Last week, I attended the MITX Data Summit — the annual conference that educates attendees on data trends and how to analyze and act on data to make better business decisions. The day-long seminar featured speakers from Google, Forrester, Celect and even an Olympic Athlete — all discussing the various ways businesses use data today and best practices.You might be surprised to find public relations professionals at a data summit but, as the significance of data storytelling and analytics increases, the PR industry will need to add data-based skills sets to remain relevant and deepen their worth as strategic partners. During the summit, there were several eminently important topics for PR, but these three in particular stood out as crucial, sooner rather than later.
1. Data Visualizations
It’s not new information that imagery is key in storytelling but, with the increased prevalence of data/charts/visuals, it’s actually become too easy to throw together a ‘data graphic’ that is …. useless. According to Kaiser Fung from JunkCharts, many of today’s data visualizations fall short of these two simple but necessary rules: "make use of the data” and “have a purpose”
For example, how many times have you looked at a chart in an article and struggled to figure out what it was saying? Or, if you removed the numbers from the image, it made no sense? To ensure visualizations add value, it’s important for data experts and designers to work collaboratively to ensure that both the visuals and the numbers are in sync and complementary.
Bonus: Don’t create a visualization that makes your readers work harder. If they have to “bring their own calculator,” you need to rethink it.
2. Data-Informed Targeting and Decisions
Several of the sessions during the conference covered using data to improve targeting. This included creating data models to manage retail inventory more effectively, thinking differently about personalization, and understanding how different generations should be targeted via different mediums, etc. It struck me that many industries have for too long relied on gut instinct versus an analytical approach to targeting and communicating with various audiences. In fact, according to Forrester, only 49 percent of business decisions are made using quantitative analysis, despite the billions invested in these decisions.
For example, when thinking about your target audiences and competition, you probably list organizations that provide the same service or product – your direct competitors. But what about experiential competitors? If your target customer engages with other companies that provide better experiences (i.e. ways to interact and engage with them), how does that make you look? Say your brand offers a mobile app; is it as easy and simple to use as say, Uber? If not, you’ll likely be judged by your customers for having an inferior experience.
Understanding and acting upon experiential competitors takes a much deeper knowledge of target customers — way beyond demographics — and the best way to get a complete view of a customer is via better data that reveals their behaviors and motivators. This is the DNA of what makes individuals engage with brands.
3. Data Insights Centers of Excellence
Cinny Little, a senior analyst at Forrester, discussed the importance of creating a data insights center of excellence (COE) within organizations. I found this session particularly important as it spoke to the need for strategically built practices for using data and insights, fusing it into everyday work.
Developing a COE is not about how much data you can amass or the fancy tools with which you collect it (though having a solid methodology for all of that is important) but, rather, creating an operating model for how insights are discovered, championed and used within an organization.
Cinny recommended the following five factors for success:
- Form a governance team to lead the way. You need passionate, smart people to start things and keep the momentum going. (At InkHouse, it’s our Data Team). This group should be diverse in roles and perspectives and should be charged with creating and deploying a plan of action to the rest of the organization.
- Focus on IT and business alignment. This is about not having your fancy data/IT tools and teams operating in a silo. Data and insights can be way cool (nerd alert #notsorry), but they still need to support business objectives.
- Gain traction and quick wins. Quickly prove your value and importance with a win that will gain buy-in and excitement within your organization.
- Do internal marketing. Your COE could be an organization’s dream team, but if no one knows what you’re doing, is there value?
- Manage your skills portfolio. In other words, deliver work that matters. Your COE needs to be tangibly useful.
Bonus insight: A strong COE takes a love for the iterative work that is data and insights. It takes persistence and sometimes pure strength of will to keep digging and pushing, but that effort will pay off again and again.
Bottom line: for PR and communications professionals, there is a world of opportunity for using data and analytics to add value and make better decisions. As I generally say, be curious and keep digging.