Four Ways Chaos Managers Make Us Better at Analytics


It is inevitable that sooner or later you’ll run into a manager that seems to manage by chaos. These people are easy to see. They often have every page of their website taped to the walls of their office and printouts of every ad they are running. They are booked in back-to-back meetings every day. They walk into a meeting talking about the meeting they just came out of, then quickly shift to the meeting they are going to next. From an analytics perspective, it is important to recognize these people. While the chaos may not be of their own making, if they are the stakeholder you are working with, then you need to be ready.

Analytics thrives in consistent, repeatable environments. It is best when you know what you are looking for and you persistently keep after it. Reinvention has its place in analytics but really the process of optimization depends a lot on not moving the goal posts every week. Unfortunately, chaos managers love to move the goal posts. They seem to have a hard time even understanding what a goal post is. Their mind is going in a hundred different directions and they are dragging their team with them.

So what do you do when you are tasked with improving your company’s marketing effectiveness in an environment of chaos? It is easy to be frustrated with chaos managers. But having dealt with many of them over the years, I’ve come to understand that working with them can actually make you a better analyst, if you have a bit of patience and long term vision.

Flexibility is Important Working strictly from templated reports has several downfalls. It can limit your vision and leave you blind to trends or data you didn’t expect, leaving you with a false sense of security. Chaos managers thrive on finding unexpected diamonds in the dirt. This can be a great reminder that marketing is still just as much art as we’d like to believe it is science.

Know Your Data You need to understand the underlying data, not just the tables and trends. Chaos managers will frequently question the numbers because they, many times, are not really committed to the number they might have asked for. They want to sample things and bend them around to shake out some new or unexpected learning. Because of this, it’s very easy to have a meeting go sideways simply because the manager needs more explanation about what the numbers actually mean and why that data is being shown. This can be challenging and frustrating. It also forces us to be better and smarter.

Technical Is Required You need to have a good understanding of *how* activities generate data and when they don’t generate data and what kinds of data can be generated. This is critical to developing KPIs for any marketing or business activity. It is also critical when starting a project with a chaos manager. These people will frequently need a refresher on what is actually possible to track and what is not. Also, what we need to understand and what the data will actually show. Many chaos managers want to make some interpretive leaps which may fundamentally not be valid. This is particularly common when looking at indirect indicators or “soft” measures. “Awareness” and “favorability” are particularly susceptible to this. As the analytics expert, we sometimes need to bring a little reality to the conversation and help set expectations accordingly. Understanding this and learning to communicate it well are important skills to develop for dealing with chaos managers.

Be Creative You need to practice being creative. This the flip side to the previous point. Sometimes, our concise data models won’t be good enough and we need to find ways to incorporate data that we might not have considered before. The off-the-cuff style of chaos managers often forces us to come up with a way to make things possible when they might not have seemed possible before. Sometimes this leads to using different tools and collecting different data points. Sometimes this results in new programs, like a new customer satisfaction survey with questions that are designed to get the right kind of input. Working with chaos managers helps us remember that the data is a tool to help us, not the other way around.

If you can get good at all these attributes–flexible communication, thorough knowledge, technical understanding, and creative thinking–you will truly be a better analytics professional than most of your peers. These are not easy to learn and they are important for success.

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