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Accountants and Marketers – Who are the Bigger Number Nerds?

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I have now officially spent more time working in marketing companies than in public accounting, and I have reached an interesting conclusion that I did not expect when I started working for a marketing agency 7 years ago: 

Marketers are more picky about their data than accountants. 

I think it’s safe to say that there are ingrained stereotypes of marketers and accountants in corporate culture. Marketers are seen as the fun, creative, big idea people and accountants are well, perceived as the opposite. For more context on this, you can read about my experience running finances for a marketing agency here

However, after seeing how both groups engage with data, I think some of these perceptions need to change. It needs to be recognized that marketers have a naturally more complicated and challenging relationship with data and one that is not really understood….until now 🙂 Here is how the two parties compare when it comes to their relationship with numbers. 

Data Accuracy

“There are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics” – Someone smart 100s of years ago

Accountants, believe it or not, are more comfortable with small variances when comparing two data sets. Accountants have a term called materiality. It essentially means ‘close enough’ or ‘the variance doesn’t change my conclusion’. Accountants are able to usually get different data sets to match one another because of the nature of the information being very defined (what comes out of the bank account is not dependent on attribution models), so when small variances occur, they are willing to accept them.

Marketers on the other hand, have been burned over the years by imperfect platforms and data tracking that have both small and large variances. They have seen the goal posts in their industry under constant movement in terms of data availability and best practices, something accountants do not have thanks to having regulatory bodies and generally accepted accounting principles. 

In other words, performance marketers recently have had to endure the growing pains of a mature industry in realtime. The fundamentals of accounting data, debits and credits, haven’t changed in hundreds of years, since some guy in northern Italy created a way to track his sales from his market stall…or something like that. 

Therefore when examining data, marketers have a more natural skepticism or concern over data matching in contrast to accountants. This leads to trying to troubleshoot differences in platforms and APIs that inherently have fundamentally imperfect tracking and data capturing and more frustration and time wasted.   

Analysis Paralysis 

Marketers spend just as much, if not more, time preparing and analyzing data. The sheer volume of data that is available to marketers is significant. And let’s remember this, marketers are not formally trained in data analysis. Most marketers enter the profession for the creative aspect of the discipline – creating stories and connections with an intended audience, not to be expected to perform linear regression analyses. Accountants on the other hand, go through years of education and learning on how to ingest data and quickly reach conclusions. The exams to become accountants typically involve a plethora of business cases whereby in a matter of an hour or two, conclusions and recommendations must be identified and supported by the available case facts. The years of professional experience required for the certification revolve around various facets of financial information and what to do with it. Of course some are better at drawing these conclusions than others but those that progress in the profession are able to do this very well.

Data Manipulation 

You can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that. – Homer Simpson

The other reason marketers spend more time with data than accountants is that marketers seemingly want to not just find all the data, they want to find the right data for their story. Accountants love getting all the raw data and figuring the rest out themselves. Good news, bad news, it’s all the same to an accountant whose goal is to identify the truth in the data.

Marketers on the other hand need data for a different reason. The value of their role is not in analyzing data and drawing conclusions, but rather generating leads and/or revenue depending on KPI and business structure. The data they use is a means to an end, whereas for accountant’s the data is the end. Therefore, marketers need to dig for ‘the soundbite’ data that demonstrates their performance and the changes they have implemented.

So What Can Marketers Do? 

As the ad platforms take away more controls from marketers (for better or worse) the job of the marketer will become to make strategic decisions and conclusions across platforms, which will always have some form of data challenges (only being made worse by ever-evolving limitations on tracking and analytics data). Here are some ways to improve the marketers experience with data: 

Agreeing on a level of ‘materiality’ with a client or with internal stakeholders on data is key to ensure the time spent is focused on strategic thinking and not debating data sources. 

Along the same lines, agreeing upfront with a client or internal stakeholders on what data source will be used for measurement of each metric is important. Having an index or glossary of marketing KPIs including definitions and sources helps align everyone upfront. 

Democratize the data by having data visibility for all stakeholders so that no one is surprised by the results when it’s too late to do anything about it. Having a platform like Morphio that acts as a consolidator and sharer of this data, in real-time, is very helpful. 

This final one is a bit of a reach, but having a more concerted effort by industry associations and groups to create and define standards, best practices and benchmarks would allow for more consistency across the industry. This in turn would help reduce the learning curve as marketers transition roles at record rates (thanks a lot great resignation). Marketers for some reason seem to treat their approach to data analysis as their ‘secret sauce’, when really that is, or should be, the ability to create a brand that connects with its target audience in a meaningful way. 

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