25 Aug Become Data-Driven: 9 Data-ish Resources for Product, Growth and Marketing Professionals
I sometimes hear from smaller companies that the move to a data-driven organization is a scary one, in particular, when the rubber actually hits the road (i.e. when the fun of wrangling, analyzing and interpreting actually kicks in). As a leader, manager or as a practitioner, when you’ve relied mainly on your gut for many years, when you’ve based most of your decisions on what feels right, it can be truly terrifying to suddenly have to confront the cold hard facts about the success or failure by solely relying on data. What if you suddenly learn that most of your team actually hates the new product push despite the founder’s previous successes, or that the Facebook funnel you worked on for weeks isn’t really a major hit after all?
Well, here’s the thing: I’ve long said that modern day professionals need to think like architects, psychologists, and scientists. When you work with data, you especially need to think like a scientist. It doesn’t matter if you’re in product, growth, data or marketing, you’re collecting data not in order to judge, but in order to study it closely and see how it can help you improve. It’s not about success or failure, it’s about making better-informed decisions.
If you’ve managed to resist the data draw this long, you might be tempted to think you can just keep on doing what you’re doing. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking won’t get you too far these days. Sure, if you own the business and you call the shots, you can ignore this whole data trend and hope it blows over. Just think of all the really successful businesses that ignored the whole Internet phase. That worked out well for… um… actually, I can’t think of anyone. And I’m pretty sure you can’t, either.
And as scary and intimidating as “data-driven product development”, or “data-driven marketing” might sound, it’s actually closer in reach than you might think. As data becomes more prolific, so do the amount of resources available to help you wrangle it all and draw actionable insights from. Although you don’t need to become a full-fledged expert, you do need to have a basic enough understanding of what’s needed to leverage them for your department’s goals. This amount of knowledge is critical to turning you into more of a V-Shaped team member rather than a T-Shaped team member stuck in a singular line of thinking.
As you can see here, a T-Shaped team member is an expert in one field. A V-Shaped team member is still an expert in their field but has also taken the time to build their knowledge in other related fields. In today’s world, I will argue night and day that data needs to be one of those additional fields.
With the right tools and a basic foundational knowledge, you can collect and analyze the data quickly and easily to make the best decisions for your business. Think about driving your car. I might not be a BMW certified mechanic, but that’s not going to stop me from taking a look at my gauges before I pull out of the driveway in my 7-series. I wouldn’t be the smartest guy on the block if I took off on a trip, expecting to drive 100+ miles to an important meeting when my gas gauge was clearly on empty. But it’s a great car! I planned the trip so carefully, and I really NEED to get there! But if I ignore the data staring me right in the face, I won’t be able to make adjustments and do what need to be done to get where I need to be.
Okay, I know that this example is waaayyyy trite, but here’s the deal: In case you didn’t already get the memo five years ago, data-driven decision making is the new norm in virtually every single department in corporate America and it has arrived in style. Thanks to companies like business intelligence powerhouse Domo and visualization companies like Juice Analytics, data is no longer reserved for the data geeks in the back office. That’s a good thing – no wait, a GREAT thing – especially for product, growth and marketing professionals who want to be “in the know” and way ahead of the curve in terms of credibility and reliability.
Getting Comfortable with Data-Driven Decision Making
Getting started in data-driven analysis and decision-making in marketing, growth or product can be intimidating, especially if you’ve always thought of yourself as a creative type, driven by words or images, far away from the numbers and the mathematical side of things. But data doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, data can actually make it easier for you to be creative, and it can even be fun (unless your departments work in a silo).
You’ve undoubtedly used either Netflix or Amazon at some point during your life, and you’ve most likely seen the recommendations for similar books, movies, or other items based on your purchases. That’s one tiny example of where product, technology, data and marketing come together to create something that customers love because it makes the experience feel personalized. It makes them feel special to find recommendations that seem to be hand-selected just for them.
Another example: You’re out and about and you suddenly crave a burger. You pull out your phone to find the nearest place to eat. Along with the directions, the site helpfully provides you with the option to place your order now and get a 10% coupon for the meal. Win-win: the burger joint has locked you into the purchase, so you won’t be distracted if you see a different restaurant along the way, and you feel like they’ve anticipated your hunger and rewarded your loyalty with the discount.
Now, let’s be clear. Both of these examples are grounded in product and engineering but these examples wouldn’t be examples in this blog post if it weren’t for a holistic team of engineers, UX/UI, product, data and marketing professionals working together to find out how to create an awesome user experience. And here’s the key takeaway: if you are in product, growth or marketing, your core job is to continually improve the user experience at every stage of the sales or marketing funnel and there is really no better way to do that more efficiently than armed with data.
You have a lot of options for creativity despite using data as the backbone. So how do you learn about everything you can do – and implement those changes in your own business? Well, here are nine fantastic resources that can help you get started in data-driven decision making. You need to start with a foundational knowledge, garnered from the best experts in data. There is a lot of information out there, and to be quite honest, a lot of it stinks. It’s either too outdated, too confusing, or just too weak to offer you any real value. I’m going to share with you what I consider to be the best resources out there when you start your journey into data-driven decision making. These are not only the sites I send my team and clients to for getting skilled up, these are also the go-to sites I use myself to stay on the cutting edge of data analytics.
1. In The Know
Yep. I went there. I’m kicking off this list with my own curated learning path on data-driven marketing. These are resources that I personally scoured the Internet to find and hand selected to help you learn the fundamentals of data-driven marketing and see how you can apply that knowledge and use analytics to better inform your own marketing decisions and improve your customer experience.
I recommend that you start off by listening to David Darmanin, who joined me on Season One of the In The Know podcast. This episode is a fantastic introduction to data-driven marketing, and it lets you get your feet wet immediately by implementing Hotjar, David’s incredible tool, on your site for free to start gaining insights right away.
You’ll also find videos that can show you very specific data analytics operations – for example, how to use information from Google Analytics to improve your conversion rates – as well as highly informative blog posts, such as the Content Marketing Expert Guide to Analytics & Metrics.
But the real beauty about these learning paths is that you can start them however you want, whenever you want. The best resources for what you need to know to be IN THE KNOW are right at your fingertips whenever you are ready to grab them. So no matter how you like to learn, videos, books, podcasts, online courses, etc., you can access the information you need to stay on the cutting edge in your field, curated by industry insiders that you trust.
Like In The Know, Springboard believes in the importance of creating an ideal learning experience for individual users, and they strive do so with courses designed for professionals with jobs and families, mentoring programs, and advisors who help students find the most effective tracks for their own careers.
Start by reviewing their aptly-titled blog post on eleven great data science books. Pick the ones that most interest you to add to your reading list (I recommend starting with Nate Silver’s The Signal and The Noise.) I also love this post with 41 great quotes about data – it’s the perfect way to get in the right mindset to sit down and work. And when you’re ready to dig in and do the work, Springboard has a lot of amazing material. Their Data Analysis learning path has resources for everything from the nitty gritty – learning several programming languages – to the more broadly applicable data visualization and social network analysis. You don’t need any prior experience in programming or data analysis – just dive in and start learning.
If the idea of jumping straight into programming gives you pause, then consider the Data Analytics for Business workshop, which starts with a unit on the root cause analysis, then explores segmentation, churn, funnels, and forecasting, all through a data-driven lens.
With Springboard, you don’t have to face your journey into data-driven marketing on your own. Springboard’s learning and subject matter experts come alongside side you every step of the way. When you start with Springboard, you work with a Student Advisor to get familiar with their format and find the best course for you. You’ll then get matched with a data expert mentor who will meet with you one-on-one via video conference every week throughout the course. You’ll also get to network and share ideas with fellow students. So if you like working with a hands-on, interactive community, Springboard might just be your ticket to getting skilled up on data science.
3. Occam Blog
UK-based Occam is a marketing technology solutions provider with a focus on data-driven marketing. The company helps other organizations collect and analyze their data in order to create highly targeted customer experiences. The company’s blog is packed with information that anyone exploring data will find useful.
In the clutter of the internet, Occam is a breath of fresh air. They take a topic that can make a lot of people’s heads spin and break it down to be simple and manageable. Start with this post on data trends and topics to get a bird’s eye view of how your company can use data to drive strategy. Then take a closer look at how to make data a habit – if you’re trying to instill a data-driven culture in your company, this post will help you. And as you start collecting data and working with it regularly, take the time to explore the strategies that can help you identify the gaps in your data – and how to fill them effectively.
And with Occam, you know you can trust what they are teaching you. Their clients range from Jaguar and Land Rover to the UK’s Ministry of Defense.
4. Edwin Chen
If you’re looking for real-world examples of what to do with the vast amounts of data out there in the world, Edwin Chen’s blog has some fantastic ideas and implementations. His posts on bringing a small human element to the data-driven results provided by Amazon and Twitter are fascinating.
In his Amazon post, Chen describes exactly how he evaluated the efficacy of Amazon’s recommendations and offered suggestions for improving machine-based recommendations through minor human intervention. When he discusses Twitter search, he offers insight into using a human workforce optimized for best results. It sounds almost like science fiction, but the beauty is that it’s solidly grounded in reality, and the careful explanations and use cases make it easy for you to figure out how to apply these lessons in your own business.
You really have to love a guy who can combine an introduction like this:
That’s excerpted from this post, and I’ll admit that he may have lost me a bit when he assigned mathematical values to prepositions. I mean, I would like to say I followed along perfectly, but that would be somewhat less than absolute truth.
5. Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik
If you are looking for plain English explanations of some really, really techy concepts, and very specific instructions on how you can apply the lessons learned to your own endeavors, you absolutely must visit the blog of data genius Avinash Kaushik, Occam’s Razor – not to be confused with Occam, mentioned above. Former Director of Research and Analytics at Inuit, Avinash has been churning out incredibly valuable information on his blog for over 10 years. He’s now the author of two best-selling books and a works with Google as a Digital Marketing Evangelist.
Jump in with this post, where Avinash talks about his favorite web analytics tools. Of course, as any good curator must, he provides plenty of context.
I love that Avinash provides overviews of his posts, and he never skimps on the details. Take a look at his post on Google Analytics goals. You get the birds-eye view, the screenshots with precise how-to instructions, and plenty of humor.
Data is critical, but in a recent post, Avinash begs us to suck less and explains that by simply taking the time to pretend to be actual users of our own sites and services, we can very quickly and easily find and plug some of the most critical leaks in our funnels. He points out that if we spend all our time poring over spreadsheets, we’ll never figure out that the conversion problem stems from, say, crappy user design on a buy now page. Really – tell me when you last tried to get support from your own team for a common user issue? Do you know what that experience is like? Don’t you think it might be worth it to find out?
6. NGData Blog
NGData is a data analytics solution provider with an impressive client list, including Johnson & Johnson, Toyota, and ING, and their blog offers a lot of valuable information on a variety of data-related topics. They frequently poll experts in a particular industry to uncover tips, trends, and actionable information you can use in conjunction with your own data. For example, you can see what industry thought leaders have to say about mastering data analytics, or learn how leading companies are using data to improve the customer experience, or learn about data trends in banking and finance. NGData’s enterprise product promises to connect all the customer data points to further understand points of interest like the lifetime value of each customer and propensity to churn. Many of these enterprise products are well beyond the scope of most people starting out, however, their blog is a great way to dip your toe in the data education waters.
7. Salesforce Blog
You’re most likely already familiar with the Salesforce CRM product. It’s one of the most popular CRM products in the market and was voted as the World’s Most Innovative Company by Forbes from 2011 to 2014. Even if you’re not a user, the Salesforce blog is a great place to find insightful analysis on a variety of topics, and you can definitely boost your knowledge and understanding of data-driven marketing strategies and tactics with posts that delve deep using data to drive strategic planning, how the right data can help you build a more accurate customer journey (and why it matters), and how predictive analytics can improve your content.
This Salesforce video on data-driven marketing is another helpful resource.
Nathan Yau, data genius with a PhD in Statistics from UCLA, publishes an awesome blog, FlowingData. In addition to offering some fantastic insight into data and analytics, Nathan is a visualization guru and gives practical tips for visually expressing and interpreting your data. Truth be told, I can easily lose myself for hours in visualized data and I love that Nathan is making data easier to understand, not only for me but for everyone else. Much of his content is locked behind a membership wall, but you can still gain tons of value even if you are just perusing. And how about this? He has written some fantastic books, Visualize This and Data Points. He also highlights Data Fluency as one of his top picks. All of these should be required reading for anyone who wants to take data analysis to another level.
9. RJMetrics – The Data Point Blog
RJMetrics builds data infrastructure and analytics software to help businesses make smarter decisions with their data. Their mantra is that they “inspire and empower data-driven people”. Okay, now that tagline may seem a bit cliché to some, but I’m excited to say that this company totally gets the idea of StoryVesting, which is to say that this mantra is the fabric of their culture. Look, when you have vested people on board your ship and they are seated in the right seat, you can let them produce amazing things, amazing results – especially if they are truly empowered. And that’s what you get from the team over at RJMetrics and the Data Point blog. They care about what they produce and they truly do care about empowering data-driven people.
So there you have it. Nine data-based resources that you can use to kick start your learning and I’m confident as you explore and dig in, you will feel empowered to use data to drive better decisions in your own product, growth or marketing efforts. So whether you’re in the trenches, a manager, a CEO or an entrepreneur, with this newly acquired knowledge and skill, you can keep a pulse on what’s working (and what’s NOT) in your business. Remember, data is your FRIEND. Don’t ignore it, embrace it!
Do you have any questions? Is there anything else I can share to help you? Let me know!