Overview

How Stats Can Lie To You

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July 19, 2019

This quote has been around for a very long time, and in our digital media world, it’s no less true. Having a wealth of data and a million and one ways to interpret and present results, knowing exactly what our data is telling us is the key issue facing many marketers today.

A Perplexing Example

When Great Britain entered WW1, the infantry was equipped with a cloth cap for head “protection”. They may have looked fab to some, but practically offered no protection from the battlefield. Noticing that there were very high numbers of head wounds, in 1915 the Brodie Helmet was introduced. It was essentially a metal bowl hat that offered much more protection from falling shrapnel from German artillery being fired at their trenches.

However, almost immediately, the number of head wounds didn’t just increase, but they increased 5 fold! How could this be?

Some people in the army high command naturally became perplexed. They wondered if it was because soldiers were becoming more brazen as they now had head protection and even considered removing helmets from the soldiers.

However, this is an example of how statistics can be misleading without the proper context, and in some cases can be twisted for adverse outcomes.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Although head wounds increased 5 fold, mortality significantly dropped. Prior to the introduction of the Brodie Helmet, those who died as a result of head wounds would not be counted in the number of head wounds statistic, but would be counted as mortality.

So although head wounds increased 5 fold, the total number of true sustained head wounds decreased (as a result of more protection), but on paper it increased 5 fold because those who died from their head wounds were not counted as head wounds.

Interesting eh?

Application To Digital

In our world, the one thing we are not short on is metrics. We can find anything we want to.

  • How many people saw our ads in the last week?
  • What was the highest converting campaign?
  • Which other competitors are bidding on our keywords?

But the deeper questions such as how we can scale our business, how we can find new customers, how we can retain our customers etc. cannot be answered by producing a number.

The why behind a metric and what story this number is telling is the magic of data.

If you know your way around data and metrics, you can almost spin any story you’d like to, but the question you should ask yourself is what is the true story in what you’re seeing.

3 Key Questions to Ask Yourself

1. DOES THIS RESULT INHERENTLY MAKE SENSE?

Does what you see make sense to you intuitively? Like in our above example, given that it’s completely counter-intuitive that wearing helmets will increase head injuries, so it makes sense to dive deeper and investigate more.

2. HOW ARE MY NUMBERS MEASURED/CALCULATED?

Do you know how the metrics you’re looking at are calculated and what they imply?

3. WHAT DOES THIS INFORMATION ENABLE ME TO DO THAT I OTHERWISE WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO?

Finally, the ultimate point to any report or insight; what is the action point out of all of this? Can you combine different metrics and form a streamlined understanding of what’s going on?

When you look at your results, there’s always more than what’s presented at face value. Drawing insight is a key skill that enables you to make business & marketing decisions that will lead to success.

Originally posted by The Empathetic Marketer.

Don’t be shy.

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