Data overload leading to data avoidance? You’re not alone.

We commonly hear from clients that they have lots of data. However, more often than not, they characterize what exists as “overwhelming” and therefore, “impossible to use.” The result is that learnings that are there for the taking are not realized.

According to a Forbes Magazine article published April, 2016 ( the problem is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of data have a limited lifespan.  At some point in time, they become irrelevant, inaccurate, or outdated.  But often, the data are held onto anyway in the mistaken belief that at some point they might prove valuable.

As the availability of data grows and the speed with which we can accumulate them increases, these issues are only going to worsen. And yet, as budgets shrink, one of those perennial trends that we identified in another blog post (, the mandate to capitalize on what “we know” is only going to become more pressing.

With that in mind, here is some food for thought that can counteract information overload and help you get what you need—and do that faster than you think:

  1. There are data and then there are actionable data. Discriminating between the two will make any analysis more manageable (sounds obvious, we know). However, the process for doing that isn’t always straightforward. Suppose brand sales are declining? How should you respond? Well, looking at trends in the aggregate can be alarming, but it doesn’t provide insights on where and how to act. What’s required is determining if there are merely pockets of weakness or if the downturn is systemic. Once that is known, we can analyze the reasons why.

 One way to get at the source of a slump is to develop hypotheses as to the underlying cause––or causes––and then look to support or refute them. Another option is to bring in professionals—we work with Proximo—who can conduct various kinds of analyses to quantitatively reveal and prioritize the data elements that correlate to the downturn in question.

  1. Avoid surprises. Isolating and monitoring leading indicators allows for early intervention and can even become a competitive advantage. Acting early can neutralize negative trends, but it can also capitalize on positive ones. To do this well, it is essential to know which metrics are the most revealing—the real harbingers of things to come—and then watch them very carefully. These trends may be different from brand to brand.

The actionable data analyses described above are the first place to start when there’s a need to uncover these leading indicators. But in an era when so much information can be found in social media, it can also be important to track positive and negative sentiment online by monitoring common platforms or conducting a thorough digital landscape analysis. And let’s not forget about the age-old practice of staying close to the 20% of customers who contribute 80% of your sales—by routinely soliciting their feedback on areas that matter most to them via the most personal means possible.

  1. Once the cause(s) of sales increases or decreases are understood, and leading indicators have been identified, converting them into measureable KPIs is the next step. Furthermore, making those KPIs specific and time-bound will allow them to be organized into an at-a-glance dashboard and updated according to the frequency with which meaningful changes are likely to occur. Dashboards can be populated automatically, pushed out routinely, and available on-demand as well. On the surface, this sounds optimal, ie, once we have improved selectivity and accessibility, insights gleaned from data will be applied more consistently. Well maybe or maybe not.

Sometimes a focused solution that’s easy to access and delivered regularly can result in an “I’ll-get-to-that-later” complacency. Dashboards can effectively combat the numbness that arises in response to data overload, but only if the people on the distribution list receiving their rich data and insights give them the timely attention that they deserve.  

Data can be an incredible asset, and as mentioned above, have the potential to become a source of competitive advantage. The challenge and opportunity, as with any precious resource, are to use them wisely.

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