Rules for interpreting marketing data for insight

Anybody who has had to pull together insight from a significant amount of information can tell you they've tussled with a love-hate data relationship. In the past, I have started off with excitement (yes, excitement), enthusiasm and clear direction only to fall head-first into the black pit of spreadsheets, questionnaires, automation systems and analytics reports. A vortex of emotions ensues; frustration, despair, determination, joy, confusion, relief, elation, and back again. However, I can't see a time where I won't think that data has a part to play in marketing and my natural inquisitive nature, along with a resolve to do everything better the second time round, means my frenemy is here to stay. Thankfully however, I have of picked up a few key lessons when dealing with data. These are very simple rules I follow to help collate, interpret and use data and research: Make sure you know why

Before you start clicking and digging, understand your problem, challenge or opportunity. If you’re just doing it because you think you should look at it, or just because you can, you’re likely to wind up going round in circles. If you understand why, you're then able to set out, and reach a clear goal.

Hypothesize Just like science experiment, create a theory and then try to prove it. This helps give you focus and keep you on track to find (or otherwise) what you're looking for. This is where most marketing surveys start out - they’re usually trying to prove something to be true.

If you stumble across something else, note it and move on Don't let yourself be dragged away from the goal. If you do pick up additional bits of useful information(and you’re likely to) or sense there's another 'story' to uncover, write and down and revisit it.

Distinguish between the need-to-know and interesting-to-know by referring back to your goal.

Break it down into bite-sized chunks and label clearly

Not just good as an approach to ensure you can pick up and put down a project without confusion, but great for your own morale to see your project progress as you tick things off.

Labelling / naming documents, sheets and tabs really simply will keep you sane. Do resist temptation to have different versions of a spreadsheet - inevitably, you will end up having to piece it all back together, and I can assure you, it's not a pretty moment.

Get somebody else to sense-check Another obvious one, but resist temptation to just get it out of the way and skip the quality control. It's always good to get a second pair of eyes on anything which isn’t straight forward. It's easy to get lost in information overload too, so sometimes it can really help going over it verbally with somebody else, but even better if they can cast their eyes over it too