The Case for Mathematics in Marketing

October 22, 2014

mathematics in marketing

I went to college to be a mathematician. During my four years at Simpson College, I also added communications and business degrees to my academic fields of study. At the time, I wasn’t sure how all three pieced together (a trio questioned by faculty and my parents, I’m sure), but I knew that I was vastly interested in each.

Fast forward a few years and I now have a better understanding of this combination of skills and knowledge. Daily, I pull from my business and numbers mind set to create brand strategies that are strongly based in proven marketing principles. Knowledge and data in one area helps to fuel the decision making in another.

In a recent study shared by Harvard Business Review, however, it seems that many marketers are missing this correlation, or at least the need, to focus on all of these areas when putting a marketing plan in place. Almost four of ten respondents of the survey said they didn’t use analytics tools because they didn’t understand “how to use analytics to improve the business.”

This is a scary thought. Without data to support (or negate) campaigns, we as marketers are just throwing things out there with a hope that they succeed. While sometimes this works (you can’t plan virality), more often than not, we’re just spinning our wheels without a real purpose or reason for doing so.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to be able to understand analytics and how they affect your marketing, your messaging, and the most important part – your bottom line. You just have to know which numbers to pay attention to and what to do with them.

Here are three ways to get started:

1. Benchmark

You’ve probably heard the Peter Drucker quote, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Tracking data regularly can help marketers see change, large and small, over time and find correlations around certain months, days, posts, or pages. Remember, engagement data such as likes and followers isn’t always the best measure of online success. Go a step farther and select Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) aligned with your business objective(s).

marketing mathematics

You don’t need any fancy analytics tools to do this either. Some of the brightest marketers I know use Excel documents or Evernote notes to track data. The easiest way to remember is to set a calendar reminder each month.

2. Test

Once you have benchmark data in place, get creative and try things related to your KPIs. Make sure to have a plan for doing so before jumping in. Variables for testing can be images, copy, calls to action, links, and more. For example, if your business objective is to build community, consider different types of posts to encourage conversation. Do posts with questions drive comments? Does giving two options to choose between drive more? Continue to test both types of posts for a set amount of time tracking the data corresponding to each. Also try something similar on different platforms. Does one platform respond more than others?

Remember: When testing, have constants that remain the same, or at least similar. Use similar images, descriptions, and topics to really put emphasis on the variables that you are testing (the questions, calls to action, etc).

3. Evaluate

Looking at analytics can be similar to looking at a document in a foreign language if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. When it comes to marketing data, a few things to look for each month can be:

  • Spikes – Is there one piece of data that really stands out compared to others? Did the spike happen this month only or has it happened in the past? Was there any action that could have lead to this spike such as advertising, company milestone, press publication, etc.?
    Trends – Are there types of posts or pages that seem to perform similarly each time good or bad? What is similar with each (image, topic, call to action, etc)? Is there any time that they don’t perform the same such as a certain day of the week or time of day?
    Correlations – Does an increase (or decrease) in one piece of data lead to an increase (or decrease) in another?

Using the data you’ve collected, continue to iterate using the trends and correlations you begin to see. You may not be a math nerd like me, but once you start to see how data can positively impact your marketing (and your value in the company), you may start to get a bit more excited about numbers, too.

What questions do you have about data or measurement that we can help answer in future posts?

Photo via Flickr user Tom Brown

Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.