The paths toward the things we want are paved with hundreds, thousands of decisions.

Nowhere is this truer than in digital marketing—from A/B testing to combing through SEO opportunities to designing budgets that return real value.

Making great decisions is critical whether we’re talking about small ones (what should the subject line of this email campaign be?) or large ones (should we hire a staff member to run our social media?). Donald Farmer, vice president of innovation and design at Qlik, says:

It remains true that data analysis or decision support improves business most by improving every transaction and every decision just a little.

Despite the real problem of decision fatigue and the trend toward algorithmic automation of many of our business processes (think: programmatic advertising, machine learning in video streaming, and more, which all require embedded decision-making criteria anyway), most aspects of business will continue to require a combination of human intuition and data as we progress through every decision from beginning to end.

Every decision, no matter how small, can be supported by the incremental (and occasionally downright huge) improvements in daily business that analytics brings to the table.

Chip and Dan Heath, out of Stanford and Duke, have given us an incredibly useful way to describing how to march through the life cycle of a decision, which they’ve condensed into what they call the WRAP process. We’ve applied the WRAP framework to analytics as the engine behind all valuable marketing efforts. Here’s what goes into a great process of decision-making:

 

 

Widen your perspective:
Analytics allows you to look at data (evidence) like a rubics cube—turning from one statistic to the next, drilling in and out of different data grains—in order to discover what you didn’t know before. Eventually, the puzzle (a marketing problem or opportunity) at hand is solved, supported, or refuted by comparing your perspectives prior to data with the different scenarios you see unfolding in a dashboard.

Reality-test your assumptions:
Data is an abstraction of real events in the world: a customer purchases groceries, an excited fan leaves an ecstatic comment, a car passes through an automated toll. All of these events are then aggregated and summarized into statistics and visuals to help us go beyond the “gut check.” By relating our assumptions or intuitions with data summaries, we’re able to create a powerful container for excellent decision-making.

Attain distance before deciding:
The very act of checking a dashboard, scorecard, or report before you decide on something means that you’re putting distance between you and the decision. In business we also tend to make decisions within a community, so others will check work, hear pros and cons, and fill the gaps between your intentions towards a goal (i.e. decision/action) and the total array of options at play.

Prepare to be wrong:
Analytics allows us to see alternative sides to any story, as well as the myriad of answers at hand. Summary statistics aside, what we should do in business is always a probability game; no one can see the future perfectly. Mitigating decisions with simulations, performing risk assessments, and fully understanding what could happen when you choose a certain path means your decisions are always contextualized, and you’ve always got a good decision in sight. Great marketing depends on this sight and the ability to pivot strategies as you grow.

Learn how to make great decisions in marketing in our tight, cohort-based courses starting this Fall.