too focused on the data is that you’re constantly chasing shiny objects. Even worse, if you see your numbers go down, you will immediately assume that you did something wrong. Just because some numbers in your marketing stack went down, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your strategy was poor, or that you made some bad decisions on that first order level. 

Likewise, it could very well be that your numbers are looking pretty good, but not necessarily thanks to your strategy. Being able to determine at the first order level that you are making good decisions and maximizing your outcomes is what marketing is really all about.

The Fundamental Theorem of Making More Money from Marketing

Looking at just the numbers and outcomes, and then assuming they are directly caused by you making good inputs into the engine that led to those outcomes in the short term is too volatile. 

The fundamental theorem in play when it comes to making more money for your marketing, is that your control over your numbers, keeping them good and healthy, only comes from the strategy you set and the decisions you make.

The reality is that marketing is a game, just like poker, with lots of incomplete information. And the way to make better decisions is to have more complete information at your disposal. 

How to make good marketing decisions

If you think of your marketing organization or team as one whose purpose is to acquire more information that gives you a more complete picture, the fundamental theorem states that you will always make increasingly better decisions. 

That in turn means you’ll maximize your positive outcomes over time. This needs to become your focus. The data and the outcomes should always be divorced and looked at separately from the decisions you made that led to those outcomes.

Get insights from everything you do

The strategy of getting more complete information in order to make increasingly better choices comes down to ensuring you’re getting insights from every single thing you do. That insight layer is what allows you to connect an outcome to the decisions that led to it, instead of constantly being swayed by the numbers going up and down and assuming it’s the result of the choices you made being good or bad. 

Connect the dots with creative testing

Instead of focusing on the data so much, start focusing on connecting the dots between the numbers you’re seeing and whether or not the choices you've made and the strategy you’ve set are sound. 

That’s where creative testing comes into play as a very important thing for all companies to be doing, because it is one of the best ways to get insights out of every single action you take. Whether it’s more intelligence on value propositions, user segments, design choices, channels, creative testing ensures that you are always learning.

All that knowledge then allows you to have a more complete picture and make better decisions. At the end of the day, those decisions are all you really have control over.

How Ladder does it

From a values point of view, the reason that we at Ladder position ourselves as detectives and not scientists in terms of how we recruit and think of ourselves, is that it’s much riskier to view yourself as a scientist in a test tube, constantly digging deeper and deeper into outcomes, while losing sight of the first order principles when it comes to strategy. 

That’s why for Ladder, being a detective is a lot more important. As all digital marketers living in 2022, of course we have analytics. Of course we look at data. But the bigger question is, are we using data properly to maximize good decisions and not get too lost in the weeds?

For example, when Ladder develops a creative test, the whole point of it is that it’s rigorously structured to ensure that all attributes -  the hypothesis, concept, theme, value propositions, user segments - are associated with the ultimate asset we create. 

When we launch the test and we get the data back, we don’t look at it from a place of “OK, the data is X. What does this mean?” Instead, we’re able to evaluate the purpose of what we are looking at, and all the strategic associations we already know about it, and the first order principles behind it. 

That way, the data and the numbers we see just make a lot more sense and are more useful.

How to separate data signals from noise

Ultimately what it all comes down to is this - you have to tame the data. Just having more data in more platforms without a method of interpreting it only means you’ll have more things to look at that you cannot systematically decipher, which will very likely decrease your ability to separate signals from noise. What the right conclusions are will likely become just a guess. 

So to get back to the original point - stop focusing so much on the data, and instead take a step back and focus on the inputs that go into your choices that ultimately lead to the outcome.

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