Data: Go Beyond the Interesting to Uncover the Useful

I spend a lot of time at conferences these days. And recently, I was standing on the showroom floor of a major conference when an investor in a retail website stopped by to talk.

He was extolling the values of their analytics program, which he said had given the team a boatload of interesting information. The most important piece of data they’d uncovered so far?

“iPad users have higher conversion rates than our other customer segments,” he said. “They are our most valuable customers.”

He thought it was amazing that his analytics team had uncovered this information.

Even though I wanted to be polite, I must have had a dumbfounded look on my face, because the first thought that popped into my head was: “Ok, so I guess you should go buy iPads for all of your other visitors.” Data: Go Beyond the Interesting to Uncover the Useful image DataKeyPadded 307x310Data: Go Beyond the Interesting to Uncover the Useful

I couldn’t help it. A statement like this one epitomizes keeping score, rather than being strategic. It’s a perfect example of an analytics discovery that is interesting rather than useful.

It’s great to know that iPad users are your most valuable customer segment, but what can you do with that information? Create a better tablet experience? Well, that sounds great, but if iPad users are already your best customers, why are you trying to make them even better customers?

The real question he should have been asking was: Who are my worst customers? Who isn’t listening to me? What can I do about that?

This conversation underscores an important issue. In an era where everyone is talking about big data, we’re overlooking a huge problem: Organizations have so much data available that they’re uncovering a mountain of information about their customers and don’t know which pieces are the most important.

Without knowing which pieces of data are the most important, companies end up with the interesting rather than the useful.

The thing to keep in mind is that if you can’t act on a piece of data, it’s only interesting. It’s not useful.

So how do you start looking for useful, not interesting, data?

It’s time for organizations to start with customer behavior and work from there. Ask what behaviors you want to change and then what you can do differently in order to make that change. Try to change the behavior that matters. If you’re a retail website, that’s conversion. If you’re a publisher, that’s content consumption. And if you’re a travel website, that’s bookings.

The most important thing is to change your data direction, ensuring your organization determines which type of data is interesting and which type of data is useful.

Remember: If it’s data you can’t act on, if it’s data about an aspect of the customer that you can’t optimize against, then it’s just an interesting nugget. Those interesting nuggets are nice, but they just won’t improve the customer experience, customer satisfaction, or your bottom line.

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