Top-down analysis. Search for context

We live with the curse that digital provides us with more data than we can handle. For example, an executive can ask, how did Social contribute to this campaign, and there are literally 18 data sources and 52 metrics you can examine.

Most people do.

Often, painfully.

I want to share a beautiful strategy you can use to lessen the expansiveness, and sharply increase purposeful focus in these cases: Don’t start from the bottom-up, start from the top-down.

Let’s take two steps back and four steps forward.

The (Disappointing) Reality.

Bottom-up is how we normally function. In this case, let’s say you work in the Display advertising team.

Bottom-up is looking at all the money spent on Display advertising for the last three months and analyzing that data from YouTube, DoubleClick, Facebook, Twitter, NY Times, Fox Interactive, and more to find out what happened. You start with cookies. Move to CPMs. Ad sizes. Interactions with social components. Look at Clicks (if you are clever). Landing Pages. Bounce rates (since you are clever). and on and on through (inshallah) Macro and Micro Outcomes.

There is a small chance that at the end of this – let’s call it journey – if you are maniacally focused (and lucky) you might start to get some sense of the macro business value delivered.

There is a significantly bigger chance that, looking at the sky from your Display silo, at every step of the journey copious amounts of data would have been puked left and right. Not because there was any malicious intent. Almost entirely because you – and your team, your well-compensated agency – worked really hard and all that data needs an outlet.

I’m looking at a 57 slide output of one such journey. It has all the common traits one sees in these cases: There is little connection between pieces of the story. A robust presence of vanity metrics. Some focus on execution efficiency metrics (no presence of effectiveness metrics). Even some pies (you know pies trigger me!).

The chances are infinitesimally small that all this work will cause smarter future strategic leadership marketing choices.

My heart is broken at the staggering amount of work that was done, the non-value of this fishing expedition.

The (Underappreciated) Problem.

In all these cases, we are starting bottom-up. I.E. We did a very large Display campaign, we are the Display team, with our vision limited to our silo… let’s go collect the data and see what happened. And we are off on the journey.

At these starting points, what’s missing is clear direction and focus.

In my experience, it is all entirely down to one thing: A lack of understanding relative importance.

If you climb up to the company-level, the company executed a whole bunch of Marketing strategies this quarter. In that portfolio, what’s missing is any sense of how important was this thing that we are analyzing?

If we did, that would sharply focus our analytical efforts. Depth. Breadth. Time Spent. Data Quest. People Involved.

The (Magical) Solution.

Start top-down.

You are still responsible for the analysis of Display advertising. The quarter just ended. Your company, still, just finished a multi-faceted 90-day marketing campaign.

Before you start any analysis of your Display advertising campaign (or direct mail or television or paid search or…), I recommend…

Top-Down Focused Strategy #1: How did the overall campaign, of which Display was just one part, do for the company?

We wanted to sell 1.2 million widgets. We also wanted to earn a 7 point lift into Consideration. (Or, whatever.) How did the overall campaign do?

Oh, it sucked. We sold 0.3 mil widgets, got 2 points of brand lift.

Knowing this gives a dramatically different purpose to your analysis of the Display advertising data, right?

Your eyes, heart, and mind will now all focus only on understanding the role Display advertising played in the (sad) 0.3 mil / 2 points outcomes. A whole lot of the tactical, dare I say distracting or even useless, the analytical activity will fall by the wayside. You have a clear top-down purpose.

Or, let’s say we sold 1.7 mil widgets and got 9 points of brand lift.

Angles immediately start singing!

Besides that, nothing about the eyes, heart, mind, steps will change. Your analytical quest will still focus on the same purposeful understanding (obviously in these scenarios there is more joy).

Top-Down Focused Strategy #2: What percentage of total Spend (or Budget) went to area x?

Area x, today is Display advertising of course.

Let’s say the investment in display advertising was 5%.

Honestly, don’t do any analysis. Allow an intern to pore over the CPMs or Publisher performance, have them reply back to the team with three or four interesting bullets (if they find them).

(I do not mean to cast negative aspersions towards interns. In the last newsletter I requested your help with connections for an internship for my university student daughter. I’m simply saying: We need some simple tactical analysis and giving it to an intern, someone who is in a learning mode, benefits them and is an appropriate level of investment for your team/company.)

Time and time again I see hordes of people – or time – being spent on tiny amounts of the budget just because. Ok. Hordes is a tiny stretch. But. Certainly disproportionate.

Stop it.

Wait for your area to be worthy of journey-level analysis.

Find something else, more productive, to do meanwhile (a great career strategy).

Let’s say the investment in display advertising was 40%.

Go crazy.

Throw the baby, bathwater, kitchen sink, Einstein’s theory of relativity on the analysis.

That tops down 40% delivers a dramatic purpose to the analysis. Go on the quest for the Ring.

(Only if you have no other choice) Top-Down Focused Strategy #3: What’s taking large mindshare with the most senior executive who will talk to you?

This can still lead you down paths of useless (in terms of any business value) analysis. But. IF strategy #1 or #2 is impossible, this is still a good way to focus the depth, breadth, time, people, relating to the data analysis.

You are working for the Bloomberg campaign. He is buying a $10 mil Super Bowl spot. You know that this is entirely a waste of money since the memory of any Super Bowl ad is 23 hours. Still, Mr. Bloomberg has a lot of vanities tied into this ad.

Go crazy.

Get the Neilsen data. Get the IPSOS ad recall ranking data. Look at Google Search trends data. Go look at site traffic. Volunteer signups. YouTube Views. Facebook Impressions. Honestly any other vanity metric you can find. Make 57 slides (with a two-sentence email summary, as that is all Mr. Bloomberg will, rightly, have time for).

Because Mr. Bloomberg drove this ad buy, there will be some other senior people who might look at your data, good exposure for you. Nothing much will happen other than perhaps you’ll get promoted or data will be thought of as important. Not a bad outcome.

Bottom line: Taking a top-down approach – Success Delivered, Budget Spent, Executive Affection – helps deliver the clarity of purpose for any analysis you do. It reduces the time you and I spend sitting in our Email silo or Display silo or TV silo and thinking our work is God’s gift to the company and going on meaningless analytical journeys.

Big lesson: Just because you can analyze something, don’t. You are magnificent, your time is precious. Find the worthy.

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