A look at the external horrors that await unsuspecting digital analytics professionals around every corner, and advice on how to deal with them.
Digital analytics is a tough game. You have to know your data, know your math, and know your analytics tools. But that's just for starters.
You also need to know what everybody else in your organization does for a living because you are charged with deploying the data, the math, and the tools to help everybody else do their jobs better. Then, icing on the cake, you need to completely understand your corporate politics.
Easy peasy, right?
Well it might be, except for the eternal horrors that await the unsuspecting around every corner. Let's take them alphabetically, shall we?
Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but where do they find creative people?
Don't get me wrong. I love creative people. Some of my best friends are creative people. I still aspire to that brilliant, lofty, Don Draper, out-of-this-world thinking where you capture the hearts and (therefore) minds of millions with just one word: "Carousel."
Creatives see the world from a different perspective and without them, advertising is a hole in the universe into which we would pour money. Creatives are the engine. Creatives are the source.
Sadly, creatives eschew numbers. They see a spreadsheet and think it's an insult. They have a dazzling new way to describe or depict a product and the metrics hang over them like a soulless judge flanked by a trigger-happy firing squad. They see logical math impossibly trying to comprehend human emotion. When this blossoms into an irrational fear, creatives have no desire to understand how the numbers can inform the creative process.
This is much like their initial distrust of Photoshop. "That's just computers...That's not art!"
You cannot defeat aliens. They have been on this planet much longer than analysts and are entrenched. They have their budgets and their allies, and they will not (and should not!) be eradicated. But you can speak to them in dulcet tones to help them understand how the numbers are not there to judge but to assist in their desire to tap into the human ur-psyche. It takes time, but a talented creative who is analytically savvy is an asset to covet and a killer dinner partner.
The next horror we all live with is also from outer space, but there is no reasoning with them. They have no heart. They have no brain. They do not wish our destruction; it's worse than that. They don't care. They simply plummet out of the sky and destroy everything indiscriminately.
They are made from a wide variety of materials: mergers and acquisitions, massive budget cuts, product line termination, competitive maneuvers, new government regulations, entering the Asian market for the first time, and many more.
You cannot actually protect yourself from an Extinction Level Event. All you can do is recognize it as soon as possible and run away as fast as possible. Do not get in its way. Do not pretend it doesn't exist. Just admit defeat and rewrite all of your strategy in this new-normal world. This is known in literature as the Tough Break.
One good thing about asteroids: they tend to take out the dinosaurs as well.
They are big. They are loud. They are dangerous.
These overweight executives thrash about, stepping on fragile infrastructure and mishandling anything that is infused with nuance or sophistication.
These are HiPPOS (Highest Paid Person's Opinion) writ large. Where once they floated gently in lakes and streams, they are now encrusted with years of emotional armor and shake the ground when they move.
They make decisions without finesse and like the way things are and have always been. They think they know more because they are in a management role and feel the need to direct every action rather than let the people closest to the problem advise on solutions.
They are the pinnacle of the Peter Principle and are destined for extinction ...which is fine if you can afford to wait for an asteroid...and don't get crushed in the impact.
Dinosaurs are noted for the destructive capabilities and not for their wisdom. If you have a dinosaur in your midst, assess whether it is amenable to learning. While you cannot change a leopard's spots, you can, with considerable effort, change a dinosaur into a dragon.
Do keep in mind that dragons cannot be tamed but can be trained and taught to respond to basic voice commands. If you get that far, then you can co-exist. If not, it may be best to remain at a significant distance and avoid them altogether.
Evil? Not necessarily.
Dangerous? Oh, yes.
Vampires are report zealots. They want nothing more than yet another report and a side helping of dashboards. They want to turn you into one of them; a rodent by day, faithfully pulling together more data for more reports (think squirrel with wings) and an aggressive seducer of the unwary by night, turning others into vampires along the way.
When a vampire strikes, it sucks the life blood out of you, leading to a loss of the will to live. On one hand, you would get to live forever - everybody needs reports. On the other hand, you won't want to.
Do not make friends with a vampire, no matter how tempting immortality might be. If vampires are allowed to proliferate, there will only be reports and there will never be discovery. Analytics will be relegated forever to describing the past instead of seeing into the future.
Keep a wooden stake in your desk, hang a wreath of garlic nearby and prominently sport a silver Sigma pendant to protect you.
The last thing you want is for the vampires to overload you with so many report requests that you wake up one day only to discover that you are managing a whole team of avian squirrel report writers. Yes, that's when you know that you have become a vampire as well, and are dedicating your time to turning others into report vampires as well.
Not only are Zombies listed last for their alphabetic disadvantage, they are last for being the worst of all.
They are devilishly deceiving. They flatter. They fawn. They flirt. They actually like you.
But don't be fooled. They want one thing and one thing only: Braaaaaaaains!
For those of us in the intelligence business, this attention can be disarmingly gratifying. It's nice that somebody thinks highly enough of your cerebral talent to be constantly picking your brain.
Beware. Much like the fate of those who do not defend themselves from vampires, tolerating zombies is asking to become one of them. You will wake up to find yourself running a department of zombified analysts, overwhelmed by an onslaught of ad-hoc queries.
Fortunately, this is where popular assumptions about zombies collapse. It turns out that zombies are tractable. Zombies eat brains because they actually want to know more. They just don't understand how to gain knowledge. That's where you come in.
When approached by a zombie, express your interest in helping, but then ask for the motivation behind that ad-hoc query. Once you know their primary purpose, you can show them the many wonders you can provide through data mining and discovery.
You can indeed become a friend, colleague, and collaborator with zombies once they are house broken. Then, together, you can avoid the aliens, avert the asteroids, dodge the dinosaurs, and vanquish the vampires.
It's good to have friends.
Images via Shutterstock.
Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.
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