Data-driven: make marketing decisions based on facts not opinion

Data-driven: make marketing decisions based on facts not opinion


That’s the first question and only question you need to be a successful digital marketer.

This simple question was used to drive my teachers at school absolutely mad.

I happily give my cousin Edgar credit for this since it was his idea at the time. He’s a bit of an unsung genius when it comes to questioning the way the world works. Buy him a beer and you’ll find out, trust me.

We used to sit in class together and interrupt the teacher with a well-timed “why” question. This often got us into trouble but why should we simply accept everything as fact? 

“Bismarck unified German”


“God created the heavens and earth”


“Plants store food in vacuoles”


This enquiring mindset has stuck with me and has helped my digital marketing career.

Here are some examples:

“Our website isn’t working”


“We don’t get any sales from Facebook Ads”


“We get massive lead volumes in January”


DATA is the best answer to these questions. Not subjective gut feel. Hard facts. And in the new data-driven world of AI-powered digital marketing, you need to know how to find, analyse and interpret data to answer these WHY questions.

You need to learn how to THINK like a successful, data-driven digital marketer.

How to develop an enquiring mind

I hope it is apparent that you shouldn’t take anything at face value. Don’t simply accept results unless you truly understand them. Analyse. Probe. Question. Drive the people around you crazy. 

Let’s review the old parable of the 5 monkeys in a cage. 

There’s a nice ripe banana hanging from a string at the top of the cage, and a ladder that reaches the banana. As soon as one of the monkeys tries to climb the ladder to get the banana, all the monkeys in the cage get sprayed with cold water. The next one tries, and again, they all get sprayed. This continues and soon all the monkeys stop trying to climb the ladder. 

One of the monkeys dies, and is replaced by a new monkey. The new monkey sees the banana and tries to climb the ladder, but all the older monkeys prevent him from climbing the ladder – they don’t want to get sprayed with cold water! 

Another monkey dies and is also replaced and again the older monkeys prevent the new monkey from climbing the ladder. This continues until all the older monkeys have died and been replaced – yet none of the monkeys climb the ladder even though none of them have been sprayed with cold water.

This is a demonstration of how we can be trained to accept so-called facts because “that’s the way it’s always been”. If nobody asks questions or tries to understand the root causes of things, group behaviour and norms can result in missed opportunities.

Question everything. Don’t obey without thinking. Don’t act without thinking.

Data can be super powerful to explain phenomena, but is a double-edge sword if not used properly. You can use data to assert and back up your claims, but if the data is poorly interpreted or is incomplete, your assumptions could be completely wrong.

The key is to question the results you see and test them from different angles. Did the spike in web traffic really come from those radio ads, or did we turn on some paid campaigns at the same time? Are we really losing leads or is the campaign tracking not installed correctly? The results you see can be caused by various factors, and you need to know what these factors are and understand how they work. There may be seasonal trends in your data which you haven’t identified yet and could skew your results.

I like to have all the information or data available so I can make logical decisions based on facts. When this is not possible, do your best, but try to test your hypothesis as much as possible.

Over to you: what are your thoughts on data-driven marketing?

About Tony Lopes

I help sustainable businesses grow. I have more than 20 years experience in digital marketing strategy and analytics. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa with my wife, daughters and 2 Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

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