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An innumerate marketer begs the new species of click-sniffer to make a bit of an effort and translate your undisputed brilliance into some language other than Klingon or Ithkuil.
If you believe the bloggers (and who doesn't?), marketing departments all over the world are clearing out the desks of their PR, advertising and 'corporate communications' dinosaurs to make room for the new breed of data geek.
On the whole, that’s good, but data is only useful if the lessons it provides can be communicated in terms that people can understand.
Fizzy trails of data...
No one liked the dinosaurs anyway and we’ve all woken up to some new ideas that those PR guys used to call ‘game changers’:
- We humans leave a fizzy trail of data in our wake as we surf the digital waves.
- This data can be captured in large, rusty buckets, evaporated in coiled copper tubing and condensed into the most precious marketing commodity of all: Insight.*
- When you inject this insight stuff into the veins, arteries, flaps and folds of the Marketing Beast, magical things happen.
People actually open our emails. And click through to our websites. And (cue Hallelujah Chorus, Mormon Tabernacle Choir version) buy our over-priced kitsch.
- It takes a special kind of person to design, build and operate these data-distilling contraptions. The kind of person who, until now, could be seen standing around railway stations, scribbling into little notebooks**. Or cornering you at parties to ‘explain’ the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or alleged Rules of Rugby.***
Weighing the pros and cons****, we looked at these people who, only a few short years ago, we were beating up on the playground, and hired their asses.
As a result, you can’t get halfway through a meeting before they hijack it with their bloody Omniture dashboards and Radian6/Heroku/Trip Advisor mash-ups*****.
The real skills gap
And this (at long last) brings me to my point:
If there’s a global skills gap crying out for good Data Analysts, there’s an even more urgent skills gap nestled inside it calling for good Data Analysts who speak English.
So this is a plea to everyone who stands between the raw numbers and those baffling sacks of meat called ‘other people’.
Please, please, learn to do these things:
1. Learn to turn a chart into a sentence
Preferably a plain English sentence that includes phrases like, “which means”, “this shows that” or “clearly telling us…”
2. Learn to translate your analysis into recommendations
You’ve shown me that this particular micro-metric is trending up and the other nano-KPI is skewing alarmingly. Now just go that teeny-tiny extra step and tell me why I should care.
3. Dare to dumb it down
The smartest people in the world are invariably the ones who can explain string theory to nine-year-olds or Why Frozen O-Rings Are A Bad Idea In Space Shuttles to congressmen.
Hint: You’re not smart when you make me feel stupid. You’re smart when you make me smarter.
4. Know when to keep your data to yourself
Every foetal factoid may, to you, seem fascinating. But that doesn't mean it's significant or meaningful, much less actionable.
Keep your powder dry and we'll all be more likely to lean forward (as opposed to topple) when you unfurl your latest scatter-gram.
5. Realise that numbers alone don't fill shopping baskets
Data illuminates. Data indicates. Data informs. But data doesn't drive web visitors to the checkout. Great products propelled by razor-sharp creative fueled by powerful ideas do.
These things are made more intelligent and more effective with the benefit of the insights you deliver. But data on its own is essentially high-octane trivia.
6. Put your data in context
That little nugget of gold you panned from Clickstream Creek is only real gold if you can connect it to our business, our customer and our strategy. If you can’t do that, it’s Fool’s Gold.
7. Bottom line: get to the bottom line
- Take the shortest possible route.
- Instead of drenching me in data, drip a concentrated dose of insight straight on to my cornea.
- Turn pivot tables into prose, spreadsheets into sonatas and nuance into neon.
- Make the numbers rise up, slap on a pair of Manolos and sing like Whitney Before She Met Bobby.
If you do that, you will become so rich you can hire statisticians to measure the productivity, efficiency and job satisfaction of your statisticians.
If you can do that, I beg you: open a night school where you can teach other socially awkward rocket scientists to do it too.
If you can do that, in the words of Whitney, I will always love you....
* I think this is how it works.
** Yanks: see trainspotting
*** It’s a trick: not even rugby refs understand the rules of Rugby.
**** Pros: we’ll make shedloads of money; Cons: we’ll have to spend our lunch hours listening to Rain Man drone on about standard deviations, regression to the mean and the relative phenol levels of single malt Scotch (they can ruin anything).
***** Admittedly pretty cool.
Photo: the author during a Google Analytics drill-down session (pizza not even provided).