Here's a great joke:
Q: You know the plural of "anecdote"?
We all need to be extra careful about the use, abuse, and effuse data. I imagine that 30 years ago data was not nearly so much of a problem. Conducting a survey or performing any real quantitative analysis took time, money, and expertise. There were not nearly as many numbers flying around as there are today. It was hard to count stuff!
Today, any monkey that wants to put out a survey can use SurveyMonkey. You can post a link to the survey on any number of forums and promise to give away an iPod to one lucky respondent. Using the tools on the site, you can export a nifty chart, write a few words, and boom! You're an analyst.
It is with this understanding that I begin this column. I spend a reasonable amount of time scouring through various sources for data and statistics about marketing, media, products, and consumer behavior. Your opinions should never be based on a single number. But there are data points out there that can help to confirm or deny some of the truths that we have become accustomed to.
So, I present the following list of "Five Data Points That Actually Matter." Spend a bit of time with this list and the descriptions and see if you can either solidify some of your thinking, change your ways, or open your mind.
The Five Data Points That Matter (in no particular order)
Point 1: Time spent on social media up 82 percent (Nielsen)
Social media sites (and Facebook in particular) used to be about connecting with friends. Now it's about everything you want to do online. People are becoming increasingly reliant upon sites like this for pictures, chat, videos, shopping, events, and more.
Point 2: Mobile search increased by 46 percent (comScore)
As more options (and lower-cost options) increase in the marketplace, we'll see greater adoption of smartphones across all consumer segments. As people get smartphones, they get reliant upon these devices. Search is a bellwether number - it points to an overall increase in use of the smartphone to do everything. Mobile was always important, but this number means we have reached a point where mobile is critical.
Point 3: More books than games uploaded to iPhone App Store (Flurry)
The Apple iPad, the Kindle, and other e-readers and tablets have truly taken over the tech/gadget headlines over the last several months. While it's still a bit unclear which of these devices will emerge as a leader, it's clear that there's a brand new and crazily-expanding market for digital content. The newspaper may be just about dead, but public desire for the printed (so to speak) word is absolutely voracious. We used to mock "brochureware" - Internet content that didn't do anything but communicate. But books about brands may have a potential.
Point 4: Yahoo expects to post a 3 percent rise in revenue for Q1, 2010 (E-Commerce Times)
The company that practically invented the portal has given a knock-on-wood statement that it anticipates closing its first positive quarter, after over a year of down quarters. The message here is that Internet advertising may be back, and not just for Google - who does especially well when companies want to tighten up budgets for all but the most basic ad models. A profitable Yahoo may just mean that brands are interested in bigger buys with better creative.
Point 5: Only 35 people pay for Newsday site (Business Insider)
The online version of the newspaper Newsday decided to take the leap and put up a paywall, charging readers $5 a week to read content. In the three months since they made their decision, an embarrassingly low number of people actually decided to take their offer. Assumedly, the rest of the world was still able to stay up to date on the Haiti quake, the State of the Union, the Republican win in Massachusetts, and all the rest of the news. Paywalls may work for other publishers like The New York Times, in the future. But everyone will always remember the "Newsday 35."
How to Read Data
You might read these five data points and not be moved. That's because, while the data itself is objective, the response to it is subjective. Two people can look at the same set of numbers but come to a totally different conclusion about not only what it means but also how important it really is.
So, the way to read data is to look at it from your own perspective and see how it fits into your particular worldview - and be ready to have your ideas either proven or disproven.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT