Data And Decision Making

Posted By Mary Lynch on August 27, 2015

Recently I found myself debating the merits of activity tracking wristbands with a friend. We were both considering buying one as a way to improve our overall health. Tracking activity data seems to be a useful tool and motivator for better choices—can you do a bit more today? Can you do more today than you did yesterday? 

But, in the course of conversation my friend mentioned how appealing the sleep measurement tools were, including a feature that tracks your body temperature during sleep. And I thought to myself, WHY? It’s not immediately apparent to me how this particular piece of data is actionable or impactful beyond compelling you to add or remove a blanket. How much effect can you truly have on your body temperature while asleep? It seems like data for data’s sake.

Data has become sort of catchall term for anything trackable, measurable and reportable. We love data–how many steps, how many calories, how many followers, how many Retweets, how many likes… the list goes on. 

Measurement is a vital tool in our arsenal. We track data across all of our campaigns and platforms to the best of our ability. How many people are visiting a newly launched client website and where are they coming from? How many pickups has our client press release gotten and where is it having the most traction? We use pieces of data like this to set goals and to both inform and refine our process. We use data to better understand how our intended audience is ingesting and digesting our communications efforts, in order to improve our work and our reach for our clients. Data helps us make better decisions and demonstrate value on behalf of, and to, our clients.

However, as useful as data is, it must remain within context. Smart communications efforts are informed by data but not in service of data. It’s our job to distinguish the meaningful data—data that speaks to an overarching goal, like 10,000 steps a day for a healthier lifestyle—from the meaningless data—in my opinion, sleeping body temperature measurements—and use only those metrics that provide value. And above all, it’s our job to prioritize the message and not the metrics. Taking shortcuts and forsaking the overall communications goal for short-term metrics gains, ‘juking the stats,’ if you will, would do a disservice to our clients and their reputations. (Let us not forget the great Instagram purge of 2014.)

And, though data is integral part of helping us do better work, sometimes the best work comes when we ignore data completely. As Caroline Kennedy said in a recent meeting, sometimes we don’t want to measure reactions, we want to create them.

Mary Cosmides is a Senior Account Executive at Karma Agency. She has yet to purchase a Fitbit.