Posts tagged: data

How to achieve FAME in analysis

focused handsIn retail, and in web retail in particular, we are drowning in data. We can and do track just about everything, and we’re constantly pouring over the numbers. But I sometimes worry that the abundance of data is so overwhelming that it often leads to a shortage of insight. All that data is worthless (or worse) if we don’t produce thoughtful analysis and then carefully craft communication of our findings in ways that enable decision makers to react to the data rather than try to analyze it themselves.

The most effective analyses I’ve seen have remarkably similar attributes, and they happen to work into a nice, easy-to-remember acronym — F.A.M.E.

Here, in my experience, are the keys to achieving FAME in analysis:

Focused

Any finding should be fact based and clear enough that it can be stated in a succinct format similar to a newspaper headline. It’s OK to augment the main headline with a sub-headline that adds further clarification, but anything more complicated is not nearly focused enough to be an effective finding.

For example, an effective finding might be, “Visitors arriving from Google search terms are converting 23% lower than visitors arriving from email.” An accompanying sub-heading might further clarify the statement with something like, “Unclear value proposition, irrelevant landing pages and high first time visitor counts are contributing factors.”

All subsequent data presented should support these headlines. Any data that is interesting but irrelevant to the finding should be excluded from the analysis. In other words, remove the clutter so the main points are as clear as possible.

Actionable

Effective findings and their accompanying recommendations are specific enough in focus and narrow enough in scope that decision makers can reasonably develop a plan of action to address them. The finding mentioned above regarding Google search visitors fits the bill, and a recommendation that focuses on modifying landing pages to match search terms would be appropriate. Less appropriate would be a vague finding like “customers coming from Google search terms are viewing more pages than customers coming from email campaigns” accompanied by an equally vague recommendation to “consider ways to reduce pages clicked by Google search campaign visitors.” Is viewing more pages good or bad? Why? The recommendation in this case insinuates that it’s bad, but it’s not clear why. What’s the benefit of taking action in quantifiable terms?

Truly actionable analysis doesn’t burden decision makers with connecting the data to executable conclusions. In other words, the thought put into the analysis should make the diagnosis of problems clear so that decision makers can get to work on determining necessary solutions.

Manageable

The number of findings in any set of analyses should be contained enough that the analyst and anyone in the audience can recite the findings and recommendations (but not all the supporting details) in 30 seconds. Sometimes, less is more. This constraint helps ease the subsequent communication that will be necessary to reasonably react to the findings and plan and execute a response. Conversely, information overload obscures key messages and makes it difficult for teams to coalesce around key issues.

Enlightening

Last, but most certainly not least, effective findings are enlightening. Effective analyses should present — and support with clear, credible data — a view of the business that is not widely held. They should, at the very least, elicit a “hmmm…” from the audience and ideally a “whoa!” They should excite decision makers and spur them to action.

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The FAME attributes are not always easy to achieve. They require a lot of hard thought, but the value of clear, data-supported insight to an organization is immense.

The most effective analysts I’ve seen achieve FAME on a regular basis. They have a thorough understanding of the business’ objectives, and they develop their insights to help decision makers truly understand what’s working and what’s not working. And then they lay out clear opportunities for improvement. That’s data-driven business management at its best.

What do you think? What attributes do you find key in effective analyses?

Are web analytics like 24-hour news networks?

We have immediate access to loads of data with our web sites, but just because we can access lots of data in real time doesn’t mean we should access our data in real time. In fact, accessing and reporting on the numbers too quickly can often lead to distractions, false conclusions, premature reactions and bad decisions.

I was attending the web-analytics-focused Semphonic X Change conference last week in San Francisco (which, by the way, was fantastic) where lots of discussion centered around both the glories and the issues associated with the mass amount of data we have available to us in the world of the web.

Before heading down for the conference breakfast Friday morning (September 11), I switched on CNN and saw — played out in all their glory on national TV — the types of issues that can occur with reporting too early on available data.

It seems CNN reporters “monitoring video” from a local TV station saw Coast Guard vessels in the Potomac River apparently trying to keep another vessel from passing. They then monitored the Coast Guard radio and heard someone say, “You’re approaching a Coast Guard security zone. … If you don’t stop your vessel, you will be fired upon. Stop your vessel immediately.” And, for my favorite part of the story, they made the decision to go on air when they heard someone say “bang, bang, bang, bang” and “we have expended 10 rounds.” They didn’t hear actual gun shots, mind you, they heard someone say “bang.” Could this be a case of someone wanting the data to say something it isn’t really saying?

In the end, it turned out the Coast Guard was simply executing a training exercise it runs four times a week! Yet, the results of CNN’s premature, erroneous and nationally broadcast report caused distractions to the Coast Guard leadership and White House leadership, caused the misappropriation of FBI agents who were sent to the waterfront unnecessarily, led to the grounding of planes at Washington National airport for 22 minutes, and resulted in reactionary demands from law enforcement agencies that they be alerted of such exercises in the future, even though the exercises run four times per week and those alerts will likely be quickly ignored because they will become so routine.

In the days when we only got news nightly, reporters would have chased down the information, discovered it was a non-issue and the report would have never aired. The 24-hour networks have such a need for speed of reporting that they’ve sacrificed accuracy and credibility.

Let’s not let such a rush negatively affect our businesses.

Later on that same day, I was attending a conference discussion on the role of web analytics in site redesigns. Several analysts in the room mentioned their frustrations when they were asked by executives for a report on how the new design was doing only a couple of hours after the launch of new site design. They wanted to be able to provide solid insight, but they knew they couldn’t provide anything reliable so soon.

Even though a lot of data is already available a couple of hours in, that data lacks the context necessary to start drawing conclusions.

For one, most site redesigns experience a dip in key metrics initially as regular customers adjust to a new look and feel. In the physical retail world, we used to call this the “Where’s my stuff?” phenomenon. But even if we set the initial dip aside, there are way too many variables involved in the short term of web activity to make any reliable assessments of the new design’s effectiveness. As with any short term measurement, the possibilities for random outliers to unnaturally sway the measurement to one direction or another is high. It takes some time and an accumulation of data to be sure we have a reliable story to tell.

And even with time, web data collection is not perfect. Deleted cookies, missed connections, etc. can all cause some problems in the overall completeness of the data. For that matter, I’ve rarely seen the perfect set of data in any retail environment. Given the imperfect nature of the data we’re using to make key strategic decisions, we need to give our analysts time to review it, debate it and come to reasoned conclusions before we react.

I realize the temptation is strong to get an “early read” on the progress of a new site design (or any strategic issue, really). I’ve certainly felt it myself on many occasions. However, since just about every manager and executive I know (including myself) has a strong bias for action, we have to be aware of the risks associated with these “early reads” and our own abilities or inabilities to make conclusions and immediately react. Early reads can lead to the bad decisions associated with the full accelerator/full brake syndrome I’ve referenced previously.

We can spend months or even years preparing for a massive new strategic effort and strangle it within days by overreacting to early data. Instead, I wonder if it’s a better to determine well in advance of the launch — when we’re thinking more rationally and the temptation to know something is low — when we’ll first analyze the success of our new venture. Why not make such reporting part of the project plan and publicly set expectations about when we’ll review the data and what type of adjustments we should plan to make based on what we learn?

In the end, let’s let our analysts strive for the credibility of the old nightly news rather than emulate the speed and rush to judgment that too often occurs in this era of 24-hours news. Our businesses and our strategies are too important and have taken too long to build to sacrifice them to a short-term need for speed.

What do you think? Have you seen this issue in action? How do you need with the balance between quick information and thoughtful analysis?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons




Retail: Shaken Not Stirred by Kevin Ertell


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