5 Ways To Be Strategic with Data

In business we look at the information we gather from things like surveys, buying habits, polls and online activity to learn preferences, find trends and spot opportunities.  The information we gather acts as building blocks for everything from marketing campaigns to product development, but I sometimes wonder if we are outsmarting ourselves.  All of the data in the world isn’t going to deliver results if we aren’t also employing an effective strategy or if you prefer, creative thinking to our actions.

A few years ago Kathleen Wynne, the former premier of Ontario, participated in Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) forum.  No doubt she was attempting to get in touch with a younger demographic and take advantage of a popular social media channel to do it.  The data said that the medium would not only put her in touch with the right audience but it’s “hip” factor might also give her a boost in the polls. The audience and the medium were right – the challenge, of course, was the message. 

Ms. Wynne’s team understood the popularity of the medium but seemed to miss the mark on the nature of it. Rather than embracing the “ask me anything” forum and the consequent, “answer everything” that it implied, Ms. Wynne delivered prepared answers or no answers at all.  Participants were unimpressed. The event consequently had the opposite effect from what was intended. To put it succinctly, the Reddit engagement was a fail. But then anyone who has actually been on Reddit could have told the planners that it was the wrong place to be if you weren’t comfortable in being completely open (and possibly embarrassing yourself). Not exactly the inclination of politicians of any stripe.

Data is a tool; it cannot replace careful strategy, thoughtful engagement or a creative approach to solving communications challenges.  You can achieve amazing numbers on your “Twitter feed” and thousands of “likes” on your Facebook account and still see no appreciable difference in sales if you are not also thinking about the wants and needs of your clients. If all you want is “likes” on your Facebook account, run contests with good prizes, buy Google and Facebook ads, engage popular bloggers to review and promote your services or products. Change it up and do it again.  But if you want to get people engaged on your issue or invested in your products or services, then you’re going to have to be more strategic.

1.    Expose Yourself to New Thinking: Read, listen and engage in conversations that are outside of your field.  Ideas that are tried and true in one area are often fodder for new discoveries in another.  Multitasking is actually quite useful in this instance.  When you are working on different projects your mind is obliged to shift gears frequently, keeping it active, but it also means that the thinking you apply to solve problems in one area may lend you additional strength to solve problems in another.

2.    Take The Unexpected Seriously: When strange or unanticipated outcomes occur, investigate them.  Find out why they happened. For example, when retailers realized that their shopper profiling data was having an unexpected negative impact, they investigated and found that their coupons and targeted ads were so accurate they actually creeped out shoppers. Rather than making shoppers feel that their needs were being addressed, they made them feel as though their privacy was being violated. To reduce the creep factor retailers began to introduce unrelated content.  For example, new moms would get coupons for diapers and other baby paraphernalia, but they would also get lawnmower ads and tire specials. This made the coupons useful, but also feel less personally directed.

3.    Learn From Success: Seek out and work with people who are doing good things or have been successful in the past.  Study their methods and determine if their approach can be used to achieve successful results for you. The Pancreatic Cancer Action organization recently ran an ad campaign with the tagline, “I wish I had breast cancer.” Understandably the ad generated a fair bit of outrage and shock.  It also garnered an unprecedented amount of attention towards pancreatic cancer that resulted in the head of the organization giving numerous interviews in the UK, U.S. and Canada. In those interviews, the issues facing those with the disease were discussed at length. Similar shock approaches were used in the early days of Aids research and consequently generated millions of dollars in research.

4.    Take Advantage of Existing Opportunities: When the cashier at Mac Donald’s asks you if you would like fries with your order, that’s a perfect example of taking advantage of an existing opportunity. A similar approach would be looking to existing clients to expand business opportunities.

5.    Turn a Negative into a Positive: In December of 2011, Alec Baldwin was removed from an American Airlines flight after he refused to stop playing a game. The flight was delayed and significant coverage followed. Baldwin could have apologized to the airline for causing the flight to be delayed, but he took a different approach.  Shortly after the event and amid the media stories he appeared on Saturday Night Live and posed as the pilot of the flight.  In that guise, he delivered an apology to himself and a humorous and mocking skit that garnered him praise for being a savvy PR pro.  The skit also made American Airlines look petty and foolish.

Keep in mind that being creative or strategic is an act of will. There are no quick and easy answers. Creative people work at it.  They think hard and try out ideas, hundreds of them if not more before they hit upon those that work.

Have you ever stumbled upon a great idea in an unexpected place? How do you get yourself into a strategic frame of mind?

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0 responses to “5 Ways To Be Strategic with Data

  • I agree with you. Data is a helpful tool, but it does not trump strategy and creativity. Thanks for sharing your post!

  • Debra, I couldn’t agree with you more Data is a tool; it cannot replace careful strategy, thoughtful engagement or a creative approach to solving communications challenges. I thought I would put on my website where a customer could leave a comment about the product they purchased. I thought this date would help other people. Instead it also can hurt the products. Everyone has an opinion, doesn’t mean it is right or wrong, it just is. But when you see that someone didn’t like the product you steer away from it. I thought it would be better to have interaction with the customer. It is a challenge to call them personally and ask them what they thought of the products, and have them give you feedback of what we could do to improve. I get more out of the then if someone leaves a review, the product was fine. What does that mean? In my business, I have an opportunity to take advantage to improve and hopefully turn a negative into a positive

    • Arleen how and why we use products has such a tremendous impact on whether we think they are useful or pointless. I think sometimes people are looking for magical solutions and when the product doesn’t deliver they get angry and blame the product. It’s much easier than correcting other failures. If you are a business with poor service then a great promotional product is not going to bring customers back. Unfortunately sometimes the best data we can get is no data at all. Satisfied customers are remarkably quiet. 🙂

  • I like all of these points, particularly from my perspective turning negatives into positives. An attitude change can do amazing things (in all facets of life and business).

  • Like Susan, I started blogging for fun at the suggestion of a friend. I like new challenges so I took blogging courses and participated in many paid and free webinars. All of a sudden I was really into social media. I changed my blog template and went to a self-hosted blog. I became more serious about my three areas of focus. And then without planning it I had a business, writing blogs for pay, websites, LinkedIn profiles, annual reports, social media content, etc. Who knew? I ended up rebranding myself. You’ve got to leave yourself open to the possibilities. You just never know what lies ahead. Be open to new ideas and try not to be afraid of trying new things.

    • Jeannette you said it all when you said, “I like new challenges.” It means you’re not only willing to try out things that are unfamiliar, but you’re willing to put some effort into it. How can we ever be strategic or creative if we are afraid of change?

  • jbutler1914 says:
    February 20, 2014 @ 01:15 pm

    These are 5 great ways. For me “Expose Yourself to New Thinking” speaks volumes. That’s basically saying think outside the box. Good things tend to happen when people do that.

  • Interesting. Despite the 1st way “Expose Yourself to New Thinking” and the 5th way “Turn a Negative into a Positive” being my favourites, all the other ways are important. I think, the creative process is the key to success along with data examination, but data examination must be in the first place and then we have to turn on the creative process.

  • Hi Debra.
    Sometimes people see a set of data given to them but they don’t know what the data means. People who present that data to them need to be creative and think out of the box on how to present the data so people who read them can relate the data to their daily life. A right method will give a positive impact to your sales.

  • Love your article, Debra and agree with what you and other commenters point out. Maybe this sentence is what I like most: “When strange or unanticipated outcomes occur, investigate them. Find out why they happened”.

    The other side of the coin though, is how governments and accountants all over the world use data to deceive. They are so creative they manage to convince people that what is thoroughly negative is super positive:-)

    • Thanks Catarina. More often than not I find myself in the role of the Devil’s advocate, always asking why. I’m sure it drives my colleagues crazy, but too often there is no real reason for the “why” it’s just how things were always done.

  • I still get lesson plan ideas all the time. I used to be really good at taking seemingly different things and tying them into whatever English unit I was teaching. Some days I feel that’s all my mind can still do, but gradually as I’ve realized ways my old habits of thought can transfer to my new endeavors.

    • I think thinking like a teacher would be incredibly useful, not to mention strategic in business and in blogging. So much of lesson planning involves assessing the situation/knowledge determining what’s useful, what can be dropped and how best to translate what’s left into something useful…not sure if I was describing lesson planning, marketing or business in general there. 🙂

  • This is a great post Debra. You really can’t be formulaic in what you’re trying to do. And I love the examples you give about thinking outside the box, and using negative experiences to your advantage. As a writer one has to find inspiration wherever we can find it, so as marketers of our brand, product or platform , the same logic has to apply. Like Susan, I’m learning as I go in the blogging world, but you definitely struck a chord in looking for new opportunities. Thank you.

    • A.K. I think social media and blogging in particular are where writers and marketers meet. It is our collective playground. Fortunately that means its loaded with diversity and imagination. We don’t have to look too hard to find new opportunities. 🙂

  • Great post, Debra. It is indeed so important for those carrying out a strategy to realize the rationale behind the strategy so that it is not a wasted and meaningless effort. Many politicians are guilty of that. They say they care about what we think, feel, and need. But when they hear the results, they ignore them and keep on doing what they’re doing, making it all quite meaningless.

    • Thanks Doreen, I was floored by the preparation that went into Ms Wynn’s performance…or the lack of it. I always think of political leaders as having exceptional PR people around them, but I suppose that even the best folks can’t get past a risk averse culture. It begs the question, so why pick a medium you can’t handle?

  • It’ doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know how much you nailed this!!! Targeted marketing is one thing, but the message is imperative. While any message has firm boundaries (don’t say one thing to one group and the total opposite thing to another,) it should be flexible in terms of delivery. What a great example of that in Kathleen Wynne! And I love the Alec Baldwin example the best….even though his behavior smacks of putting himself above any rule, the result is that he garnered sympathy by getting creative in front of the Right audience. A;ll geat points…woth remembering. Superb as always, Debra

  • Data is an interesting reference, but really only that. When we look at how many businesses run now we see examples of groups that rely solely on the data. The customer is more than just a stream of numbers.

    Point numer two… I am so sick of how targeted marketing has become. We are more than the some of our parts.

    • I agree John, data is only as useful as you make it. I remember a point where we kept asking staff about their metrics, but never bothered discuss what those metrics meant. Imagine the reaction in the room from our management team when one of our top staff people exclaimed in the middle of a performance discussion, “Oh that’s what our KPI’s (key performance indicators) are!”

  • This really spoke to my marketing background and soul. To often we get stuck in a rut and then forget to look outside of the box to see the many opportunities we’re missing. Each and everyone of the things you talked about are great examples. I can remember feeling that way about some of the coupons and requests for my email address.

    Knowing a bit more about what your trying out such as the Kathleen Wynne experience can really help avoid mistakes and to get the most out of the experience. Nevertheless it was a great lesson and one that can help in any future venture of the same nature.

    I guess you could say I stumbled into blogging and all its possibilities totally by accident. It has been a huge learning curve and a really fun ride. I am still learning about all it’s possibilities and making mistakes as well, as I go. Regardless, I am starting to see the fruits of my labors.

    • Susan, it seems to me that the mediums don’t matter just our attitudes. I was listening to an advertising and marketing leader talk about some amazing and innovative campaigns that were being launched on radio…radio? As he shared the various examples all I could do was shake my head and think, if they can be that innovative with radio, there really is no excuse for being lazy with social media.

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