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When You Don't Need Data

Sometimes even data's deepest devotees prefer to think beyond numbers.

C.J. MARTIN/FLICKR

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“My job is not to come in and create some stupid metric for everyone to look at.”

No, we’re not quoting a curmudgeonly executive in data denial. The above quote comes, quite remarkably, from data scientist John Foreman, who works for the data-heavy email-marketing company MailChimp.

Foreman obviously recognizes the importance of data. But companies sometimes just need to leave well enough alone, he says.

One place this plays out is in branding. Foreman tells Mashable’s Lauren Drell about MailChimp’s billboards, which are devoid of calls to action, keywords, or hashtags that could make their impact measurable. The signs don’t even include the company’s name, only a cartoon monkey -; MailChimp’s mascot, Freddie -; winking at passersby.

“People will often ask us, ‘What’s the ROI for that? What metrics are you tracking?’ And the truth is, we’re not,” Foreman tells Drell. “We just stay in constant conversation with our customers. We’re constantly taking their pulse to get their sense of what’s right, what’s wrong -; and I really love that, which is weird for a numbers guy.”

On MailChimp’s blog, nonprofit brand manager Lain Shakespeare elaborates on the unconventional approach. “After a brief discussion about exactly why MailChimp would want a billboard, the consensus was that we wouldn’t try to sell anything, we wouldn’t pander to anyone, we wouldn’t even advertise any features. . . . Instead, we just wanted to make MailChimp users smile.”

Shakespeare adds that the company does keep tabs of the photos of the billboard that people share via social media. But, as Foreman explains to Drell, MailChimp is careful not to overemphasize data -; because doing so can have unintended or negative consequences.

Few companies are so associated with an emphasis on data as Amazon. But Amazon, too, sometimes casts numbers aside. As Brad Stone writes in Bloomberg Businessweek, “It’s one of the contradictions of life inside Amazon: The company relies on metrics to make almost every important decision, such as what features to introduce or kill, or whether a new process will root out an inefficiency in its fulfillment centers. Yet random customer anecdotes, the opposite of cold, hard data, can also alter Amazon’s course.”

Related articles
8 Silly Data Beliefs
What Do You Wish You Knew?
A Long-Term Vision of Branding

Last updated: Dec 5, 2013

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.
@TheBuildNetwork




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