Even the most experienced marketing gurus make mistakes. But in the age of data-driven everything, many mistakes can be avoided by being smart about data and implementing a solid analytics strategy.

Let's look at what those challenges are, how to avoid them in the future, and how analytics can ultimately give marketers a bigger seat at the table.

Mistake 1: Marketing analytics aren't mapped to the KPIs that your company and board care about most

One of the biggest challenges around analytics for online marketers is measuring what's easiest to count instead of measuring what counts the most to their businesses. Too often, marketers over-invest in metrics that aren't intelligently correlated to the business KPIs that CEOs and boards track most, such as revenue, sales, units shipped, profit, and customer growth.

As marketers everywhere have learned, there's often a massive disconnect between things like buzz, sentiment, and engagement on the one hand, and actual business performance on the other. Even if some loose correlation is found, it rarely tells you why marketing did or didn't work.

To avoid that mistake, online marketers need to correlate their marketing data to core KPIs, look for the correlations that matter, and be ready to equip their CMOs with findings that demonstrate an understanding of what is and isn't driving business.

Mistake 2: Analytics are focused on the wrong questions

The only thing worse than the wrong answer is the right answer to the wrong question. We often see marketers that are married to their theories and hunches, using analytics to confirm biases rather than to explore alternatives.

If you interrogate the data long enough, however, eventually it will confess to whatever you want it to. For example, many online marketers turn to predictive analytics to determine the likely ROI of a campaign rather than use analytics to help them understand what is and isn't working, why, and what some creative alternatives might be.

The way to avoid the wrong question is to let your data whisper to you and engage in an iterative approach that provides the ability to adjust an inquiry as the process moves forward. Sometimes, patterns in the data may be surprising.

By giving human intuition and curiosity room to operate, online marketers can often find a more valuable question to explore.

So rather than asking the data "What's going to happen next?" ask, "What are the levers that give me the best chance to change the outcome?"

Let the data be the guide that helps you identify what those levers are.

Mistake 3: Expect the data to do all the work

Marketers face increasing pressure to move quickly, and they're often working with executives who mistakenly believe data analytics are some sort of digital crystal ball that serves up easy answers.

All too often, the data is expected to do all the work. As a result, the full exploration of data is often cut short before the best insights are allowed to surface. Early marketing analysis is often very different from the analysis that ultimately leads to a winning strategy.

To find the insights that have the potential to drive revenue, marketers must exercise their curiosity and work with the data rather than expect data to immediately produce prescriptive insights.

For example, one of Quantifind's fast food customers wanted to grow its breakfast business among teenagers. Initial analysis naturally started with teens, but interesting patterns in the data quickly revealed that something was going on with mothers that affected results with teens. It turned out that mothers didn't like the chain's coffee and therefore didn't want to drive their kids to the drive-through for breakfast.

In other words, the real problem to solve wasn't about teens and food; it was about moms and coffee. If the marketers involved hadn't followed their curiosity, and if the exploratory process had been cut short, they would have never discovered the game-changing strategy of offering better coffee to moms to bolster teen breakfast sales.

* * *

It's an exciting time in the marketing industry; digital marketing has become one of the fastest growing technology sectors, new capabilities are being introduced every day; and marketers are wielding more power than ever before.

By asking the right questions and finding the right signals, marketers are poised to succeed in an unprecedented way.

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Three Big Digital Analytics Mistakes That Marketers Make

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image of Joshua Reynolds

Joshua Reynolds is head of Marketing at Quantifind, an on-demand insights platform for brands.

LinkedIn: Joshua Reynolds