Analytics are People, and other lessons from my internship at [meta]marketer

I came on as an intern with [meta]marketer about 9 months ago, about to graduate college and ready to make my attempt to conquer the world. Like many college grads, I was fairly clueless about “the real world”, especially when it came to marketing analytics. My concept of marketing analytics was solely constructed around the insights section of my Facebook music page and figuring out that more people follow me on Twitter if I post something other than what I ate for breakfast or my daily Nashville celebrity sightings. So I jumped in to try to learn something.

Before I dig in too far, there’s something you should know about me, I naturally lean more towards the creative side. Which means graphs look like pictures and a spreadsheet of numbers looks a lot like the code from the Matrix. I’m also a big picture and big idea guy, so the thought of addressing the tiniest of details is little intimidating for me. But I like the idea of stretching myself, and I felt like the best way to get more people to visit my Youtube page is to be able to understand what the metrics tell me.

So I ended up here.

I think that the reason analytics can be challenging for people like me is the illusion that numbers are nothing more than cold facts. This is not always true.

Back in the fall, the entire [meta]marketer staff (as well as a few other “outsiders”) gathered in the little conference room to brainstorm and further construct the vision of [meta]marketer. We talked for a couple hours and at the end the phrase that we all walked away with from that meeting is that “analytics are people”. As much as this seems like common sense, it really brought a new understanding to me of what working with metrics can be like.

The temptation with numbers-driven data is that it is very easy to boil everything down to formulas. Yet people aren’t formulaic. Yes, we repeat are patterns and are fairly predictable, but not formulaic. Motivations change and are different for every person. Thinking about the motivations behind the numbers is what I find fascinating.

When I was in high school I remember the most dreaded question that teachers always ask… “why?”. I hated that question mostly because I felt like I was being cheated out of my right answer. I thought my correct answer alone was enough. My high school economics teacher told me I was the most concise student he’d ever had because I just simply wrote the answer in as few words as possible (usually just 1). But embracing the why behind something opens up so many more possibilities.

Several times I’ve come in to the office when Josh is breaking down potential audiences for a client and I get to sit in and throw in my 2 cents. We brainstorm potential consumers for various products and services and attempt to describe how they might operate on a site. In order to do this, we really have to step into people’s shoes (which can be a bit of a challenge when you’re talking about a sports or cars or other things I know very little about). The degree to which we are able to imagine and understand those motivations we can better predict an outcome and can better meet their needs as consumers.

I’m probably not saying anything new, it’s really just what has helped all of this make sense. I’m still learning, and apparently I’m still concise (since I took a 2 hour conversation and boiled it down into 6 sentences). There are lots of things about metrics that I don’t get yet, but they bought an “intern desk” so I hopefully I’ll have a few more things figured out soon.

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