This past weekend, my 15-year-old was mowing the grass in our yard — a Memorial Day tradition for generations of American teenagers. About half way through the job, the lawn mower died. It turns out he had used the wrong fuel for the engine. Though it was taken from a can that was sitting in the garage next to the mower, it was fuel that was intended for use in a chainsaw. Not only did using the wrong fuel cut short that day’s mowing — it appears to have burned the motor out, permanently.
The experience reminded me of the much-discussed challenge in marketing analytics of “garbage in, garbage out.” We are at a stage in the marketing automation revolution where we have a multitude of sophisticated tools. They can handle audience segmenting, attribution tracking, re-targeting and micro-targeting, allowing us to use consumers’ past behavior and preferences to predict their behavior to the finest level of detail and market to them just when they are at the point of considering a purchase.
But here’s the thing: the amazing machine we’ve built turns out to be more delicate than it appears. Use the wrong inputs, and you may find that the whole endeavor stalls out and becomes useless.
In our world of marketing analytics, I am constantly talking to people who are disappointed by the results they see from the (often expensive) solutions they have pieced together, and they are still on the lookout for something new. But if they would only take a moment to open up the tank, they might see the problem lies there. It’s the garbage they’ve been feeding into their system, not the system itself, that is often the problem.
Bad data is bad fuel for marketing automation. The whole automation ecosystem is dependent on making sure that clean data goes in, from the outset. Literally everything keys off the initial captured data. Corrupt those data inputs, and you may as well just pour oil in your gas tank. All your beautiful reports for attribution and micro-targeting are going to miss the mark.
When problems like this arise, it’s a natural temptation to blame the machine. Try instead to take a step back and look at how you’ve been maintaining and powering your machine. If you’ve used bad fuel and it suddenly chokes and sputters to a halt, you should resist the urge to take your frustration out on your lawn mower.