Article by Paul Fisher. First published in AdNews, March 26th 2010

You can't move anywhere in the digital media ecosystem without hearing the word data these days and in fact in the last few days I've heard 2010 described as the year of data (at least we've moved past calling it the year of the mobile!) Once you get past the amusing pronunciation differences between English – dar-ter and American English – day-ter and the fun word links of beta data – b-ay-ter d-ay-ter, the conversation always returns to the sea of data in which digital media is swimming. Or perhaps I should say drowning.

Inevitably, data discussions spiral into rabbit warrens of all the available data and the acronyms that frankly confuse those in the industry, let alone our poor partners and families who have to listen to us drivel on at the end of each day about the conversations/meetings in which we discussed data.

Online audience measurement; advertising effectiveness; brand impact; cost per acquisition; ROI; site analytics; unique browsers; visitors; audience; users; page impressions; ad impressions; click through rate; cost per click; engagement; time spent; average session duration and average pages per session. That list isn't exhaustive but it's certainly exhausting.

Particularly when you add the associated questions – What should I be measuring? Should I be paying for my data or should I go with the free data service? If digital really is the most measurable and accountable advertising medium, what do these numbers actually mean? Did my brand metrics go up or not? Did we sell more chocolates/cars/shampoo/credit cards/mobile phones? Did we move up any places in the brand consideration/intention to purchase set?

Marketers don't know what they should be measuring; agencies haven't got the resources to measure and report everything; and meanwhile vendors are knocking on doors or email inboxes with their products, services and platforms. It's totally overwhelming everyone in the industry.

So before we all go completely crazy, I think we need to stop, take a deep breath and remind ourselves of that old, overused but still oh so relevant axiom - KISS. Keep it simple, stupid!

All the data available through digital platforms and channels is totally useless if you can't assign any meaning to the data; and more importantly to what the data is telling you about your business objectives. So don't be seduced by all the data possibilities that digital and digital media can offer you. Yes the data is great but only selectively. It's not the panacea all of the time, for all businesses or for all business objectives.

The first step towards clarity is to go back to basics and understand what are what you are trying to do. If your objective is to engage your audience for longer periods of time with your content, the look for the specific data set that will track that. If you are trying to drive more traffic to your site, or other sites, again, there are statistics that you can track. If you are driving brand metrics, or direct sales, or store traffic, you can set the data up to demonstrate the influencers on these metrics.

Once you have a clear understanding of what your goal is, then you should pick three or four data groups that correlate and that will best show you quantitative shifts in your key metrics. There may be dozens of potential data streams that could help you but in the end you only need to focus on a few on a day to day basis.

Don't believe me? Well think of it this way. While a car has a myriad of systems and an on board computer that provides an ever increasing array of data, you always have your vital data – speed, fuel, rev counter, distance - front and centre on your dashboard. The other data is still available for you – but you don't turn your attention to it while you are driving your car – it would just be plain dangerous. It's even more complex for aircraft pilots – again they have an array of more than 200 instruments but in front of them on every aircraft they have four visual cues showing them their speed, fuel, height, and artificial horizon.

So, you should set up your own business dashboard that will help you drive your business. Be clear about only including the three or four key metrics and vital signs that you've identified as being most important and that way you can keep a close eye on them while you drive your business. By all means have other data sets available, but don't feel compelled to cram them all onto the same charts, tables, or the same page.

If you can keep it simple – stupid – this year can be the year of data and yet you'll survive and thrive.

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