Data Fatigue

By Robb Beck | Senior Analyst, Digital Marketing

Michael Lewis, the well-known author of The Big Short, recently penned a fascinating article in Vanity Fair. In “Obama’s Way,” Lewis provides a unique insight into President Obama’s daily life, describing his bedtime routine, exercise regimen, as well as how the President keeps a hold on the really big issues: national security, Congress, the economy, and so on.

What really stood out for me is Lewis’s reflection on “the mundane details of presidential existence.” According to Lewis, President Obama makes a concerted effort to cut back on the humdrum decisions that could easily consume his day. He does this by starting out small – like, really small.  “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” President Obama tells Lewis. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

As Lewis continues, the President discussed research that shows how the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make ongoing decisions. “You need to focus your decision-making energy,” says Obama, “you need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Psychologists refer to this phenomena as “decision fatigue.” Is it any wonder then why major decision makers wear the same thing every day? Even Albert Einstein was said to have bought several variations of the same grey suit so that he wouldn’t waste his mental energy and time on deciding what to wear.

The notion of pairing back decisions that could easily consume one’s day readily applies to the world of digital marketing. With the ever-growing proliferation of big data, there is no shortage of business intelligence to be gleaned from online advertising metrics. Increasing amounts of data mean more decisions need to be made, not less. How then do we “focus our decision-making energy” with regard to advertising analytics?

Beyond paring down our wardrobes in order to free up mental space, a proper analytics strategy begins by establishing advertising objectives and KPIs at the outset. Simple questions, such as what should be considered a conversion, what is your ideal cost per acquisition, what does a successful digital campaign look like, can all help to cut back on the clutter and useless noise. The media analyst also dons the cap of Socratic questioner: “Tell me why CTR matters to this ad campaign? How are your local or offline conversions measured?”

Sure, this requires putting forth a little bit of effort at the outset. But such actions save a whole lot of time on the backend. Most importantly, it saves on the precious mental capacity that we’re all in short supply of these days.