According to the latest Deloitte CMO Survey, investments in digital marketing have increased since 2021. More importantly, investments in data and analytics are now a priority, rising almost 40% from 56.5% in February 2021 to 77.5% in February 2022.
Gartner breaks down the budget investment by marketing function, detailing that CMOs are allocating almost 30% of their budgets to uncovering actionable insights:
- 9% to marketing data & analysis
- 8.8% to customer analytics
- 8.3% to marketing insight
These are healthy budget allocations. Everyone talks about having an actionable data strategy, but I would be that most struggle with finding an actionable insight. But don’t frown; I had the same challenge early in my career. It wasn’t until I took a step back and rethought my approach to data that I uncovered insights that drove results. And I’m going to share those actionable insights with you in this post.
What are actionable insights?
Actionable insights are data-driven recommendations that can make intelligent decisions–a campaign, a process, messaging, customer relationship, marketing strategy, etc. They are insights that have the potential to drive change within an organization.
The key word here is “potential” because not all insights are equally actionable, and it’s up to you to determine which insights are most likely to lead to positive business outcomes.
Several factors can influence how actionable the insight can be, including the quality of the data, the relevance of the findings, the context, and the feasibility of implementing any recommended changes. Ultimately, actionable insights have the power to transform your brand – but only if they are put into action.
The difference between data and insights
Data is information that has been collected and organized in a specific format. When analyzing the marketing performance of a given campaign, the metrics displayed in a social media dashboard are forms of data. Impressions, clicks, click-through rate, conversions, engagements, reach–all data.
Insights result from analyzing data to discover patterns, trends, or relationships. In other words, data is the raw material that insights are built from. It’s great that your conversion rate is skyrocketing. You’ll score some brownie points when you share it with your manager. But it would help if you were prepared to explain why it’s so high and what you plan to do to keep it elevated.
To generate insights, data must be analyzed. This can involve using statistical methods, visualizations, or other forms of data modeling. Insights are always more actionable than data alone, as they can provide decision-makers with a deeper understanding of the underlying issues, opportunities, or white space.
For example, it’s a best practice for digital marketing teams to collect data about customers’ perceptions of the brand, their purchase behavior, media consumption, top interests, or how they interact with the website.
This data can be analyzed to generate insights about what motivates customers, what frustrates them, and where there are opportunities to improve the customer experience. These insights can then inform marketing decisions about messaging, creative, audience targeting, and website UI/UX.
Another way to think about this is that data provides the foundation for understanding, and insights are what allow us to see the bigger picture.
How does data analytics play into this?
It’s semantics, and it depends on who you ask. In my experience, data analytics is a term used by data science, business intelligence, and engineering teams. It’s turning raw data into useful information, similar to finding actionable insights. The steps are identical too. It involves:
- Collect unstructured and structured data from different sources
- Clean and prep the data for analysis
- Apply statistical modeling to the data
- Interpret the results and communicate them back to the business
In marketing, we do the same thing. We call it turning data into actionable insights. It sounds better.
Media Measurement and Reporting
Another critical component of using data to uncover actionable insights is measurement and reporting, which can be described as analyzing performance and determining whether it has met the campaign goals or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
Measurement and reporting apply to all media–paid, earned, owned, digital, and integrated marketing campaigns.
Once the media and performance data has been analyzed, it can be used to improve the campaign by making changes to different variables–bid strategy, target audience, messaging, or even the media mix.
A critical distinction with measurement and reporting is that the insights are “after the fact.” In other words, you won’t know what you can do to improve your marketing campaign until it’s over.
This is in contrast to real-time data analysis, which can be used to make “in-flight” adjustments to improve performance while the campaign is still running. Real-time data analysis is a critical component of programmatic advertising, where algorithms are used to buy and place ads in real-time based on various factors–including performance data.
Actionable insights that inform data-driven storytelling
This type of actionable insight informs a program, campaign, narrative, or messaging. The process involves doing an audience or media landscape analysis to understand the current cultural context and what certain customer groups discuss on social media.
Data-driven storytelling is the action of using analytics and insights to inform a story, media plan, content, headline, blog post, ad copy, or all of the above. Remember, there’s data, and then there’s an insight. Data is just a number or percentage. It’s not actionable. An insight is a discovery or a conclusion based on the analytics.
Here are a few examples of actionable insights
Let’s assume that my Facebook ads generated 5,000 clicks to my business website with just a $500 investment. On the surface, this seems to be a pretty solid ROI. The metrics look great.
But what if I were to say that after a few A/B tests, we saw a 125% increase in clicks when the creative has a red CTA button instead of a blue CTA button, resulting in 5,000 clicks? This would be considered an actionable insight.
Here’s a step-by-step example of how a media analysis can deliver actionable insights using free analytics tools.
Similar Web is a tool that provides website analytics. There’s a free version, and I wanted to get some quick insights about the WIRED news outlet. I plugged in the URL, and here’s what I got:
- 17.9M monthly visitors
- 80% bounce rate
- 50% of the web traffic comes from the US
Similar Web will also reveal the top referring websites, organic search numbers, and the % of traffic from social. These are great metrics. But there’s more to analyze.
So, how are these actionable insights?
So, back to WIRED. If you work in public relations, please don’t ignore analytics. You don’t have to be an expert in big data to discover an insight. You have to be open-minded, patient, and willing to learn new tools.
The first thing I did was an audience analysis. What’s great about this type of approach is that you could collect affinity data, conversational insights, media consumption, and deeper psychographics about your customers. For this example, I just wanted to understand what types of users read and share content from WIRED.
II uncovered eight distinct audiences, and the customer insights were informative.
These audiences are clustered based on demographics, psychographics, self-identifiable characteristics, and follower relationships we refer to as affinities.
The strategy was to drill down on just one of the audience segments to see what other actionable insights were hiding in the data. The findings revealed a developer audience segment–79% male; they skew younger, prefer sports, and read sites like The Verge, HBR and PC Mag.
The next part of the analysis is based on topical media relevance. It looks at the context of the stories and articles written on WIRED.
The example below shows a trend line from January 2019, and you’ll notice that data and security are dominant topics of the WIRED media coverage.
You’ll also notice that Artificial intelligence and the Workplace are experiencing tremendous growth as media topics. The chart on the right represents the relative share of coverage, so when you take these seven media topics as one data set, 5G accounts for only 6% of that coverage, AI 7%, Security 33%, etc.
This is not saying that of all WIRED coverage, security is mentioned 33% of the time. It’s only representative of this data set.
So as we continue to analyze the data, I wanted to understand how often WIRED was writing about some of the top technology companies. This data represents notable mentions, meaning after I excluded all the other companies, Google was still mentioned in 568 total articles, and I did the same for each company.
So the next logical question here is, yes, there’s a lot of interesting data here, but are there any actionable insights?
Well, after reviewing the data, I found a few.
This is a gold mine of actionable insights if you are marketing to a developer audience. You know what other media platforms they read, podcasts they listen to, and forums they prefer to share code and projects.
Also, if you can align your brand narrative to the digital workplace, you may have a better chance of getting coverage since that topic is becoming more relevant to the journalists that write for WIRED.
So should you prioritize WIRED in your insights strategy? I would recommend doing this analysis for a larger group of media outlets and applying a scorecard based on the actionable insights that are important to you. It could be unique monthly visitors, article engagement, topical relevance, etc.
What’s the business strategy for using actionable insights?
The business strategy of using actionable insights is that you can use data-driven insight to make smarter decisions that will improve your chances of success. This will lead to positive business outcomes and a defendable ROI.
Also, when you have actionable insights, you can set measurable goals and objectives. This allows you to track progress and revise your digital marketing strategy.
Actionable insights also help you optimize your campaigns in real-time. You can make adjustments to targeting, budget, messaging, and other elements on the fly to improve performance.
In short, actionable insights allow you to fine-tune your digital marketing strategy for maximum impact.