Using The OODA Loop For Data Driven Marketing

Do you do data driven marketing? The answer is probably yes. Especially if you are thinking in terms of direct response channels like email and paid search. You probably also think in the same way about your SEO efforts, though for a number of years this could not be taken as a given. How about social, or inbound?

There are a lot of tools available for tracking activity; most social media platforms like Facebook provide information on both paid and organic activity, from social interactions with content to visibility and reach. Tracking activity, monitoring brand mentions, campaign performance and creating attribution models can be the easy part. How this information is used to drive and optimise your activity is the hard part.

Linking the information generated by your activity to insights and ultimately on to something actionable is critical to getting the most out of your activity. There are many models for processing information and generating insights for different purposes, from linking activity to business outcomes to channel specific performance and optimisation.

When it comes to optimising ongoing activity in a changing channel it's hard to bypass the OODA loop model.

Simplified OODA loop by purpleslog

Originally conceived by a USAF Colonel, John Boyd, as a conceptual frame work for processing information and acting on it, the framework has four distinct phases; observe, orientate, decide and act. This works surprisingly well in any other information rich environment where the conditions continue to change in response to your own and others activities.


How well do you know what is happening? Are you keeping an eye on brand mentions, do you keep track of activity on your social media presences like your Facebook page or twitter profile? Getting the most from your social media activity means this is essential.

There are a number of forms of information you need. These can be split into a small number of broad groups:

  • On site activity
  • Paid promotion
  • Organic social activity

Understanding what makes a difference for your business and which of these factors actually matter to your bottom line is critical. Without a solid understanding of the information you have access to and why it matters, the basis for your decision making will be very very sub optimal.


What has changed and why? With the information available, and your understanding of it and the environment within which you operate, are you able to identify how your own situation has changed? Is there a successful "above the line" marketing campaign which has had a greater than expected impact on your customers engagement with your brand, or are the new likes, comments and shares coming from people who don't have direct economic value to you?

Taking the information gathered through observation and interpreting it within a wider business and industry context is vital. Without this context, all you have is a data puke. You get to present a collection of nice graphs, but should there be probing questions or some kind of an outcome expected, you might have a problem.


Now what?

You have the information, you have interpreted it as best you can based on your own knowledge of the industry and the business. The next step is to take this information and turn it into something actionable.

This can be straight forward, such as doing more of something you have identified as having value, or no longer doing something of little worth. Or it could be something more involved, such as a reassessment of internal customer service processes in light of highly visible push back from your customer base or re-evaluation of the site's structure to encourage a certain kind of outcome.


Implement, reassess and start all over again.

Where To From Here?

Models and frame works are never really useful until they become a part of existing processes. Incorporating something like OODA in your marketing model does require some work. The actual requirements will vary from business to business based on available resources, existing practices and the nature of the industry it exists in. Be that as it may, there are some core ideas that are essential to getting started:

  • Collect and process the information. Offsite activity such as tweeted links and Facebook books should be linked to their onsite outcomes, all the way through to actual sales and leads should this be possible. Proactive research on where social media sites with other mediums like search and email is also important for understanding the value it brings and how it all works together.
  • Collect subject matter experts. It is one thing to generate reports and it is another to get the right people involved with the information. Ideally each online medium should not sit in it's own silo. Having a few people who see all the data from customer acquisition through to purchase and customer care can be the difference between optimising for likes and optimising for dollars.
  • Communicate. Ensure the marketers are in contact with the data and can see the impact of otherwise of their activity. Building a culture around data driven decision making means that at some point, those people making decisions need to understand the data. Closing the feedback loop in a meaningful way will also help make the marketers better at their jobs, and better able to respond to a changing environment.
  • Iterate and be failure tolerant. There is never just one loop and things don't always work. The OODA model is a continuous process, driven by action and re-evaluation. Missteps based on unforeseen issues are ok if they reveal new information and processes are in place to catch them fast. Which is the point. From a business perspective, the ability to collect and process information is just as important as being able to act on it, and very rarely is swift action found in organisations that have no tolerance for or ability to find, assess and iterate on small missteps.

About the Author: Anthony Contoleon

Anthony works as an SEM Manager in the tourism and travel industry. Most of his free time is lost to creating comics about the digital industry, writing blog posts and drinking coffee.

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