Will Harris: Get a grip on your brand's numbers

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Will Harris
Will Harris

Asking data analytics people to work out what the numbers actually mean is perilous, because they tend to have no practical connection to the real world.

Q: Our data analytics agency insists on a 60-sheet PowerPoint presentation whenever it updates us. There's usually a few insights in there, but the agency never suggests ways of taking them forward. Am I expecting too much?

A: Do you really have a data analytics agency? Perhaps you also have someone to squirt toothpaste on your toothbrush, or to test your eggs for 'doneness', as people in Singapore would grotesquely describe it.

Paying someone to present you data that is freely available online seems an odd choice. It seems even odder if all they are doing is building a huge Excel file that sucks in the numbers like a gigantic black hole, and spits out a PowerPoint presentation and an agency-fee invoice simultaneously. What a great gig – can anyone join in?

However, it's Friday afternoon as I write and I'm feeling charitable. Let's assume for a moment that you either inherited this situation, or your boss owns the agency.

Be selective

I, too, distrust people marking their own homework, and I suspect this is at the heart of the matter. I suggest you either get someone to collect numbers for free, or pay someone to collate them and work out what they actually mean.

Anyone who has sat through a research debrief in a creative agency will know the perils of the latter approach. Asking people with no practical connection to the real world their opinion about what you should do is a high-risk strategy. They often make suggestions that are unworkable, or elicit low growls from the creative agency.

It's slightly easier in the world of analytics, because at least you can kick your 'nuggets of insight' into the long grass if you don't agree with them (usually by agreeing with them noisily in the meeting, and promising to undertake a 'deep-dive' at a later date, when you can kill them in private).

Integrate the process

My suggestion is that you embed your analytics agency into your ad agency, preferably the planning department. That way, if your agency planners are as smart as they should be, they can translate the rows of numbers into English, and may even help your marketing strategy.

Now that would be worth paying for. Even if it doesn't help your strategy, there is still lots of fun to be had watching the extremes of left-brain and right-brain thinking co-existing in meetings.

Will Harris is a former marketing director for Nokia in the UK and Asia region. He was the first marketing director of the Conservative Party and launch marketing director of the O2 brand.

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