No More Actionable Analytics, Please!

After only five years, I got the Web Analytics Association to change its name to the Digital Analytics Association. I do not presume to hog all the credit, but I join in the victory lap for all of us scoring one for our side.

Next up? I raise my lance, mount my valiant steed, and prepare to tilt at another term of art. Perhaps, just perhaps, I can rid the world of “actionable analytics.”

What’s my beef? Misappropriation.

The term “actionable” had been in circulation in our tiny, online marketing analytics community prior to the publication of Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg’s must-read “Call to Action.” It was a great way to communicate the difference between the merely interesting and the sought-after useful.

If you cannot make use of charts, graphs, and reports, then they are purely decorative. It may be fascinating that customer satisfaction can be clearly correlated to the day of the week. But if there is no practical application of that insight, if there is no business decision that can be made based on that curious discovery, if there is no problem that can be solved or hypothesis tested, then we have been engrossed but not enriched.

Yes, John D’Arcy makes an excellent point in the above column that, “there were definite learnings from this exercise.” There is value in fun. There is merit in engaging others with curiosities. But a business is a business because it uses resources to make money, save money, and increase customer satisfaction. Closing shop on Monday and Tuesday in order to increase satisfaction scores is not a financially viable strategy.

Therefore, “actionable” analytics are the goal. They are the payoff. They are the raison d’être of reasoning.

Unfortunately, this concept has been encumbered with a moniker that puts another wedge between our community and those whom we would help with our efforts.

We have chosen a word for this shining ambition that, to everybody else in the world, means something quite distasteful.

The word actionable is primarily defined as:

subject to or affording ground for an action or suit at law – Merriam-Webster

furnishing ground for a lawsuit – Dictionary.com

(No, I did not cite Wikipedia. You want to get into a snarling, confrontational conversation, simply defend Wikipedia as a valid, reliable source to my face and it’s on. Bring single malt scotch.)

We might just as well have called it objectionable, injurious, or larcenous analytics.

“Conversion” was a much better choice with its positive religious overtones. “Persuasion” is another positive epithet, as is “optimization.”

But “actionable” is reprehensible to all other ears.

If we would further our efforts in promoting our calling, perhaps we should eschew referring to our very best work as something nefarious and describe it instead as useful, profitable, and purposeful.

I have no expectation that this column can change the lexicon of an industry overnight. But if we each try to remove this one word from our speech pattern, it will make us that much easier to understand by those whom we would help.

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