Dread data-driven decisions?


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spooky shadow puppet

It’s October again and that means trips to the pumpkin patch, copious amounts of Halloween candy and late nights gathered around the campfire telling spooky stories lie ahead. Some scary stories might make you roll your eyes and laugh at their absurd nature, but others, those that are based on real life events… those are the ones that make you sleep with one eye open.  

At Sweetspot we are no stranger to scary stories. Unfortunately, most of them are not told playfully around the campfire, but by wearied executives who’ve been living real life reporting horror stories year round. Each story is just as cringeworthy as the next: from those who are trapped in the vicious cycle of manual reporting, to those whose reports are ultimately sent to die in the Metrics Graveyard.

Overcrowded dashboards, manual reporting and the act of getting the right data to the right stakeholder, can all be overcome. However, what we find scariest of all, and often the hardest to conquer, are those cases where organizations have implemented a solid reporting system, yet executives are too afraid to act on anything. This is especially frustrating where relevant data is so easily accessible.

Deciphering fear

In an attempt to understand this fear, we’ve explored a number of reasons why executives have trouble making decisions and acting on their data. These reasons range from culture shock that can occur in organizations attempting to adopt a digital strategy or a data-driven culture, to the actual psychology of decision-making. After all of that, we’ve found that while decision paralysis is common, it must be overcome in order for executives to make decisions and act on their data with confidence rather than fear. However, the root of fear itself is something executives and organizations as a whole should address before expecting data-driven decision making to be implemented:

Stepping up to the chopping block:

It isn’t uncommon to fear that by taking risks and moving out of your comfort zone, that you’re putting your neck on the line unnecessarily. Say, for example, your weekly content engagement levels are fairly consistent, however, you notice a slight peak every time you focus your content around practical product use cases rather than generic topics. This type of content, however, is produced few and far between. You could:

A) Stick to what’s comfortable. You don’t want to move away from your typical content message. After all, engagement rates have been consistent so why change things up now?

B) Explore what it is about practical product use cases that spark your reader’s interest and test some new content pieces to see how engagement rates change. Maybe throw a video into the mix?

Option A is the most surefire way marketers can watch their back. As long as the numbers are consistent, they won’t have to fear that a risky decision is going to affect their job security. However, Option B could open up new doors in a way that Option A never could. If we are complacent, we will never advance, and while it is scary to step out of comfort zones, marketing is all about searching for your audience and finding a way to truly connect with them.

By establishing and growing a learning-oriented culture, executives will feel more enabled to make decisions and act on their data. The key is to always measure the impact of actions, in order to continuously optimize decisions. Will all decisions be rendered successful? Obviously not. However, by fostering a culture based on learning, executives will feel more empowered to step out of their comfort zone and try new approaches that could greatly pay off.

Disconnected and daunting objectives:

A common complaint among markers, CMOs included, is that stakeholders don’t always see eye-to-eye on what they should prioritize. If we want to knock out the fear of taking risks, we should at least get started by getting on the same page.

Organizations who take the time to map out their overall business objectives are in a much better position to communicate to executives what they are working towards and how their performance contributes to the bigger picture. If, however, no objectives are defined, reports fall on deaf ears. Why would one dare to take actions if they are not sure how their actions will affect company-wide objectives?

So for example, as an automotive brand, we might find that the majority our audience is 35+, but we’d like to attract more first time buyers. In order to contribute to this objective, the social media team might have an objective of increasing Reach by 10% quarterly. They can strategize about how they’d like to do this, and start testing. They might, for example, take the opportunity to test new messages and campaigns on existing social platforms, as well as branch out to new platforms with primarily youngers audiences, such as Snapchat, to see how their actions contribute to this goal. If reach goes up, wonderful. If not, they can go back to the drawing board.

Measuring and acting on data is a continuous task, one full of trial and errors, but ultimately, the only way to understand  how decisions impact performance and contribute to our objectives.

If we want executives to break free from this fear and make data-backed decisions, we need to empower them at an organizational level to not only feel comfortable taking risks & learning from their actions but also to analyze how their performance contributes to the organization as a whole.


Do you feel like you’re living in a state of fear when it comes to making decisions around your data? How do you overcome this in your organization?


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Holly McKendry

Sweetspot Marketing Director. Wakeboarder & travel enthusiast. Communication Studies graduate of Texas State University, San Marcos.

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