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How to become a marketing detective

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? As a child, I was obsessed with Jim Sukach’s “Whodunit Puzzles” series. They featured multiple short stories that forced readers to pay close attention to small details to solve the case. Even at ten years old, I loved the idea of being a detective. Hunting for clues was always part of the fun, but nothing beat the sweet satisfaction of solving the puzzle.

While my career as a detective didn’t pan out, marketing has offered plenty of mysteries to solve. Sure, I’ve swapped fingerprints and murder weapons for irregular statistics and trends, but a case is a case. While anyone can pull data from a campaign, drop it into a chart, and recite the numbers, it takes a detective to provide the level of insight that turns a good report into a great one.

Let’s say you’re running a campaign that’s held steady in the past, but has slowed in production over the last two months. Impressions are down, clicks are dropping, and conversions are dead, all the while ads and budgets have stayed the same. Is it a fluke or is it something more sinister? Very suspicious…

This is where marketing depends on a detective mindset. This is where the real marketers dig deep to find out what’s really going on. Here’s how we go about it:

GETTING THE LAY OF THE LAND

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” – Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia

Start off by collecting the data and considering whether the numbers meet your initial expectations. Are they normal? Are clicks lower than you forecasted? What about conversions? If you received over 400 clicks in February, but March topped out at 20, that should raise some red flags.

While you want to trust your marketing intuition, the greatest detectives stay unbiased and truthful. Data can be misleading – you can’t jump to conclusions or be swayed by objectives. Avoid using empty vanity metrics to spin the data to your advantage. Yes, six-digit impressions look good, but they can’t detract you from that flatlining conversion rate.

We’re solving a puzzle here, it’s going to be a challenge. You can’t focus on the pieces that fit your narrative and ignore the ones that don’t.

DIGGING DEEPER

Next, you’ll want to dig into the “why” and the “so what.” Look to other related and relevant stats to complete the picture. Maybe after celebrating your pageviews, you notice the bounce rate is 95%. Session duration is 5 seconds. Suddenly, traffic doesn’t seem so great. After looking at each metric individually, check out other stats that tie into the numbers in question. Page views are great, but it takes Bounce Rates and Session Durations to really tell the story.

Don’t stop at site analytics, either. Look outside the obvious. If that campaign has only slowed down over the past month, maybe the time of year has something to do with it? Maybe it’s seasonal? Check out the news, maybe there’s something there?

What about competitors? They’re are always up to something. Check to see if they’ve launched anything recently that could affect your campaign. Consider what platforms you’re using, too. Algorithm changes could significantly impact your results (I’m looking at you, Facebook).

TIME FOR ROLEPLAY

One of the most effective ways to find clues is to do a bit of roleplaying. No costumes necessary… unless you’re into that kind of thing. Put yourself in the mindset of your target audience and retrace their steps. Go through the user journey and confirm all the proper checkpoints are present and working. Ads displaying properly? Check. Links to the correct landing page? Check. Is there a clear CTA or next step available on the website? Check. You never know what you might find.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

You’ve pulled the data and gathered the clues. You’ve been looking at the case upside down and backwards, then it finally hits you. That glorious “A-ha!” moment where everything comes together. Sometimes, you connect the dots and you’re a genius. Other times, you realize you forgot to hit Refresh and you wonder how you’re even able to function in society.

Here’s a list of some common culprits:

  • Code snippet errors
  • Page caching
  • Updated algorithms on ad platforms
  • Human error (ie. incorrect UTM link)
  • Seasonality and holidays
  • Competitor or industry actions
  • New laws being passed (ie. GDPR)
  • Incorrect budget strategy

Congrats detective, you’ve solved the case. Continue practicing this mindset and you’ll be a master detective in no time.

Carly McCrory

Carly is a digital marketer with a love for all things beautiful. She is happiest while traveling the world and going on adventures like scuba diving, climbing mountains, or frolicking in fields surrounded by puppies.

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