The Five Progressive States of Data Analytics Competence


Have you ever met a marketer who didn’t want to know more about their customers? Me either. Marketing 101 teaches you the more you know about your customer the better able you’ll be to engage with and sell to them. That was true before we knew we should be concerned about the variety, velocity and volume (the 3Vs) of data. Marketers have always known there were nuggets of gold that could make or break their programs.

Knowing you need nuggets of gold, however, and actually doing the analysis to find those nuggets are two different things. Indeed, the hardest part of data analytics is, for many marketers, knowing where to start. Let’s face it. You don’t need me to tell you to use big data or analytics. That’s been sounded from the rooftops for the past five years (or more). What you need is guidance on how mining the data you have so you can gather insights and get to optimizing your customer experiences.

In this post, I will set a foundation for more to come about the how of analytics.

The States

Let’s be clear. It’s very natural that our skills vary. Practice, experience, and coaching, among other activities, help improve our abilities. Augmenting your aptitude is a journey and, as if with any journey, knowing where you are is key to getting where you want to go. You will find that the data prowess of every organization can be placed along one of five states. Within those states there are, in turn, five proficiencies that require various levels of mastery to reach successive states.

Below, I identify each state, the five proficiencies and the skills that are achieved within each. Let’s go!

State 1 – Have Data

Regardless of the size of your organization, you have data. Every purchase, customer service contact, every website visit generates data. You may not use the data available to you often but it’s still there.

This state is marked by:

  • Limited passive customer behavior tracking
  • Few, if any, technology systems in place to analyze the data you have
  • No processes in place to support data analysis

Five Progressive State of Data Analytics Competence: State 1 – Have Data


State 2 – Use Data

Like oil in the ground, data is valuable whether you use it or not. It is most valuable, however, when it is being used to generate insights that improve your business. Even rudimentary examinations into the behaviors exhibited in your data can unearth new discoveries and positively impact your relationships with your customers. Exploring and analyzing your data puts you and your team in a stronger position to refine and optimize the way you engage with your customers.

This state is marked by:

  • Focus on metrics – especially, vanity metrics
  • Analytics spearheaded by an individual or very small team
  • Data, primarily, comes from a single source
  • Little communication beyond the team
  • Access to tools for digital analytics (i.e., web, social, email, ads, etc.)
  • Poor data quality
  • Limited access to 1st, 2nd or 3rd party data

Five Progressive States of Data Analytics Mastery: State 2 – Use Data


State 3 – Value Data

Value Data is the true start of the analytics journey. It is here when people begin to think more strategically about the opportunities afforded to them by data. They begin to truly value data and assign mindshare to the opportunities afforded by becoming an active participant in the management of the data you have. Performance metrics are prioritized over vanity metrics, goals are set and the tools used for visualization and analysis are more robust.

The hallmarks of this state include:

  • Analysis of data across multiple channels
  • Introduction of optimization methodologies like A/B testing
  • Quantitative goal setting for project performance metrics
  • Access to tools for digital analytics (i.e., web, social, email, ads, etc.)
  • Analytics valued within a team and the team capturing metrics sends resulting information to other members of the team
  • Multiple sources of data used to make analytics assessments
  • Analytics is descriptive in nature — it describes the situation currently occurring without prescribing a course of action
  • Metrics used are vanity metrics with little insight into customer behavior

Five Progressive States of Data Analytics Mastery: State 3 – Value Data

State 4 – Incorporate Data

The state change from valuing data to incorporating data is a small step but it represents a tidal shift in terms of mindset. Incorporate Data marks the moment the emphasis on using data is not driven by an individual or small team. This is true progress. It is as if the chrysalis emerges as a butterfly.

Incorporating data means the organization is beginning to awaken to the benefits offered by making data analysis (e.g. visualization, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.) a part of the day-to-day processes of the organization. It becomes clear to leadership that the insights captured from data can have a exceptionally positive impact on the business and the relationships with customers. This leads to greater investment in data analytics and intelligence resources.

The hallmarks of this state include:

  • A measurement plan driven by leadership rather than individuals and teams
  • Increased focus on making strategic decisions by turning metrics into key performance indicators
  • Trackable data attributed to an individual with PII
  • Customer experiences optimized using multivariate testing and experimentation
  • Start of personalized customer experiences

Five Progressive States of Data Analytics Mastery: State 4 – Incorporate Data

State 5 – Embed Data

Organizations that embed data live, breathe and sleep by the data process. These organizations are nimble and embed an experimental, hypothesis-based approach into their activities. Yes, they are data-driven. It’s more than that, though. Decisions are data-dependent. The dedication to data is driven by top management. Everyone works together to ensure that the data they need is available. Internal stakeholders and vendors, alike, are tasked with making data available and verifying the data’s quality. Additionally, there’s a commitment to having a complete view of customers’ interactions with the organization – offline, online, hybrid, wherever they are.

The hallmarks of this state include:

  • C-Suite driven commitment to data
  • Data-dependent decision-making throughout the organization
  • Customer data and identity management

Five Progressive States of Data Analytics Mastery: State 5 – Embed Data

Wrapping Up…

Let’s be honest. Your organization may not fall precisely into exactly one state. Your C-suite may be driving change but it is slow going and you haven’t gotten much beyond A/B testing. That’s okay. The states should be considered a general guide. They’re progressive and provide a roadmap for moving from basic data analytics to a more fully expressed data management and analytics capability.

It is also important to note that every organization isn’t going to get to State 5 – Embed Data any time soon. I can’t say I honestly believe every organization needs to get there in the near term. Many do, however. Competitive pressures demand such. For those organizations, they should set a goal of getting to State 3 – Value Data as quickly as possible. It is there that the organization gets its first true taste of what’s possible with data. It’s the appetizer and it whets the appetite for more to come.

Question for you… Which state is your organization in and where does it want to go?

Analytics: The Most Important Technology Marketers Aren’t Using

“Stop what you’re doing cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to…” – Shock G as Humpty Hump
I keep coming across this online ad for a digital asset management (DAM) company reminding me that DAMs are one of the four core essential pieces of the marketing technology stack. The other three critical components (according to this company)? Marketing automation, content management systems (CMS) and customer relationship management (CRM).
I agree with those last three. I’d even concede that DAMs are very important in lots of corporate environments. Where I deviate completely from this core four, however, is in the absence of analytics.

Stop Skipping Analytics

I began this post with a quote from the illustrious orator Humpty Hump (from the classic 1989 rap song, The Humpty Dance) because I want to implore you, my virtual friend, to stop… Stop pretending analytics is optional.
What distinguishes digital marketing from traditional marketing channels? It’s not just that digital media are interactive. It’s measurability. Everything on digital can be measured and attributed to specific users (i.e., customers). Every action on digital generates data you can use to make better decisions about your budget. Every click, view, swipe, open, close, hover and key is measurable. But it’s of little use if marketers aren’t mining the gold available to them.
I repeatedly come across a very surprising (for 2018, at least) pattern. Marketers create new digital assets (e.g. sites, apps, etc.) without 1) reviewing user behaviors and trends from their existing analytics software or 2) establishing measurable analytics goals and objectives for the new site. This has to stop.
If data is the key differentiator between traditional marketing channels and digital ones then ignoring the analytics repository at your disposal means you might as well be doing broadcast radio ads. You might as well be marketing in 1989 when Humpty Hump shared his genius.

Why You Should Mine Gold

What a subheading. I can’t believe I have to convince people to mine gold. Your analytics data is gold. It is the single most important tool in your toolbox for creating experiences that align with your customers’ needs. It is so because in your analytics data your customers have made you privy to their interests and behaviors as they relate to your brand.
[su_pullquote align=”right” class=”larger-pullquote”]Your analytics data is gold. It is the single most important tool in your toolbox for creating experiences that align with your customers’ needs.[/su_pullquote]
Reviewing this data on a regular basis should be a part of your process. Even if it’s not, however, you should be reviewing it before embarking on a new project. The nuggets of gold within should guide your new creation. You can learn:
  • What types of devices do our users use (i.e. desktop vs mobile, Apple vs Android, etc.)
  • What historical trends can be identified in terms of visitor growth/decline, mobile vs desktop usage, individual page visits, etc.
  • What regions of the state, country or world do people visit from?
  • How do users get to our site (i.e. direct, search, links from other places, emails, etc.)
  • What do people do when they get there? What paths do they take?
  • What call to actions are most effective?
These are foundational questions that should inform whatever project you plan to undertake next. Not having the answers to them is, honestly, irresponsible.
Making measurement part of your process is a fundamental part of modern marketing. Once you begin, you won’t be able to live without it. It’s transformational. But, you have to get started and right now is a great time to do just that. Welcome to 2018!