One of the biggest skill gaps for many marketers is the ability to develop an analytical story to set up smart decisions. Analytics is not just math. Marketers either struggle to dig into the data or they struggle to tell a strategic story that summarizes the mounds of data they have gathered. Too many people get into marketing for the creative nature of brand management, but if you cannot think analytically, you will get stuck at one point. You need to be able to use facts to support your opinions or what you say will come across as an empty opinion that risks leaving a room divided. Here are the 8 principles that will help to make you a smart analytical thinker.
Principle #1: Use facts to support opinions or else what you say comes across as an empty opinion that leaves a room divided.
One great tool to help dig deeper is called the “Five Questions Analysis” that forces you to go deeper. Start with your opinion; then ask “so what does that mean?” to get a layer deeper. Ask it again to go one more layer deeper. Keep asking it up to five times, each time using the data analysis to move from unsubstantiated opinion to action-able insight. This tool will also help you avoid getting caught off guard with those challenging questions “Did you think about…” because you have already challenged yourself to dig in deep everywhere on your brand.
Principle #2: Always find comparisons. Absolute numbers by themselves are useless.
Absolute numbers by themselves are useless. A friend of mine was at a meeting with her CEO and was asked a really tough question that she should have known, but did not have. So she said “forty percent”. And then they both stared each other for ten seconds, him not knowing if that was good or bad, and her not wanting to show any hesitation. I would not recommend blurting out a number. However, I always remember this story because it really says how useless one data point really is. With every number, you have to always draw out comparisons to force yourself to find data breaks that begin to tell a strategic story. Only the relative nature to a number will you find the data break that helps you tell a story. Is 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius.) warm or cold? If it were in Canada in the middle of January, it would be a record setting heat and front-page news. Conversely, if it is the high temperature for the middle of June in Florida, it might even make the national news.
Never give a number without a relative nature. The relative comparison helps ground the data, by looking at how well it does versus prior periods, competitors, forecasts, other regions, norms or the category. Is it up, down, or flat? Use comparative indexes and cross tabulations to find the data breaks, showing the correct trend line that will help you draw the right conclusions.
Principle #3: The analytical story comes to life when you see a break in the data.
Comparative indexes and cross tabulations can really bring out the data breaks and gaps that can really tell a story. Use the “so what” technique to dig around and twist the data in unique ways until you find the point in which the data actually breaks and clear meaningful differences start to show. This is where the trend is exposed and you can draw a conclusion.
Principle #4: Analysis should start by posing hypothetical conclusions that answer “Where are we” and “Why are we he
Thinking time means asking the right questions. Since the smartest strategic thinkers ask questions, I want to introduce a 360-degree strategic model with 5 strategic questions that force you to look at the brand’s core strength, consumer strategy, competitive situation, the brand’s situation and how engaged your consumer are with the brand.
- What is the core strength your brand can win on?
- How important is the decision and how involved are consumers?
- What is your current competitive position?
- How tightly connected is your Consumer to your brand?
- What is the current business situation your brand faces?
The intention of the 360-degree strategic thinking model is the starting point to force your thinking and discussions with your team. Each of the five questions has four possible answers, but the model forces you to make ONE choice for each question. What I recommend is that you gather a good cross-functional team and battle out each question. Some will be easy to answer, others will challenge the team and force both the discussion and the decision. What might seem like a small debate “whether your brand is product-led or story-led, should change your entire strategy, the focus of your investment and your brand message. Whether your brand is liked or loved should force your strategic choices to look for ways to tighten the bond with your consumers. Shifting from one competitive strategy to another should be guided by your understanding of where you stand currently in the market. Whether you brand is facing poor external business results that would drive a turnaround or whether your brand is internally creating confusion across various elements would drive the need for a brand re-alignment. And finally, as brands move to the execution stage to engage their consumers, they need to understand whether the main focus will be to drive consumer involvement or whether to drive the importance of the decision. As you start to dig in on these questions, keep pushing yourself to ask even richer and richer questions.
Principle #5: Map out what do we know, against what do we assume and what do we need to find out, to help focus deep dive.
The best Brand Leaders know when to be a strategic thinker and when to be an action thinker. Strategic thinkers see “what if” questions before seeing solutions, mapping out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They take time to reflect and plan before acting, helping you move in a focused efficient fashion. They think slowly, logically, always needing options, but if go too slow, you will miss the opportunity window.
A good tool to get you thinking in terms of questions: separate your analysis into 5 buckets:
- What do we know? This should be fact based and you know it for sure.
- What do we assume? Your educated/knowledge based conclusion that helps us bridge between fact, and speculation.
- What we think? Based on facts, and assumptions, you should be able to say what we think will happen.
- What do we need to find out? There could be unknowns still.
- What are we going to do? It’s the action that comes out of this thinking.
Principle #6: Like an old school reporter, two source of data or two data points on the trend line validates the truth of the story.
Avoid taking one piece of data and making it the basis of your entire brand strategy. Make sure it’s a real trend. Dig around until you can find a convergence of data that leads to an answer. Look to find 2-3 facts that start to tell a story, and allows you to draw a conclusion. The good pure logic in a philosophical argument they teach you is “premise, premise conclusion” so if you see one trend line, look for a second before drawing a conclusion.
Principle #7: Use tools that can help organize and force deep dive actionable thinking.
A Force Field analysis is best served for those brands in a sustaining position where marketing plays the role of driving innovation and creativity within a box. Always keep in mind that Drivers and Inhibitors are happening now. You can see the impact in the current year. Anything in the future gets moved down to Opportunities and Threats which are not happening but could happen. Invariably, people mix this up and things that could happen move up when they really shouldn’t.
Principle #8: Turning analysis into story for management decisions
You have to know how to write an analytical slide that can help convince management of your analysis. A best-in-class analytical slide helps project the story up to your management team. It should include a captivating headline that summarizes the story, 2-3 key points that are rich in data, supporting visuals and most importantly you need to include an actionable recommendation based on the analysis. The biggest mistake I see is that brand leaders forget the actionable recommendation, thereby giving up their leadership on the brand to their boss.
Good analytics get you to the point of “So what do you think”. From there, you will have to be a smart decision-maker.
Below is our workshop we run to help Brand Leaders improve their analytical thinking:
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