Have you ever thought: “I’m going on a diet after New Year's” or “I have to get in shape”? Meeting someone who is perfectly happy with their body is like meeting someone who is perfectly happy with their marketing: it never happens.
The human body is a very complex organism, and while we don’t fully understand it, we know for a fact that it is never optimal — people always want it to get better. So we study it, test it, do double-blind randomized studies on it to find simple levers that we understand, and we push it towards a goal we want it to achieve. Sort of like marketing.
Marketing to me is the business equivalent of fitness and nutrition. It's the levers that we know and study to influence a business and a market — a much more complex organism that will never be optimal and that we will never fully understand. But we do find ways to make it better, stronger, faster and more efficient. Ultimately we try to beat everybody in the race.
As people responsible for building top performing, zero-waste machines from our business, making a parallel with the fitness and wellness industry is very interesting. It’s specifically fascinating to me because I believe the scientific method to be the most effective way to make progress through unbiased knowledge. And it’s frustrating that the scientific method is often not applicable in my line of work.
In marketing we rarely do double-blind randomized studies. We don’t randomly select 38 companies and say: “Okay, now half of you go do approach X and you do approach Y and we will test your performance over the course of the next year.” There is no way of scientifically validating methods. The baseline is never the same, so you mostly just learn from other people who are successful. To an extent, this is what makes us more prone to believing things to be true based on someone else’s word. Even marketing research is often surveying a biased sample about opinions. That’s the only possible way to measure because the processes are just too complex to be poked with a stick, in the scientific sense.
But what is successful for one organization may not be successful for you. And this approach often creates a lot of wasted energy and assets. So let's look through the lens of an industry that has the same goal of achieving optimal results with a complex system over time, to try to bust some myths before we get burned by them and find the right paths and questions to make sure we truly become the architects of a data driven organization.
The Magic Pill Doesn’t Exist
Companies love to package snake oil in a shiny box and sell it to you. New trends are always arising and there is money to be made in them — this is true for fitness, marketing and everything else. Be smart about how your choices impact the goal you are trying to achieve. The problem is in the process, not in the tooling.
You could run a marathon barefoot, build muscle without supplementation and lose weight without spending a dollar on fitness products, it just won’t be as easy. Likewise, marketing technology is not a magic pill. It’s a tool to help you become more efficient in reaching your business goals.
But before looking for the right tool, you have to accept the types of problems you want to solve. Maybe you want to understand your customers — define what that means for you. Maybe you want to estimate ROI more precisely — figure out how this will be utilized in process. Maybe you want to personalize — think about how you would apply this every single day. Formulate your problems, set your goals and ask vendors those hard questions. You will find the right shoes that will get you there.
Short Term Benefit Is Often a Bad Thing
Lose 25 pounds in a month and you may high five yourself, but any fitness pro will immediately raise a red flag. If you carry on this way you would do irreversible damage to your metabolism and your body will yo-yo back, only much less healthy than before. Long-term success should never be jeopardized for short-term wins.
The same is true in marketing. Data driven marketing is not about how many email clicks you can get, just as being an athlete isn’t about how many calories you can burn in a day. If you put your entire organizational muscle behind hitting short-term goals, you might actually be doing something counterproductive to long-term growth. Moving from a culture where data means instant gratification metrics, to a culture where data drives a much more complex equation is a process that we are all starting to understand and slowly master.
Success Can Be Pretty Simple...
There is one simple rule in fitness: calories in, calories out. It’s the first law of thermodynamics in action. Every calorie you put into your body is either utilized, stored as fat or, in very special cases, used to build lean tissue. Every effort you put into your marketing is also used every day, whether positively or negatively. Whatever fitness goal you have — losing, maintaining or gaining muscle — usually comes with guidance about the caloric balance. One way to be successful is to be precise in calculating that balance and holding yourself accountable to that number. By doing that you naturally become more active, eat better food and get healthier. It is budgeting principles plain and simple: you increase ROI and eliminate waste wherever you can to meet your budget.
This is very similar to your Marketing ROI. Sometimes you invest to grow while other times you target profitability and revenue in the short term, but be clear in your goals and aware of the ROI in every single thing you do. Doing that keeps you accountable. Accountability is how you master the right tactics to build optimized, personal experiences, attract clients, diligently measure and improve. Being a master at customer experience is like being a master in nutrition when it comes to overall health: it’s difficult, but it’s the only way to succeed. But as with nutrition, there is a learning curve. So knowing your number — calorie balance, ROI to Revenue, Attribution to Revenue, etc. — helps you stay focused.
That’s the whole point of being data-driven. Technology, in essence, is just a crutch to give you numbers that keep you accountable to make good decisions and understand the process. But it’s an important crutch that optimizes every single organizational process and steers it to optimal customer experience. Athletes don’t count calories because they are already extremely efficient. They are making the right choices, they just fact check at times. Once your culture becomes purely digital you will be so efficient that metrics that once proved challenging will become innate, and you will focus on different types of improvements that take you to superhuman levels.
... Until It Isn't
One thing holds true for fitness and marketing: once you understand how something works, another piece of knowledge comes along and challenges your entire perception. What works for newbies doesn’t work for professionals. Other complexities of the systems come into play, and sometimes changing tactics is the optimal way to maintain balance and achieve results in the long-term. In data driven marketing, as with everything, there is a little bit of art to the science and a little bit of science to the art. Learn how to soak in knowledge daily, apply it, measure effectively and continuously improve to find the correct metrics and processes that work for your organization.
A number of books have been written on both topics, so I could offer other examples. Instead I'll leave you with one takeaway: don’t let “becoming data-driven” be the next “going on a diet after the holidays.” Spend time thinking about your goals, what numbers need to drive you, what tactics you want to apply and very importantly — what will drive you to apply these tactics not just as a one-off effort but as an organizational shift that creates a customer-centric, data-driven culture. The rule “it’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle change” is especially true if you apply the analogy to marketing.
Every successful long term transformation is about discipline, process and continuous learning and improving. Numbers and technology are effective guiding points in decision-making and an effective way to execute at scale. But ultimately what will make you successful is not the sheer presence of data and technology, as they could just gather dust like an unused gym membership. What is important is how you apply them in everyday decisions and processes.