By Nick Lipetzky

Marketing departments want to measure their efforts and track outcomes to see what’s working, what isn’t, and what should change. Marketers are driving the rise of marketing analytics. It makes good business sense to track ROI, and marketers shouldn’t stop. But in many cases, marketing analytics are dictating short-term reactions that don’t account for intangible, hard-to-measure things — such as larger, long-term relationships with their audience. And that’s a mistake. Here’s why.

Data Without Context Means Little

I spent a good portion of my career at LendingTree.com, a lead-generating website that takes applications for mortgages. After capturing the application information, LendingTree.com would sell the leads to different banks and lenders, with the tagline expressing the aspirational goal: “When banks compete, you win.” This brand promise gave customers more control over their loan process.

The website data told us when applicants abandoned the form. Whenever we lost an applicant, it’s because we didn’t deliver on the brand promise of the consumer having control — our call to action was about us vs. “the banks”, for example. This was almost 10 years ago, and no one talked about “marketing analytics” — we simply had these results on a spreadsheet and we could see when people dropped out of the application process.

In this early example of analytics, we looked at the numbers and drew a direct line from results, such as a lost applicant, to the cause, such as a selfish call to action. But now with increasingly powerful software delivering increasingly granular results, some marketers dig into the data and lose the context of the brand promise. It’s easy to measure actions, but data can’t tell us if we’re connecting on a human level. It can only indicate whether there’s been an interaction and whether we’re getting a return.

Short-Term Thinking Hurts Your Strategy

Another problem with marketing analytics is that it looks only at the results of short-term efforts.

When I have conversations with more traditional brand professionals, we talk about how they look at the brand and its role today. In a recent conversation with an agency president, he described the old agency days, when they would take the essence of a brand and put it on the head of a pin. They knew they had done their job when they were able to distill the brand essence simply and clearly, then repeat that message in a print ad or TV spot.

Now, connecting with your audience is much more complex. The aim isn’t to boil down the brand into something small; it’s to make it a rich interaction that tells the larger story of the brand. This long-term effort requires teams with skills that go beyond crunching numbers and reading metrics. We forget the need to connect with people on an emotional level — the need to get the larger picture of how people feel about a brand.

Human Stories Build Brands

Of course, data is vitally important to marketing efforts, and marketing analytics certainly isn’t losing momentum. There’s a place for analytics, but it can’t run the show. We shouldn’t let marketing analytics tell us what we’re going to do — we should just take the results as indicators of what we’ve done. It’s feedback, giving us insights into our actions that can help us make decisions to get to our original goal. The numbers simply tell us if we’re on track to get our audience to the aspirational goal.

If we can understand our audience’s goal, we can create experiences and stories that help them down the path. If we’re not keeping the larger goal in mind as a driving factor, then the messages we send to audiences will only tell them part of the story.

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