3 Tips for Getting Meaning From Data Without Being a Data Scientist
It seems these days that marketers, strategists, analysts and sales people are hungry to throw around terms, such as Big Data, Business Intelligence (BI) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), like a pack of dogs at the back door of a meat market. And, I have a confession to make: I’m a marketing professional also guilty of using these terms in a way that probably makes others around me smile nicely, nod their head at what I’m saying, while secretly thinking, “Here this [topic] goes again ...”
Here’s the thing: I’m no data scientist myself nor will I ever claim to be. I do, however, understand the importance of needing to collect data, analyze it and then drive strategy around that data.
As a more creatively-geared marketer, I’m also not a spreadsheet monkey and am very excited by all of the development of data visualization platforms that make it easy for someone like me to watch numbers be turned into meaningful patterns.
Using good data to drive communication strategy around donor and supporter outreach is a key to long-term donor relationship-building. Our industry will see this communication change more and more as technology continues to enhance the ways we can derive meaning from data.
Let’s take this topic of Big Data, BI and AI and break it down by definition first, and then digest it into something that those of us who are not data scientists can take action from and apply to fundraising and nonprofit marketing efforts.
Breaking down the buzz terminology, and applying this to a personal life-use case—think of it as Netflix. With millions and millions of viewers cycling through content on the Netflix platform, they have a lot of data about what people like to watch. They’ve made one of the most popular television series based off of big data-driven decisions.
"House of Cards" was essentially created and bet on as being a home-run, because the company’s big data sets told them that people who liked the original British series and films by the director of the series were also likely to enjoy the acting craft of Mr. Kevin Spacey. Additionally, AI comes into play every time you watch a show, and the platform recommends additional content for you based on what you have viewed previously.
So, how is this relevant to us? Applying this to the nonprofit sector: Big, massive chunks of your nonprofit’s data can be analyzed through software to identify trends and patterns of donor behavior. With the help of AI tools (software), we can better automate communicating the right message at the right time to our donors.
But, this still sounds expensive, and complicated, you may be thinking.
Of course, it can be, depending on how deep your organization wants to dig, but here’s the good news: It doesn’t have to be. You can start small and simple without breaking the bank. Here are three tips on how to get meaning from your data without being a data scientist.
1. Start with asking questions based on your goals, and define what is important for your organization to measure. Based on your organization’s 6- to 12-month goals and key performance metrics, what do you want to measure better? Is there an area of your business that your feel like you don’t have a good grasp on? Is it donor retention rates? Social media following? Event participation retention rates? At one point, do we see donor’s shift from one-time donors to monthly donors? Starting with questions like this will help drive the next steps you take in choosing a data analysis platform or method of measurement and reporting.
2. Find a visual data platform that meets your budget and gets you into the cloud. Thanks to advancements in SaaS technology and cloud-based platforms, there are platforms available on any budget for any size organization. Whether you are looking for a platform to sync and measure all of your online and social media traffic in one place, or looking for a solution that you can import your data into to gather more meaningful visual representations, the amount of options available at various price tags is growing. A few of the tools that I think are worth checking out are: Dasheroo, Klipfolio, Cyfe, Google Analytics.
3. Start tracking what people are doing on your organization’s website. In addition to what you can do with Google Analytics, there are other tools available to look for patterns of user behavior on your website, such as heat-mapping tools and click tracking. By taking a good look at where people are clicking, you may find trouble areas. You might find that a button you think is visible isn’t actually being clicked on, and you’ll also identify your highest performing calls-to-action, so that you can determine what is working and then replicate that throughout your entire website. Some of the tools you may find interesting for click-tracking and website heat maps are: Heap Analytics, Sumo or Crazy Egg.
I also recommend watching this 10-minute video by Rand Fishkin, the creator of Moz, for some tips on building website authority and how to appropriately measure website traffic.
In harnessing the power of data visualization tools, it will become easier to discover patterns of behavior in how your donors are engaging with you in the digital world so that you can make better strategic decisions. Now, I’ll save the AI tips for part two…
Taylor Shanklin is a TEDx speaker, podcast host and marketing innovator in the nonprofit sector. Taylor is the founder and CEO of Barlele, a brand and marketing strategy agency that helps mission-minded businesses and nonprofit organizations grow through clear storytelling, branding, digital marketing strategies and strategic growth coaching.
In her career, she has served 100-plus organizations on both national and local levels. Her areas of expertise are branding and digital storytelling, digital marketing for nonprofits, empowering one's authentic voice and helping nonprofit organizations realize their full potential through digital donor experiences that delight and surprise. Taylor lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children and dachshund named Lady.