Five Key Steps for Effective Data Planning

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Click to learn more about author Sreeram Sreenivasan.

From autonomous cars to messaging apps to IoT devices, every piece of technology has come to be powered by data. No matter what your profession or job title, you’re bound to encounter some form of data on a daily basis. However, the volume of data is not as important as the actionable insights it provides.

While most marketers understand the importance of data-driven decisions, they often don’t know where to begin. According to a report by Experian, using data to understand customers’ needs, attitudes and needs is the top priority of marketers. On the other hand, it’s also the top challenge for them.

Undoubtedly, every brand strategy should be customer-focused and data-driven. However, with careful data planning, marketers can transform their wealth of data into a meaningful strategy that they can execute to make better decisions and build long-lasting customer relationships.

Here are five steps that will help you put a data plan in place:

1 – List All the Decisions Based on Opinions

Create a list of all the decisions that you’re currently making based on opinions, rather than using data. You can organize it by job position and department, so that they’re easier to manage later. Brainstorm this list with your team and keep adding new items to it, over the next few weeks.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this task is to simply go through your normal routine for a week. Every time you’re about to make a decision without using data, add it to your list. Thereafter, ask your team to do the same, and aggregate all their inputs into a single list.

Here are some examples:

  1. Did my last display ad campaign drive a positive ROI?
  2. Where should we hire more sales professionals?
  3. Which products should be showcased at trade events in October?

2 – Rank Decisions Based on Their Importance

Not all decisions are equally important. Identify the dollar amount for each decision on your list. This will help you find out their value to your organization and prioritize them accordingly. Also, remember to factor in all the costs involved (labor, technology, opportunity costs) while analyzing these decisions. For example, if we look at the first decision above, “Did my last display ad campaign drive a positive ROI?”, we would consider:

  1. Media costs (Ex: $ 40,000)
  2. Creative development costs (Ex: $2,500)
  3. Cost of employee time (Ex: $1,500)
  4. Opportunity cost of closed deals (Ex: $80,000)

In the above case, the value of your decision is about $123,700.

Don’t get too caught up in the exact numbers. Use rough estimates to get a reasonable understanding of the importance of your decisions.

3 – List All the Data Sources Required to Make Each Decision

Identify the top three to five most-valuable decisions for your organization, and map out the various data sources to solve those problems. Determine if these data sources are available within your organization.

It’s essential to have a brainstorm session with your team, whereby everyone throws in their ideas around how to solve the problem and answer questions.

Sometimes, the available data may not be readily analyzable and you’ll need to build new processes to transform them. Some of the data sources may have to be coordinated with other teams, or even other companies. If you’re unable to find the data sources you need, you can also look into strongly correlated proxy data sources.

This step will help you uncover data points that are required for decision-making but not accessible.

4 – Identify the Data Gaps that Need to be Filled

The next step is to identify the data gaps that need to be filled to make your decisions, and determine if you can continue without them. Evaluate if you can approach third-party data vendors for a solution or make an educated guess to continue the analysis.

For example, while analyzing our display advertising campaign, it may be easy to get a hold of transactional data before, during and after the campaign. However, if your control group has missing data points, then it will adversely affect the confidence of analysis results. And if you know this beforehand, then it’s better to pause your analysis until you figure out a way to source this data, or start your next media campaign with a better plan for data collection.

5 – Create Your 2018 Data Plan

Once you’ve identified the key decisions that need to be data-driven and the data gaps that need to be filled in, it’s essential to create a plan framework for efficient execution.

Ensure that you identify:

  1. Data sources and key contacts to acquire the data
  2. Date range for required data
  3. Exact data fields required. It’s better to ask for more information to avoid delays and iterations
  4. Data gaps and information required to fill them (vendors, costs, etc)
  5. Team members accountable for each step from sourcing data to conducting analysis to presenting results.
  6. A detailed timeline for data collection, analysis and reporting.

Wrapping it up

The most powerful aspect of data is its ability to minimize guesswork in decision-making. With the recent explosion in data analytics and reporting platforms, you don’t need to be a data scientist to be able to play with data. Marketers who can leverage data to plan and prioritize their strategies will be able to directly affect job performance, efficiently manage resources and positively impact the bottom line.


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