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Analyzing the Analytics

Every day I come into work and I am just amazed that I get to work at a time when I have access to so much data. As a marketing analyst, I get to be around data all day long (and I love it). My philosophy is “if you are not properly analyzing and distributing your data, you are wasting money.” Having talked with many people throughout my professional career, I’ve come to determine that analytics is one of the most misunderstood and underutilized factors of business.

Analytics is more than just telling you what happened—anyone can pull the data and tell you that. It’s really a chance to answer the elusive “why” this happened. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just as important to answer the “what happened” as the “why it happened.” Simply put, you cannot answer the “why” if you don’t know the “what.” However, if we stop analyzing at the “what” we miss 90% of the story.

That’s what analytics is to me: the chance to give a voice to the story the data is telling. So how do we move beyond being a reporting monkey to truly becoming an analyst? It’s a simple recipe. All it takes is know-how, creativity, patience, and collaboration.

Before we can even get to the “why” we have to be able to answer the “what.” In order to do that, we need to have the proper tools and the proper training. This seems like a no-brainer, but it may surprise you how many analysts out there either don’t have the right tools for the job or the proper training to do what they are asked to do. As one of my statistics professors said, “It is more dangerous to know a little statistics than none at all.” Both of these obstacles are very easy to overcome, either through training or different tools.

You may be wondering why I included creativity as a necessary part of becoming an analyst. I often find myself thinking outside the box, re-evaluating what I’ve done, and then trying something different. I recently took on a project and thought, “this will be easy. I’ll have it done in two weeks, no problem.” However, it’s been a month and I’m finally getting close to finishing it. What happened is that the potential solution I thought would work didn’t…and then the next potential solution didn’t work…and then the next one didn’t work. So I had to keep searching for the right solution. For the trained analyst, situations like this are the exception, not the rule, but they will happen to every analyst at some point in time. Who knows, you may be the one that starts the next evolution of analytics.

I have to admit, the project I’ve been working on has tried my patience at times. For me, when I get particularly frustrated because I just can’t get the analysis to work, I get up and go for a short walk. This allows me to re-evaluate the problem in my mind away from my computer and burn a few calories at the same time.

A big part of finding the “why” is understanding the vertical or business unit that is being analyzed. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am NOT an expert in everything. When I find that my knowledge of the business unit is not extensive enough, I work with the business owner to get the additional information needed to improve my analysis. Plus, a big thing to remember is what you do as an analyst is for the benefit of others in the organization. Without them you don’t have anything to do.

Two final things to remember: One, under enough torture data will tell you everything you want to know, but that is not the point. The point is to get the true story from the data not the one you want it to tell. Be honest in your analysis and let the data talk to you. Don’t force it to conform to your desired outcome. Two, since we don’t live in vacuum, interactions happen all the time. What we do impacts everything else.

Now it’s time to get your analyst hat on and go have some fun…