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Applying the scientific method to marketing analytics

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Two women out of focus, talking in the background. With a person whose back is to the camera holding a laptop open to the Widen Collective Insights app in the foreground of the photo.

Have you ever opened the analytics section of an application and wondered, “What do I do with this?” Maybe you feel a little anxiety building because you have all this data but don’t know how to turn it into something useful for your team. Or people ask you in meetings, “What does analytics tell us?” If you have that analytics page open right now, close the app, and let’s explore how to gain insight from your data.

Since it seems every marketing tool has an analytics app included, it’s tempting to just jump to the analysis step. But without forming a question, making a hypothesis, and fairly testing your hypothesis, the information you bring back to your team will lack insight and accuracy. We’ll walk through the scientific method and share a simple example of applying the method to analyzing data from a digital asset management (DAM) system.

Form a question

Think looking at analytics is too time consuming before you can gain any actionable insights? This step will help you start with focus and direction before entering that sea of data. Before you even open the analytics app, write down the questions you’d like the data to answer.

Validate that your question aligns with team or organizational goals. Ask yourself, “Will this answer help inform change?” Or, “Will my team thank me for this information?” Don’t be afraid to get specific with your questions. This will help eliminate that initial time simply clicking around the app, wondering what to look at first.

For example:

As we plan our content for 2017, we’re interested in how our current marketing resources are performing. So I wrote down some questions that I thought will help us achieve our 2017 marketing goals.

One question we’ll seek to answer is, “Which Widen marketing resources are buyers finding useful?” Why? Resources can be time consuming to create. They require coordination of our writers and designers. Our team should be focused on creating resources that are being used. We’re hoping this question will help give insight into what themes get more engagement than others.

Make a hypothesis

Science Buddies says “a hypothesis is a tentative, testable answer to a scientific question.” The key here is that our hypothesis can either be proven or disproven. You may find the “If _____, then ______” statement is a helpful place to start.

Making a hypothesis is probably already part of your work. Personalizing a subject line will increase open rates by 4%. Or changing a button color on the website will increase CTR by 8%. Including your hypothesis in the greater scientific process will help give you better answers.

For example:

For more than a decade, our primary software offering has been a DAM solution. I’d like to see if our buyers are most interested in resources directly related to DAM. My hypothesis is: Resources with “digital asset management” in the title are downloaded more often than resources without.

Test your hypothesis

At this stage, we set up our experiment and put the hypothesis to the test. Our goal is to set up a fair test to get the most accurate results. This means conducting our experiment while only changing one factor at a time. A control eliminates alternate explanations of the results.

This is where the reality of marketing being a time sensitive business driver may fail to live up to the ideals of a perfect lab experiment. There are numerous variables that can influence the success of your marketing efforts. Do the best you can to have a control and only change one variable at a time.

For example:

Any piece of content can be influenced by numerous variables. Not every piece of content is the same form. Not every piece is created for the same audience or is being promoted equally. By identifying some key criteria for our data, we’re able to get more specific answers.

We’re testing the hypothesis from above: Resources with “digital asset management” in the title are downloaded more often than resources without. We’re going to look at data from 7/1/2016 to 12/31/2016. We’re also going to refine the data to resources that are PDFs in our knowldge center,


What happened in your experiment? Does your data support your hypothesis? Spend some time looking at your data with a critical eye. Are there patterns? Any unexpected results? It’s okay if you disprove your hypothesis. You now have more information available and you can build on it by refining, altering, or expanding your hypothesis.

For example:

It appears our hypothesis is confirmed. The average number of downloads for resources that include “digital asset management” in the title is 27% higher than those resources without.

Communicate your findings

Share your findings with others. Incorporate some visual representations of your data to effectively communicate your findings. Even if your hypothesis was disproved, there’s still valuable information to share.

For example:

I’ve shared this information with our marketing team in an email and we’ll use our discussion to inform a new hypothesis to test other aspects of our content — all with the goal of helping our readers get the information they need.

Digital Asset Management Analytics


Be transparent with your data

Data can be an incredibly powerful tool to inform change. Make your data accessible to your teams. Create public dashboards to monitor stats or consistently share metrics in your meetings to raise awareness and get people asking questions. Let your team embrace data to generate more ideas and interpretations.

Save dashboards for future reference

Refer back to this data to see how the changes you make affect it. Will your changes have the same impact as you intended? The best way to know is by looking back at your new data with the same criteria.

You can’t measure and evaluate everything

Before we jump into what to measure and how, let’s remember that data has its limitations. Ed Catmull, author of Creativity Inc., says “Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do.”

There is a lot of what we do that cannot be measured. We need to find that balance. It can get tricky when you’re in the analytics section of an app because the vendor is measuring things that may or may not be important to you. Just because the app measures social media shares doesn’t mean it’s relevant to your work.

We want to help point you in the right direction of what’s important to you so you can evaluate what you can and keep moving forward.

Topics: DAM, Marketing Insights, Content Analytics

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