What’s Your Data Style?

Where are you on the data style continuum?

Do you rely too much on data? Are you data illiterate, making judgments primarily on intuition? Or are you somewhere in between?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Patrick Spenner and Anna Bird of the Corporate Executive Board reported on a fascinating study they did among 600 marketers from Fortune 1,000 companies.

Here are some of their findings. I’m going to quote extensively because the report is so instructive and interesting.

On the “low-data” end of the spectrum:

  • “On average, marketers depend on data for just 11% of all customer-related decisions.” Click to Tweet
  • “When we tested marketers’ statistical aptitude with five questions ranging from basic to intermediate, almost half (44%) got four or more questions wrong and a mere 6% got all five right.”
  • “Just 5% of marketers own a statistics text book.” Click to Tweet

On the “high-data” end of the spectrum:

  • “While most marketers underuse data, a small fraction (11% in this study) just can’t get enough. These data hounds consult dashboards daily, and base most decisions on data.’
  • They’re exactly what most CMOs are looking for. But these types of marketers are actually severe underperformers.”

And in the middle of the spectrum:

  • “Today’s top-performing marketers…have three key qualities: comfort with ambiguity, ability to ask strategic questions based on data, and narrow focus on higher-order goals. Together, these traits help them filter out noise and apply only the insights or data points that truly matter for long-term success.“
  • “As marketers get better access to raw numbers and big data keeps growing, the importance of this filtering ability will only intensify.”

Wow. There are some great lessons here.

First, for those of us (including yours truly) who become fascinated with new data tools, it’s important to remember the importance of being selective about which data is most important.

Second, these are some sobering statistics about the extent to which marketers lack a basic understanding of basic statistics.  Even more sobering is the extent to which they rely on intuition rather than data.

Third, these findings have strong implications for hiring in the marketing field. If you are responsible for hiring marketers, you need to be searching for people who understand data but do not rely too much on it.

It’s that kind of subtlety and nuance that will lead to success in the marketing world moving forward.

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About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.

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