We take a lot of things for granted. When you open your eyes, they receive inputs – data that is recognized by the brain and translated into the symbols you use to make sense of the world. It’s how you know what a stop sign is for, how fast your car is traveling, and what to do at a sit-down restaurant. All that data is translated into symbols in your brain that tell you a story about what action you should take next.

But if that data is misinterpreted, mishandled, or not collected at all it becomes very difficult to craft a story out of the data that would be helpful.

What does WIFI look like? This seems like a preposterous question. If you were asked to describe the physical amount of love you might have for a child or what a smell feels like, it would be difficult to answer. However, scientists have attempted to model what full-color WIFI might look like. The result was a rainbow haze over the world, where we as users send loads of data. That “brain” takes that data and turns them into signals that tell brands, governments, marketers, stories about who is doing what in Cyberspace.

Things like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter pixels help to gather some of those signals. When combined with Google Analytics, a brand can begin to build a compelling story about what is happening within their ecosystem. Now for a minute let’s return to your brain telling you that the symbol before you is a stop sign. The sign itself is red which is a symbol for you to stop, however in this case the color red isn’t negative. The purpose of the symbol is to keep drivers safe by establishing a hierarchy within the physical space where two roads meet.

Back to all that data. In many cases, you might look at a report and see all green and think everything is awesome. Conversely, you might see red and unlike the stop sign, think there is something wrong and that your team needs to act. Much like the explanation of how data is converted in your brain, this is an oversimplification about your data. There are many times that the opposite could be true and red arrows might mean nothing at all and green arrows might have the customer in the wrong neighborhood of your site. Your data is telling you a story – you just might be interpreting it wrong.

Let’s say you are a pizza company (a $144 billion dollar a year industry) and you decided to run a Super Bowl special for the people in your town. You ran display, search, and social ads leading up to the big game and after Sunday night – all the ads stopped. Comparing the 30 days after the campaign to the campaign itself you are going to see a lot of red arrows on Facebook and in Google Analytics because the bulk of your traffic came for the sale and left when it was over. This causal relationship in the data doesn’t tell you your site is broken, it says that your marketing worked when it was on. This is a story many brands would love to be able to tell.

That same pizza company has a homepage bounce rate of 90%. As a general rule that would cause most marketers to panic. But in this case, you know 80% of your leads come in via the phone and both Facebook and your site are constructed to move the customer to the phone number. Because the site is designed to give the customer the number and a look at the menu, and since the top pizza topping in America (pepperoni) hasn’t changed in a decade, you know that the user likely would need the specials and the number. Your homepage is designed to give them what they need quickly, allowing them to exit once they’ve found it.

Using all that data we know that with intention the bounce rate on the homepage should be very high since it is designed to serve the customer and, in this case, bucks the trend of what would be considered “normal” in Google Analytics.

In this way, it’s clear that simply having Google Analytics at your disposal isn’t enough. You must understand what the data is telling you. Because if you don’t use analytics or worse, don’t look at the data, your brand is making gut decisions.

A brand that has the opportunity to make a tough decision with real data is going to fair better than the one that is guessing. Let’s visit that stop sign one more time. If your brain takes in the data and translates it to symbols that give you the story – what happens if you ignore that story? What happens if you decide that the story you just invented takes priority over the established data? What happens if another car at that intersection decides to ignore the story too? You know exactly what happens, there is a crash that causes damage and the tragic part of that crash is that the data was there the whole time to prevent it – but it wasn’t interpreted correctly, and the results were catastrophic.

Human beings love to tell stories. As marketers it’s our job to tell the right stories – not just to the customers when they need it – but about the customers themselves.

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