Finding intelligence to act on from big data: a five step approach

Every marketer has been sitting with his or her analytics team, reviewing an overwhelming spreadsheet of data points. It tends to hurt your eyes and you don’t know where to find the data that can help you.

Meanwhile, an analyst is droning on about a thousand different “insights” that mean little to your marketing channel, or don’t give you enough information to execute an actual strategy.

It’s a frustrating situation because it debilitates a marketer’s ability to drive the business.

We are short on time and we usually have a dozen teams breathing down our necks looking for insights, reporting and strategies. The worst possible scenario, given the circumstances, is if we go too far down the wrong rabbit hole with our analytics—it can be a massive setback, and not just a waste of time.

Most marketers would like to be omniscient; we want every data point, every piece of information. We need to be informed on every possible scenario to make sure our strategies and tactics are sound. But therein lies the issue. Just as a developer would spend months perfecting his or her code instead of releasing; marketers can spend months identifying data paths prior to executing.

Big data can be overwhelming and it’s our version of quicksand that produces inaction and pushes us deeper into the quagmire. Our own behavior and temperament can often be our own unravelling.

So how can we overcome our own mindset? How can we find the path forward and reduce our own gluttony given the over-abundance of data?

We need to put ourselves on a KPI diet.


Here’s a five-step approach that you can use to produce actionable intelligence from a deluge of data.

The goal is to be lean and efficient–to cut the fat wherever possible and avoid getting off track.

Step one: Identify your north star metric

Every brand should have one metric—above all others—that homogenizes each team to drive results.

A North Star KPI is founded on the basis of cross-functional unity and action. It’s one indicator, selected above all others, that is the driving force to meet objectives.

During every creative review, every strategy session, every brainstorm, every hindsight—this metric should be top of mind.


This mandate is executive-driven and can change as often as necessary, but it’s usually a seasonal goal. As an executive, it’s your greatest weapon to drive success quickly, since it harnesses the full momentum of each group to strive for results.

Step two: identify channel-specific KPIs 

While an over-arching metric will help the entire team to drive brand goals, your team will need specific KPI’s to drive as well.

The idea is to tier our priorities across the marketing teams to drive objectives as a well-oiled machine, instead of as a group of individuals competing for their own metrics and results. The individualist mindset often produces a chaff for the consumer and mismatched user experience.

This approach will also reduce the number of directions your team will be focusing on at the same time.

While it’s very tough to narrow scope, avoid having more than three channel-specific KPI’s at a given time. Remember that each metric is going to compound.

Your team is going to be building filters and segments on top of KPI objectives. The resulting impact can become unmanageable very quickly.

Step three: refine your audience & segments  

This is where each KPI is going to compound so marketers need to be very specific and goal-oriented on segments.

Segmentation is where marketers produce the most stagnation. The possibilities are endless, there’s so many ways we can target and we want to execute each and every one. So put the blinders on and cut down to the top group of segments with the most room for actionable results.

There are a million different breakdowns, so focus on three or four. The simpler the better upfront; you can dive deeper once you have a foundation to build on.

Here are some ideas:

  • Gender. It’s the most black-and-white segment and it’s very high up the funnel, so it’s a great foundation to build on. But there’s still a lot we need to solve. What about multi-gender buyersThis is something you’ll definitely need to keep in mind, especially if you are marketing for a kid’s brand.
  • Channel contribution (Social, Email, SMS). Channel identifiers are a great top-of-funnel strategy to drive engagement for site marketing. It will help get consumers to product quicker by providing a contextual experience. If they came through social, try to land them on a page with UGC to lessen the barrier to entry.If it’s through email, get them to the product quickly–they’re already an engaged consumer. Provide product recommendations since you most likely have their account information.
  • Purchase frequencyTransactions can be drilled down in a lot of different forms. To keep your data actionable, try to focus on the extremes.High frequency and near-lapsed—they’re the lowest hanging fruit with the most margin for incremental gains. Marketers can also go higher up the funnel with buyer / non-buyer, or loyalty / non-loyalty.Frequency is a great segment for email subscribers and display retargeting. If your team utilizes a lifecycle approach, there are great benefits to upselling through order confirmations and a cadenced email or digital program.

Step four: evangelize the approach 

Sit down with your analytics team and discuss these metrics and their importance to your channel. They can also help guide your channel-specific KPI’s in the right direction.

If you can help them understand why you’re implementing a narrowed scope, it will help them weed out extraneous information in the future. It means more efficiency for your team.

Step five: test, measure, refine

As any good marketer should be doing in this era, your execution should take place through a testing period.

Identify what’s lacking through your key performance indicators that you selected at the beginning, break it down by your audience types and find the weak spots. From there, test for incremental gains and execute.

Two common themes within this five-step process are unity and simplicity. Marketing teams are far too fragmented today. They’re also overwhelmed with objectives, initiatives and metrics.

Avoid paralyzing your team by streamlining your approach, producing unified objectives across function, and setting your brand up for long-term success.

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