5 Creative Ways to Use Data (Beyond Measuring KPIs)

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“My Favorite Murder was the favorite podcast of 327,676 people on Spotify in 2018. Careful, one of them might be behind you.”

That is one of the many eye-catching, social sharing, earned-media nuggets Spotify gleaned from its listener data and shared as part of its 2018 “Wrapped” campaign, which included digital, social, and out-of-home billboards.

Do you want to use your data for something other than an eye chart in the monthly board report?

Do that.

We get it: big data is awesome, but no one enjoys reading a bunch of KPI charts on a slide deck (except for maybe the folks in finance). Here are five creative ways to use your data to improve your bottom line.

“Wrapped” It Up

Spotify first rolled out its Wrapped campaign in 2016, and it has been an annual favorite ever since.

  • From 2016: “Dear person who played ‘Sorry’ 42 times on Valentine’s Day, what did you do?”
  • From 2017: “2018 Goals: Deliver burns as well as the person who streamed “Bad Liar” 86 times the day Sean Spicer resigned.”
  • From 2018: “God is a man” vs. “God is a woman,” according to fan-made playlists: Man – 9 playlists; Woman – 28,802 playlists

Now that is a creative use of the data you already have.


Spotify isn’t the only brand that’s done this. In 2010, Pepto-Bismol heard people talking on Facebook about needing Pepto-Bismol on weekend mornings. So they created their “Celebrating Life” campaigns ads that indirectly reminded folks that taking Pepto-Bismol ahead of time can help prevent hangovers. The result was an 11 percent increase in market share.

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“Data is leading a lot of the creative process right now. Budgets are tighter, there’s more competition than ever, and people don’t have the luxury to make mistakes and fail forward,” said Brent Poer, president and executive creative director for Zenith in New York in an AdWeek article about how marketers were using customer data to drive faster, smarter, and more creative storytelling.

What stories can you tell with your data? Think like these brands to uncover quirky opportunities that exist to build brand awareness and drive sales.

The Fundamental Three

In 2017, Act-On’s customer support team wanted to learn the commonalities of our most successful customers. Unfortunately, this isn’t yet a report you can generate in Salesforce.

“We collected data on just about every customer that we have,” said Phil Bosley, CEO of Tactical MA and formerly lead marketing strategist at Act-On. “We began to look for patterns. We used frequency tables and histograms. We used ANOVA comparative studies with IBM’s SPSS software. We really took this to a scientific level to understand, at its core, what was it that made an Act-On customer successful, what was it that made an Act-On customer love their experience, and ultimately what were the determining factors that somebody would love Act-On so much that after the first year they renewed for a second year, after the second year they renewed for a third year, so that we could see that longevity in relationship.”

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The result was what we call the Fundamental Three:

  1. Installing the Act-On tracking beacon to their websites to begin tracking who specifically was visiting their website (even anonymous visitors)
  2. Integrating Act-On forms to begin gating valuable content and converting those anonymous visitors into known leads
  3. Regularly emailing at least 20 percent of each marketing list and nurturing those leads throughout their journeys until they were ready to buy (and then continue nurturing those customer relationships)

Businesses that failed to follow the Fundamental Three were more likely not to renew their contracts. So what did we do next? Started educating our customers on the importance of the Fundamental Three, of course, by creating customer nurture email campaigns, tutorials on Act-On University, and more.

Can you identify why your customers are successful when using your product or service? Use your NPS or other customer feedback data to help you identify which customers will be your champions, which customers may need a little help toward becoming your champions, and which customers are going to churn.

You can also use that data to identify any roadblocks your customers may be experiencing that prevent their success. Ask yourself: could those be addressed with a product update or a simple video tutorial?

Ask Yourself, “What Should I Do Next?”

Most marketers can tell you which pages and blog posts are most popular on their site. They can tell you how long prospects are spending on the site and how many pages they view per session. But many fail to make that sort of data actionable; they fail to ask, “What should I do next?”

Make a list of those most popular pages and posts to see which ones are driving conversions to leads. If your most popular pages and posts are not driving conversions, you need to ask yourself why and how you can flip the script.

For instance, on our site, we have one blog post that is consistently the 800lb gorilla in terms of driving visitor traffic to the website. But with the exception of a CTA at the bottom of the post, we hadn’t really optimized the post for conversions.

That’s changed. It now has relevant CTAs, including on-demand webinars, throughout the post. And we’ve made sure to send some of that post’s SEO value to other relevant pages via internal linking. That investment of just a few hours of work is now generating leads on a monthly basis. Cha-Ching! 

Besides optimizing your best-performing blog posts, you can also improve or leverage your best performing eBooks, videos, and other gated content. You can also see whether you can rescue poorly performing content or whether it just needs to be re-directed to another related page.

Simplify & Visualize

Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simple.” – Richard Branson

I admit it: I’m guilty of sending managers spreadsheets with rows and columns of numbers and formulas. Instead, I should have been looking for ways to present the data in a more visual, easily digestible way.

Consider the screenshot below from the Equal Justice Initiative about lynchings in America.

Or these next two graphics that both speak to America’s mounting national debt, which recently reached $22 trillion.

So… there’s your sleep aid. But check this one out!

1% Performance Improvements

In 2006, back when Netflix was still the mail-in DVD king and Big Data wasn’t yet a thing, the company offered its $1 million Netflix Prize to see if anyone could improve their recommendation algorithm. The formula had been introduced in 2000, and internal efforts to improve upon it had hit a wall. Computer science geeks everywhere went gaga, and, 13 years later, the term “binge-watching” is universal, and the updated algorithms help Netflix save $1 billion in customer retention each year.

If you’re still struggling to uncover new ways to use data creatively, you should consider applying the theory of marginal gains, which basically states that consistently pursuing 1 percent improvements will ultimately result in sweet awesomeness. 

Gather your team together for coffee or a working happy hour to brainstorm which data-driven stories you’d like to tell. Then, identify the data points you need to tell those stories in a way that truly engages and motivates your target audience. If you’re unsure of which data points to focus on, you could add a brief survey to your monthly newsletter, hold a series of focus group interviews at your roadshows and events, or even work with a consultant to develop an original research project for your company.

Within a few short months, you’ll likely have ample data to tell that story. Who knows? It may just be the thing that anchors your marketing activities for 2019 and beyond.

Key Takeaways About Key Performance Indicators

With 65-90 percent of buyers doing their own online research before ever contacting a vendor, marketing professionals must find new ways to get in front of prospects before they’ve made their purchasing decisions.

Leveraging data in marketing helps us decide where to focus our marketing spend. Moreover, it allows us to understand our prospects better and speak to them in a direct, personalized way.

But with digital breadcrumbs sprinkled everywhere, it can be difficult to decipher which data we should be focusing on. After all, data is utterly useless to us if we don’t know how to properly analyze it and creatively share it with our team and our customers. 

The suggestions above should get you on the right track toward crazy KPI success!