Business is a results-oriented field. While a Michael Porter might come along every once in a while and knock it out of the park with a philosophical treatise like “On Competition,” most businesses are concerned with what happens in the trenches. Did it sell? Are we making a profit? One area where this mindset doesn’t always serve a business well is analytics. Like any data-heavy field that relies on statistics, it’s beyond easy to show analytics “results” that have almost no relevance. Yet, what the business needs more than anything from its analytics is relevance.
A deeper stumbling block that drives the results versus relevance issue is a rational career-preservation instinct. Everybody knows, or at least believes, that delivering bad news is a good way to get fired. When you’re in sales and you aren’t moving the product, it’s hard to hide that fact. When you’re in analytics, you can cherry pick results that seem to show progress for a given project or product. An easy way to do this is by dumbing down the analytics. Instead of talking about the emotional tenor of responses for the product, business or brand, the analytics person can talk about the volume of engagement.
“Our brand is seeing significant attention on Twitter. 15,000 mentions in the last 48 hours. Thousands of comments on our Facebook page.”
That is a result without relevance. It sounds impressive. It sounds good. By avoiding substance – 14806 of the mentions and all of the comments burned the brand in effigy – the analytics person avoids the Wrath of Boss, at least temporarily. Of course, the truth will come out eventually, but the analytics person lives in hope that the blame will be shifted to anyone else. This tendency is even more pronounced when the person doing the analytics is nominally part of the team in charge of the failure.
An assistant in the marketing department may be analyzing the numbers, but not be in a position of authority in terms of the project itself. That person is doubly motivated to either make sure they aren’t delivering the news or to massage the bejeezus out of it before they report to the higher ups. As a “marketing person” they’re as likely to be lumped into the failure as the people actually responsible. Default response, report “results” and avoid “relevance.”
As a business owner, you’re in a tricky position. You either need to understand the math and the analytics well enough to spot the BS, or you need to help create a work environment in which employees don’t equate bad news with career suicide. Relevance, however bad, always helps your business. Fluff results never do. In the end, a culture of fearless analytics honesty is less work than constantly rechecking the math.