Econsultancy and Geckoboard recently surveyed SMBs and entrepreneurs in the internet software industry for our Data-Driven Culture Survey and found that across different approaches to data and goals, the majority of respondents felt metrics were not understood or acted upon correctly.

Whether you are a marketer or a startup founder, we can all benefit from a structured, lean approach to data.

As the Lean Startup movement (spawned from the bestselling book of the same name by Eric Ries in 2011) will add another chapter in just a few weeks’ time when co-authors Ben Yoskovitz and Alistair Croll release Lean Analytics, we decided to get their take on prioritising data for marketers in this Q&A.

You've written the book Lean Analytics really for the benefit of startup founders. Are there any general guiding principles that also apply to marketers?

AC: Well, every startup founder has to be part hacker, part hustler, part designer, and—we argue—part analyst. If you take former Coca-Cola CMO Sergio Zyman's definition of marketing, which is "selling more things to more people for more money more often more efficiently," then analytics is how you measure whether you've moved the needle on one of those five "mores."

I think marketers need to stop writing press releases and start hacking their markets. Traditional marketing is about pushing messages out, and trying to find the right words. But without measuring the results of those activities, and then iterating constantly based on what happens, marketers haven't closed the loop between what they're doing and the business objectives.

BY: We've tried, in the book, to make it clear that success for startups, and I would extend that to marketers as well, is a combination of instinct and data. You can't eliminate someone's gut from the equation; if a marketer has a hunch that something is going to work that's fine, go with it, but they should also have a responsibility to measure that hunch and do so quickly.

Marketing ties very clearly into key elements of Lean Startup and Lean Analytics. In fact, marketers are really at the forefront of customer development--identifying needs with certain customer segments, testing unique value propositions and then experimenting on how to reach those audiences.

So I think many of the principles in Lean Analytics apply very well to marketers, as do a number of the tools such as the Lean Canvas, Problem-Solution Canvas and more.

Econsultancy recently completed a report, Best Practices in Data Management by Chris O'Hara, and in it Chris cites a "4th wave" computing paradigm popularized by former Microsoft Executive Eric Picard. Are you familiar with data principles at this scale, and how many enterprise-level converts do you expect for the book?

AC: There's no doubt that we're in the midst of a sea change for marketing. For one thing, only a few years ago the average person was afraid of technology—now they're terrified of being without it. We're moving towards what I've referred to in the past as a "quantified society" where many aspects of our lives are optimized algorithmically.

That means everything we do leaves a digital breadcrumb trail, and that trail is available for marketers to analyze.

But it's not going to be that simple. For one thing, even with all of this data, it's unlikely most businesses will act wisely upon it. I wrote about this a year or so ago in a post entitled "there's no such thing as Big Data," arguing that big companies can't handle the cultural shifts required.

Look at Blockbuster, for example: it had all the advantages over Netflix. It had customer data, rental histories, even agreements with studios. But it couldn't act on that information.

That said, we know that many enterprises do understand the importance of continuous, disciplined learning. In the book we cite examples of Lockheed Martin, Proctor & Gamble, EMI, Frito-Lay and others who've taken a Lean Analytics approach to innovation, with excellent results.

The real issue is this: once upon a time, a business leader was someone who could convince others to act in the absence of information. Now, we're swimming in information. The leader is now the person who knows what questions to ask. That's a big change, and it'll mean replacing executives who got to the boardroom by being convincing, rather than right.

BY: We've seen lots of evidence that big enterprise is very interested in Lean principles. Most of the questions we get at workshops or webinars comes from employees at large companies--the intrapreneurs that are trying to instill cultures of innovation and data within their organizations.

We devote a portion of the book to addressing large enterprises, and hopefully provide an initial framework to helping intrapreneurs and executives apply lean analytical principles to their businesses.

The popular new marketing practice known as "content marketing," combines elements of SEO with PR and "influencer outreach" and real-time data. Do you touch on it all in the book?

AC: I'm a big believer that nonsense withers under the harsh light of data. If content marketing is about "making interesting stuff" then it deserves to flourish. But if content marketing is a never-ending list of "ten things you need to X so you can Y" then the world will soon tire of it.

The concept of influencers is muddy, too—a simple metric like a Klout score won't work well, because it's not related to expertise. My friend Nilofer Merchant, who wrote 11 rules for creating value in the social era, addressed Robert Scoble (who has a very high Klout score) once when she was on stage, saying that while he's an authority on cameras, he's probably not the best person to suggest what shoes she should wear.

Unfortunately, marketers are always looking for an angle, a way that allows them to cut corners in the name of efficiency—which is fundamentally at odds with the two-way, interactive world of social media and modern marketing. Scale is the enemy of genuine, so attempts to "game" content don't yield good results.

The platforms you use have a big impact, too. In one study, traffic from sites like,, and resulted in, on average, a peak of 70 concurrent visitors to a site. But traffic from social referrers was much less engaged: Facebook referrals peaked at 51 concurrent users, and Twitter referrals resulted in an average peak of 28 concurrent users. And the Twitter users stuck around for far less time.

So saying, "I'm doing content marketing" is a gross oversimplification. Companies of all sizes need a strategy for generating interesting content, and getting it to a market that cares in a way that produces a business outcome related to the business model. We often forget that in search of a vanity metric like "number of visits" we can show to our boss.

Join an exclusive On Air Hangout with Econsultancy and Lean Analytics co-authors Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz on the importance of data-driven decision making in business on March 6 at 12pm EST/5pm GMT

Ryan Sommer

Published 27 February, 2013 by Ryan Sommer

Ryan Sommer is web veteran and recovering expat who contributes to Econsultancy on startups, content marketing and new media. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter, or add him to your circles on Google+

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Comments (1)

Malcolm Duckett

Malcolm Duckett, CEO at Magiq

My goodness there is a lot of great ideas in this guys - I like it!

The fact that measurement is the be-all and end-all of marketing is certainly true, I can't tell you how many "award winning" sites and campaigns we have seen that actually performed very poorly when measured against the business's objectives (either not covering their costs or generating zip in actual sales)- good marketing is marketing which sells stuff - end of.

I guess my first reaction to this thread is to say that experience suggests that most business are actually overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of the data that modern systems can generate, and this gets in the way of the kinds of data-driven marketing the authors are speaking of.

I think the only solution to this is to combine the data with technology that can not only analyse and report on the data but ACT on the data. Marketing automation solutions that can take ideas (creative and strategic) from the marketing team and apply these to the data to execute campaigns are an important part of the way forward.

I think they reduce the cost of creativity, let marketeers focus exploiting their creative abilities and customer understanding, while letting the technology do the donkey work.

Systems must provide solid (usable/actionable) answers on which campaigns/ideas/strategies resulted in sales, and which need to be consigned to the trash can of marketing history – and as you say this certainly isn't "visitor count" :-)

over 5 years ago

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