Data-Driven Marketing: 3 Common Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

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These days, marketing is all about data—and for good reason. Having data to back up strategies, suggestions, and claims gives marketing a seat at the table and leads to more effective campaigns. But we have found that in the rush to become "data-driven marketers", three common mistakes seem to prevail.

Here's what those three mistakes are, and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Focusing on Vanity Metrics

Not all metrics are tied to business results. These are superficial data points—generally large numbers—that make the company or marketing department look good, but do not necessarily indicate that a campaign is effectively generating quality leads or leading to sales. For example, the number of followers on social media, or the number of downloads for a piece of content, tend to be vanity metrics for many companies.

Now, one thing to make clear is that vanity metrics are not inherently bad. There is absolutely nothing wrong with tracking likes, shares, or followers on social media. In fact, tracking this data can help you gain a comprehensive view of brand awareness. Similarly, tracking the number of downloads or total page views can help you see which topics and messaging resonate with the audience most effectively, helping you shape future content creation. Furthermore, these metrics can be extremely useful when looking to initiate partnerships with subject matter experts, influencers, or other organizations.

The problem with vanity metrics is that many marketers allow them to stand in for more meaningful data about business outcomes. Having a large number of page views means nothing for your revenue goals if those visitors bounce immediately, or never make a purchase.

How to avoid making this mistake: Focus on clarity metrics instead. This is the operational data that can truly make a difference to your business' bottom line. For example, the amount of time prospective customers need to wait before being contacted by a sales representative, or the number of leads generated, count as clarity metrics. The most important thing you can do to avoid focusing on vanity metrics is to constantly ask yourself how each data point directly ties to a business outcome.

Remember that what counts as a vanity metric depends on whether or not the data supports a business outcome for your specific industry. If your company is a publisher that makes money advertising to followers on social media, then the number of followers or number of shares is a very important metric indeed.

2. Never Asking "Why"

Without context, data is just a bunch of numbers. If a certain email had low open rates, that doesn't automatically mean that it wasn't a good email. Perhaps it was sent at the wrong time. Conversely, if a blog post did really well, it may have been due to a sudden influx of subscribers from the previous week's blog post, or a fortuitous flurry of Google searches for that topic. If you never look for reasons why the numbers turned out a certain way, you won't be able to avoid making mistakes multiple times, or may not take advantage of something truly successful.

How to avoid making this mistake: Question everything. In order to get the context you need to truly understand what your marketing data is telling you, you need to constantly ask why the data is what it is. Don't make assumptions based off of a single data point.

3. Failing to Adjust Course

Finally, the biggest mistake made in marketing: failing to adjust course based on what the data says. As marketers, it's easy to get committed to a certain course of action, and only focus on the data that supports what you're doing. Often, this happens due to pressure from upper management, or simple stubbornness that if the campaign can just run its course as planned, it will all work out.

How to avoid making this mistake: Don't be too proud to admit that something isn't working. Remember that part of being a data-driven marketer is having an objective resource to guide your strategies—so let it! Be open to what the data shows, even if it's not all favorable. Even more importantly, be flexible enough to make changes when necessary. You'll find that your flexibility pays off in dividends as campaigns will be more effective overall.