No number unturned: What is data literacy?

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Data is everywhere today. Web analytics tell us how many people visit our website. Social media insights show us how many people saw our latest post. Email analytics let us know open and clickthrough rates. But what does it all mean. In other words: What is data literacy?

That’s where data literacy comes in. Data literacy is the ability to read, understand, question, and work with data. As Author Kevin Hanegan says on “The Business Storytelling Show,”  data literacy gets a bad rap because people hear “data” and think it’s all about numbers and spreadsheets. But data is more than that – it’s information, evidence, reviews, survey results…anything that provides insights.

Data literacy is especially critical for marketing professionals. With so many data sources and metrics available, marketers need the skills to know which data matters, how to analyze it correctly, and how to turn insights into strategic decisions and content. Without data literacy, it’s easy to miss important trends and opportunities or waste time analyzing meaningless vanity metrics.

Data literacy allows marketers to extract powerful insights that inform strategy and planning. It enables them to identify underperforming areas and make data-driven decisions on where to optimize based on performance indicators. For content marketers, data literacy helps create and promote content that resonates with target audiences.

Mastering data analysis is no longer just a skill for data scientists. In the digital marketing field, data literacy is mandatory for success. Organizations can’t afford teams that don’t know how to effectively use data.

So why is data literacy important for content marketers and creators? We need to know what data to look at, how to analyze it, and what story it tells us. For example, when looking at website analytics we shouldn’t just look at overall traffic trends. We need to dive deeper into metrics like pageviews, time on site, and bounce rate to understand user behavior. If traffic is down but pages per visit is up, that tells a different story than simply lower traffic.

Data literacy allows us to get meaningful insights from data rather than just looking at surface level trends. It helps us ask the right questions to understand what’s really happening behind the data.

Read next: Data storytelling: When the machines write content

Dangers of Data Illiteracy

Data literacy is critical because data illiteracy can be dangerous. When we don’t understand data, we can draw incorrect conclusions. Or we can become overwhelmed and ignore data altogether, relying instead on assumptions or habits.

Kevin gives a great example about online reviews. If you see a product has 5 stars but read the first review and it says it’s horrible, do you immediately move on? Or do you dig deeper and read more reviews to determine if that one negative review is an outlier? Data literate people know ratings and reviews need more analysis before making conclusions.

In marketing, data illiteracy can lead to misleading data visualizations or campaigns built around vanity metrics like social media followers rather than meaningful engagement and conversions. Bad data analysis wastes time and money.

Read next: What podcast metrics matter?

Data Literacy for Teams

For data to provide true insights, organizations need a data literate culture. This starts at the top with leadership defining the key questions they need data and insights to answer. Rather than generically asking “how did our campaign do?” they need to set specific measurable goals like “did campaign x increase leads from channel y by 20%?”

With clear goals, teams can build measurement frameworks to track the right data to provide insights. Then comes the critical and often tricky part – collaborating as a team to analyze why the data is showing certain trends.

This takes what Kevin calls “polite challenging” of assumptions and perspectives. Each team member looks at data through the lens of their own experience and knowledge. Collaboration and active listening allows everyone to share their view to get a more complete picture.

Leaders need to foster a culture where data insights are the starting point for open discussion, not the final answer. The end goal should be gaining wisdom by testing hypotheses from the data, not just accepting insights at face value.

Learn how to forecast performance here.

Gaining Data Literacy

So how can marketing professionals gain data literacy skills? Here are a few tips:

  • Understand the basics of web analytics platforms like Google Analytics. Take courses to learn about key reports and metrics.
  • When you look at data, always ask “why is this happening?” Don’t accept the metrics at face value.
  • Question data by looking for inconsistencies or outliers. Is a trend a true pattern or anomaly?
  • Learn how your company’s business model and goals tie to data. How do metrics directly connect to revenue and growth?
  • Collaborate with coworkers from other teams to understand their perspectives on data.
  • Think critically about context when analyzing data. Could there be other factors influencing the numbers?
  • Test hypotheses from data analysis through experiments like A/B testing. Then learn from the results.

Mastering data literacy takes curiosity and practice. But it’s a critical skill for marketing success. Data holds valuable insights, but only if we have the ability to effectively analyze and act on it.

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