About a decade back, I worked with a gastroenterologist who was turning heads in medical research. I had the good fortune of traveling with this man through Europe putting together the presentations he gave to peer researchers.
As I watched him present, I realized something very interesting: his skills weren’t all focussed on being a medical doctor, but rather, they lay in how he interpreted the complex data he found in medical studies. And, how he formed actionable insights from what he saw.
This was fascinating because he had access to the same information available to other gastroenterologists. These were the same published papers and double-blind studies they saw. The challenge was that there were so many papers that it was tough to make truly definitive conclusions.
There wasn’t enough time to absorb all the available data, much less make treatment recommendations based on it.
His answer was to just look at the overall trends and conclusions that came from the collective body of emerging work. In other words, he watched for trends.
Instead of focusing on every minute detail, he looked at the biggest possible picture to find where the clues were pointing. He was pioneering a technique known today as Meta-Analysis, and we can use it as marketers.
A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies. Meta-analysis can be performed when there are multiple scientific studies addressing the same question, with each individual study reporting measurements that are expected to have some degree of error. more
Meta-Analysis for Marketers
Although I haven’t chatted with him for a few years, the example he set has remained with me ever since. In fact, I’ve kept his approach in mind for many areas of my business.
The idea that variances might not mean much is a tough one to accept in the world of digital marketing and SEO. We have incredible tools within easy reach that allow us to see data pretty much instantly.
That, coupled with a desire to know if our work is effective or not, can lead us to obsess over even the smallest of peaks and valleys. However, it can also inadvertently redirect us towards zeroing in on metrics that might not be all that meaningful in real life, such as website traffic (tip: conversions are way more important).
For instance, very recently, the world was gripped by news of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in France. If you happened to have a website with images of old churches or famous landmarks, or of Notre Dame itself, you might have seen a spike in traffic. Would that really mean you had stumbled onto a popular topic, or would the visits disappear as quickly as the event faded from the news, absent of conversions?
That example is obvious. Still, it demonstrates the need to shift attention away from peaks and valleys, towards more meaningful long-term insights.
A Watched Pot Never Boils
I suspect some of my colleagues and competitors will disagree, but fixating on web stats can be the giant squirrel of marketing distractions. In the same way that the stock market goes up and down (while trending steadily in the same direction for about 100 years), marketers putting their efforts into proven business-driven strategies drive significantly greater opportunities for growth.
In my line of work, a new client relationship can take many months or even years to develop. I know a lot of other consultative professionals who have similar sales cycles. If I were to switch strategies every few weeks to chase the latest opportunity, I would likely miss out on many of those more meaningful engagements.
That’s why I base my decisions on trend lines that stretch out over the course of months or even years, rather than days.
Slow Down Your Analysis to Speed Up Your Sales
Modern marketing tools give us the ability to make snap decisions. And, the availability of real-time data is often promoted as a huge advantage. Certainly, it can be powerful in the right context, but I don’t think it’s always smart to make business decisions that affect the future of your business based on results that are more or less" in the moment".
If you are a marketing professional, I encourage you to coach your clients to focus less on short-term indicators that might not actually mean as much. Rather, look to leading indicators, trends, and economic factors first. And, if you are a business owner or executive team member, consider guiding your team towards deals with long-term growth potential rather than instant sales devoid of loyalty-building substance.
That might be hard at first, and it might not be as much fun as hearing the sales bell ring, but I feel it’s a much smarter way to run and grow a business.