How context helps find valuable answers, not just correct ones

In the world of digital marketing, there is an ever-increasing focus on data, analytics, tracking. Data-driven marketing is compelling because it is based on facts. In many ways, for savvy marketers, it's the most compelling argument when encouraging clients to invest in aspects of their marketing because it doesn't rely on opinion. However, we should beware... data is just that - data - just because it is factually correct, it does not mean it is has value...

Let's look at a recently and vociferously debunked myth - that 40% of body heat is lost through your head. I think it's fair to say that most people of my generation (that's Generation X of course, the coolest generation) were aware of this amazing 'fact'. The amount of heat lost may have varied a little, but it was always a significant amount and the sage advice that followed was to 'make sure you wear a hat'. In recent years we've been swamped with articles proving otherwise, explaining the 'true fact' - that we lose as much heat from our head as any other part of our body. Of course! Dugh! Now, we all feel so much smarter for knowing this.

 But there's this nagging feeling that something's wrong... why would this misinformation have been shared so widely and for so long without being corrected if it were that straightforward?

The origin of this fact goes back to a US army survival manual from 1970 which recommended covering your head when it is cold, since "40 to 45 percent of body heat" is lost from the head (reported in The Guardian in 2008). However, in this article, the author goes on to conclude that the experiment that provided this data was flawed

Let's take a step back for a moment and ask a simpler question. Why would you be interested in how much heat you are losing? Through any part of your body? It's safe to assume this would be of interest if you were likely to become cold.

Let's introduce context to this question. If you were on a paradise beach, sunning yourself in your trunks, you're unlikely to be worried about losing heat from your head. You wouldn't be interested in losing heat at all.  The fact that heat loss occurs evenly across the body is only true if you are naked, and, more importantly, is only of value if you are likely to become cold.

If you are in a cold environment, you are likely to be concerned with heat loss. You are also likely to be fully dressed, probably with a coat on if you're outside. In these conditions, you may well be losing 40 to 45 percent of body heat through your head, because it is the only exposed area. In this context, this information has value, and the advice 'wear a hat' is very useful.

So, it seems that both facts are true, but only one answer has any value. Applying context to data changes its meaning. The same goes for your website analytics - anyone can read the data, but to make it useful you need to apply context.

If you need help unlocking the power of your website analytics, get in touch, and let's see how applying context can reveal the hidden gems in your data.

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