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Blog Confessions of a Creative Marketer: Being Data-Driven Doesn’t Have to Suck

A few years ago, I almost quit marketing forever.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Throughout my career, I’ve met so many brilliant marketers. It’s a unique field because you can be a standout marketer in so many different ways: you can be an amazing visual designer, a data-driven systems integrator, an inspiring people leader, and so much more. Every company needs different types of marketers, depending on how their business operates and their current place in the market.

I started in marketing because it combined three of the fields I was most interested in (and, coincidentally, the three fields I studied in college) – psychology, business, and art.

Psychology fascinates me because the human brain is just so complex. I’ve always loved how most human behaviors can be explained through understanding the person themselves, where they came from, and the environment in which they are in currently. 

Psychology gave me a new understanding of empathy, and the importance of being able to put yourselves in someone else’s shoes – both in business and in life. Business interested me for other reasons. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and the way businesses operate always fascinated me. 

But, my true passion – the place I am most myself, the most happy – is in the creative space. It started with crafts growing up all the way through studying studio art in college. When I began thinking about my career, I knew I needed to be creative to be happy, but I still wanted to be in a business environment. So, I began my career in marketing, thinking that all marketers got to be creative all day.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Marketing is extremely complex – much more complex that I ever thought it would be before I entered the field. It’s highly data-driven, uses dozens of tools and channels, and changes every single day. 

Marketing has always been, and will always be, about empathizing with your market and customers and consistently providing them value. However, as customers have evolved, marketing has had to evolve too.

As I moved throughout my career, I successfully stayed in the ‘creative’ part of marketing for as long as I could. However, as I started to become responsible for more initiatives, projects, and eventually other team members, I knew that I needed to start being more data-driven.

Five years ago, I started the process of becoming data-driven. I spent time in our CRM, our marketing automation tool, our web analytics tool, and our business intelligence tool. I looked at data, I looked at spreadsheets, and I looked at dashboards. I tried to make it part of my routine – a short daily overview, a longer weekly review on the weekend, asking questions from my analyst when I needed it. 

But I was miserable. Before I go into why that was, I want to make one thing clear – I get the importance of being data-driven. Data is great. I know it will help me, and help my team, get better each day. But I was suffering to try to get there.

There were two main reasons why I hated looking at the data so much. First, for me, it was extremely time consuming. As I spent more time in our data, there was always something else to look into. I was spending less time on creative projects and ideas, and more and more time just becoming someone who reports out on data to my bosses and team. Being data-driven is a celebrated skill (as it should be), so even though I was miserable, I was doing well in my career, which pushed me to keep going on this path.

The second reason was that I am just not good at data analysis. As hard as I try, when I look at a dashboard, all I see is shapes. Yes, they can be pleasing to the eye, but they tell me almost nothing. This has nothing to do with the efficacy of the tool or the skill of the dashboard creator, the communication medium just doesn’t work for me.

This is my personal experience as a creative marketer – the desire and need to be more data-driven was making me absolutely miserable. Over time, I’ve heard this same sentiment from other marketers that got into the field because they love the creative side. I’ve also heard it from salespeople that got into the field because they love the art of the sale and chasing a deal, and from customer success professionals that got into their profession because they love nothing more than spending time with people. Everyone understands the importance of data, but the journey to actually use it each day in a sustainable and easy way can be extremely difficult.

That is why I joined Narrative Science three years ago. Their mission is to make data analytics easy for the non-analytical worker. They told me about how their vision was to make data analytics truly accessible, understandable, and actionable for everyone, so that people could spend time on what makes them great in their jobs – not buried in data. People like me could get back to being creative – but also be data-driven without being miserable.

So I joined. And I started using their products. And it has completely changed my outlook on my career and who I can be. I used to think that there was a ceiling for me – leaders need to be data-driven, and I was not. Now I know that I can lean into what makes me great (being creative), while also leading a team that makes decisions based on data each day.

Before, I was spending hours in Salesforce, Marketo, Google Analytics, LinkedIn Ad Manager, Facebook Ad Manager, Outreach, and more – writing down the numbers and trying to explain them myself. By using Narrative Science’s product Lexio, I don’t need to do any of that anymore.

Lexio brings all of my analytics into one product, and delivers them to me in a way I actually understand – in words! As stories! In a newsfeed! Although it may seem small, the relief I get when I see my team’s data analyzed and written out for me is unbelievable. No more logging into tools I hate, and no more staring at dashboards I just don’t understand. I can just read it.

Lexio has empowered me to become data-driven in ways I simply was not before. At Narrative Science, marketing is responsible for the growth of the company, and we tie our success directly to revenue. This means that we look at all stages of the customer journey to make decisions each day.

I use Lexio each day to track each part of the funnel. I need to understand what’s working, what’s not, and what we should change. Here’s a sample of a few ways I personally use Lexio in my day-to-day.

  1. Web traffic data stories. As marketers, it is essential we track trends in web traffic over time, where the traffic comes from, and why. For us, we run mostly events and content, so we closely look at web traffic after larger things ship.
  2. Paid ad data stories. We have a paid advertising strategy and have utilized LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google in the past. I look at data stories on the efficacy of each channel by impressions, clicks, and CPC all in Lexio, instead of logging into each tool.
  3. Marketing lead data stories. We use Marketo to manage our marketing database, and greatly value the people who have followed our brand. We track both net new leads and lead engagement through Lexio, so we can understand which campaigns are working, which are not, and why.
  4. Sales pipeline data stories. Our team is goaled on opportunities and revenue, which means they need to know the sales pipeline. We need to know what deals come in, how quickly they move, and why. This helps us better partner with sales to provide the right leads and help prospects move through our sales funnel more quickly. We also run an account-based marketing strategy, so we break down our pipeline stories by ABM tier to measure the effectiveness of that program over time.
  5. Historical sales data stories. Like all teams, we only have so many resources and so much budget. We use Lexio to identify demographic trends in historical bookings or current pipeline, which helps us decide where to start or scale new marketing spend.
  6. Email outreach data stories. Our marketing team has a robust email strategy to our current database, and we also have sales development on our team, who does cold outbound outreach through a tool called Outreach. Instead of logging into Marketo or Outreach, I read stories about email effectiveness in Lexio.

Lexio takes these stories and puts them into a newsfeed for me, so I know significant changes that have happened each day. I spend ~5 minutes reading that each morning, and spend another hour or so in the longer stories each week. That’s it.

Now, I know the numbers all the time and – maybe even more importantly – I’m not miserable. I can be both a data-driven leader and a creative marketer. I’ve been able to lead my team with much more operational structure, and also been able to work on more creative projects, like co-authoring my first book.

I’ve seen the same for my team. One of my biggest fears used to be that when I was a leader, I would create an environment where my team felt as miserable as I did on their quest to use data to make decisions. I want my team to lean into what makes them great and what they love – but I also want them to make decisions based on data each day. By utilizing something like Lexio, I can ensure that my team continues to grow into creative contributors that are amazing at different aspects of marketing and into operational and data-driven leaders that drive our business forward every single day. 

Lexio has given me my time and my sanity back. It has empowered me to see a true future for myself as a leader – both in enabling me to become more data-driven and in creating an environment where my team can thrive too.

If you, like me, started in marketing because you love the creative side, or if you are a leader that wants to empower your team to be more data-driven in a way that doesn’t make them miserable, I encourage you to take a look at something like Lexio. 

If you’d ever like to discuss the above or anything else marketing related, please reach out to me on LinkedIn at in/annaschena. Or, try out Lexio for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.