Last week, I gently ribbed the Marketing Leadership Council of the CEB over their HBR post, Marketers Flunk the Big Data Test. I felt the statistics they were sharing about marketers not being very statistically savvy were themselves a little questionable.
In response, one of the authors of that post, Anna Bird, graciously reached out to me to address some of my concerns.
The HBR post stated that when they asked Fortune 1000 marketers five “basic to intermediate” statistics questions, 44% of those marketers got four or more answers wrong. Only 6% of the marketers they interviewed got all five right. The implication was that marketers lacked statistical aptitude — a serious concern in an increasingly analytical and data-driven discipline.
My immediate reaction: what were the questions?
After all, statistics can often be technical and counterintuitive. Reams of academic research have shown that people in general are very bad at reasoning statistically. Were the questions asked a fair instrument to judge marketers’ capabilities in this brave new world?
You can judge for yourself. Anna shared their questions with me and gave me permission to post them here. How many of these can you get right? (Answers at the bottom of this post — no peeking.)
- True or False: Variance measure the dispersion of data around a sample average.
- True or False: How well the sample reflects the target population is more important than how large the same is.
- True or False: Regressions with more variables are always more credible than regressions using fewer variables.
- There are two hospitals in town. One is very large; the other is very small. On a particular day, 80% of babies born in one hospital are male. For which hospital is this more likely to be true?
- A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
Okay, scroll down and peek now — how’d you do?
If you didn’t ace it, take comfort: there’s a small percentage of people on the planet who could. In fact, that was one of my other objections to the original presentation of the CEB’s findings. Sure, marketers might be bad at statistics. But if almost everyone is bad at statistics, and marketers are no different than everyone else in that regard, is this worth ringing alarms bells over?
“Our goal wasn’t to rate marketers’ data savvy relative to other individuals (since the vast majority of people get that [last] question wrong),” wrote Anna. “But just to find out whether marketing analytics actually poses risks (as well as benefits) due to everyone’s natural propensity for error when interpreting numbers. We think that this risk is under-appreciated.”
So is it possible that marketers, bad at stats as they are, are actually better than most?
“No one is great at stats/analytics, but marketers are actually better than most functions, except finance and strategy. However, marketing’s information needs are also far more complex and ambiguous than most functions — so they really need better data skills. Generally, we believe that most employees — but marketers in particular — are unprepared to take advantage of emerging technology and data. And that a bit more stats training (even just basic training) would help substantially.
All good points, and I appreciate Anna’s willingness to openly engage in this discussion. I largely agree with their core premise. But I still wonder: are these type of statistics questions measuring the right thing? Are there better kinds of questions to evaluate analytical preparedness? What do you think?
1. True. 2. True. 3. False. 4. The smaller. 5. 5 cents.