Thoughts on Data and Reporting

Reports cannot answer questions for you, or rather data cannot. Reports exist to show data in a way that is useful. Developing the skills to understand data, what the data shows, and more importantly understanding what the data does not show is a skill that everyone should learn.

What I mean by this is that I want everyone to have a realistic view of what data and reporting is. It is information. It can either be presented in a useful way or not (and hopefully we can get our reports created in a useful way).

Many questions that we (as marketers) pose are about intent not behavior. Data can only describe what is (behavior), not why it is (intent). Careful, thoughtful, thorough analysis of data can produce theories of why (intent) that can then be tested for validity. This is a key important thing about data that needs to be understood. When you are looking for a report to tell you why, you are looking in the wrong place. So rather than asking “what makes a customer do X” ask “what are the traits of customers who are most likely to do X based on our current data”. The best way to get a why answered is to ask our customers (that is why surveys are so useful).

Further, data changes; which means the answer is always changing. What is true today may not be true tomorrow. However, tracking answers over time is useful as it can reveal useful things. This is called trending. When looking at data trends you want to try to spot disruptive changes, identify what caused those (data does not tell you this, analysis does), and use that information as a basis for decisions.

Finally, when it comes to identifying customer funnels, it is best to look at them as an ideal rather than an absolute. That is to say that the analysis of data should show the most likely pathway a customer takes, this is our ideal funnel (it is not ideal in the sense of preferred, but ideal in the sense of what takes place the most often). But there are always going to be exceptions to the funnel; and we may find that our most profitable (preferred) funnel is different than the current funnel. That should prompt change.