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Measurement insights from a career in marketing

How to gain insights from data and launch a career in data measurement.

9 min read

Marketing Strategy



I never was much for math in school, so it’s ironic that numbers are core to my career. In the past few weeks, I’ve posted the first two parts of a four-part series:

20 Measurement Insights from a Career in Marketing: Part 1 of 4

20 Measurement Insights from a Career in Marketing: Part 2 of 4

In the first two installments, I shared 10 lessons in measurement from a career in marketing and analytics. This is the next installment in the series. Please enjoy.

Relational data creates context

Dealing with data all day makes Johnny a dull boy. Even today, I struggle to gain insights from spreadsheets. To me, they look like the cascading numbers in “The Matrix.” Thus, I learned two tricks early in my career: 1) Visualize the data, and 2) Create context via relationships. While I covered data visualization in part 1, I want to touch on relational data. In the world of marketing, improvements are everything. Optimizing traffic volume, conversion rates or qualified lead value is essential. I’ve found that ratios provide more meaning over time than other KPIs, especially for trending purposes. In the following example, social media link growth increased 100%, yet a ratio like comments-per-like decreased 25%, as it doesn’t maintain a similar growth trajectory:

Make sure your metrics have some sort of anchor, and ratios do that exceedingly well.

Competitive data provides motivation

With sales as a key responsibility for most of my career, I’ve discovered three ways to get things done, especially deals:

  1. Use secondary research and social proof to appeal to logic and safety.
  2. Use primary research and customer insights, for a more personalized and often compelling approach.
  3. The most effective technique I’ve used, particularly with senior management, is to appeal to the ego by using competitive benchmarking. Everyone wants to be a winner, and when your company or client are in second place (or worse), there is a compelling motivation to invest in marketing to take a leadership role. Three free tools you can use to benchmark competitors online (at least with relative data vs. absolute) include Alexa Internet, MOZ Open Site Explorer and Google Site Speed tools. Here are some screenshots of the information they provide:

As you can see above, Alexa provides bounce rates, daily page views and time-on-site metrics across most websites.

The Google site speed tool above outlines responsive design, mobile and desktop speeds, which all correlate to conversion rates, user experience and thus rankings in search results.

The image above is of the MOZ Open Explorer, which includes data on domain authority. A site is more likely to rank for desirable terms in search engines when they have a higher domain authority, as it correlates with trust. No boss wants to lose the online marketing battle, so tell them how they stack up, then give them a roadmap to get to first place.

Facts tell, stories sell

As a huge fan of “Mad Men,” I get the tingles every time I watch Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel ad pitch. The power of the 3-minute pitch is that it’s light on facts on heavy on storyline. The Kodak Cassette is sold as a time machine or a carousel to capture family memories, as opposed to a technical marvel with high resolution. I learned the power of the story the hard way while working with technology companies selling chips, printers and software, as the messaging was always around tech specs, not benefits. Another example of focusing on stories and not features is the West Coast brand, Les Schwab. Known for reinventing the tire business, employees are trained to run out to greet new customers as they pull into the parking lot. My personal experience with the company is outlined in the following blog post, Les Schwab Tire Centers: Customer Loyalty for $.75. I’ve been telling the story for years, and it sticks far better than sale prices or winter tread ratings.

Data should create actionable insights

For over twenty years, my team or I have put together monthly activity reports for clients. I’ve also had the opportunity to see many reports from internal corporate teams and competitors over that same period. One of the most common shortcomings I see with analytics reports is the lack of value (insights and actions). Too many reports are demonstrations in copy-paste efficiency, pulling in charts from Google Analytics, AdWords and social media platforms. Even third-party dashboards that streamline the process create bad habits for marketers, as they make report generation easy. The value is in analyzing the data, identifying issues and opportunities and developing specific actionable recommendations. At Anvil, we’ve streamlined our reports, focusing on visualization of the data, a high-level summary of activities and performance and specific actions, owners and timelines. If your reports are falling short, it’s time to revisit.

Inspect, do not expect

Although I’ve been a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization for a decade, I’m sometimes slow to learn lessons in business. One business measurement lesson I learned the hard way was how to effectively measure my team’s performance. Early in my career as a manager, the conventional wisdom (that many still swear by today) was to hire smart people and get out of the way. I got the first part right (hiring smart people), but I did not follow through to ensure they knew how to do their job and had the support they needed to be successful. Most importantly, I managed by instinct and perception, which became deadly.

Years later, my mentor advised me to inspect, not expect. I immediately instituted a weekly status update, including goals for the coming week and an update on goals from the previous week. It has helped me appreciate what my executive team can accomplish, where they need support and how often they get side-tracked by unanticipated emergencies. My only expectation nowadays is that my team will update me on a weekly basis. Inspect the rest.

Don’t let good numbers create complacency

One of the surprising measurement lessons I’ve learned, was that success can breed complacency (which in turn creates major problems). We’ve heard the old adages about success going to your head, but I’m talking about a slightly different danger. If your car gets you to work reliably every day, it’s difficult to see why you’d open the hood to take a closer look for any issues, especially when you don’t see, hear or feel any problems. That was the challenge I faced at Anvil.

We experienced five consecutive years of rapid growth. Essentially, the car we’d built kept going faster and it sounded great (at least to me). The problem was that under the hood, there was a good deal of duct tape and a few stray hamsters. By the time I figured it out, it was too late. I had to completely rebuild the car, while we were still on the road.

There is always a role for humans in analytics

I was interviewed by DMN about the role of humans in the world of analytics. I prepared for the interview by reading a few articles on the subject. That preparation turned into the following article: Underestimating The Human Element of Big Data Analytics. In brief, artificial intelligence combined with big data provides amazing new opportunities for all types of disciplines, including marketing. The good news, is that humans still play an essential role in the machine-driven process, including knowing what questions to ask, how to structure the analysis, interpret and act on the insights.

Map data analytics to your dream job

When I graduated college in the ’90s, my uncle told me to stay close to the money. It took me a few years to realize that my role in measuring buying activity through analytics put me on top of the money. That insight has led others to join a booming industry, including newer discipline like sales automation and marketing automation and maturing roles like data scientist and analytics/data analyst. I recently penned an article on the roadmap to building a dream job in the field of analytics, 6 steps to a fulfilling and financially-rewarding career. This article will help you understand if your unique abilities and talents are in the ballpark of analytics, and from there, you can network and identify job opportunities.

Build your own career plan dashboard

For those of you that already have a job or a general direction with your career, it may help to validate your level of happiness with your current role. I have an article for that: Take this quiz to find out if you’ve found your Dream Job. This article provides evaluation criteria for what a great job looks and feels like, and it can be helpful to objectively assess your situation. If you score well, congratulations! If you score lower, it’s time to rethink your job or career. Start by painting a picture of your ideal job: how it looks, how it sounds and even smells. Then map that ideal to potential employers and network your way into that company or start your own. Reverse-engineer your career end-point back to the present by setting goals, associated timelines and actions and execute.

Start your journey today

The most difficult step in making a career move, especially into data measurement, is the first step. It starts by networking, researching, studying, applying and improving.

The first step may seem like the most difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. I hope you find these lessons in measurement and analytics helpful in your journey.

Kent Lewis is president and founder of Anvil Media, a measurable marketing agency based in Portland, Ore. He’s also co-founder of SEMpdx and was named AMA Marketer of the Year. For more information, visit