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James McCormick

How to use data like the world’s most innovative companies

May 24, 2022

Every company uses data in some capacity. Many companies know how to use experimentation data to generate good experiences for their customers. Test, iterate, and improve—they have a good enough process in place.

James McCormick, the VP of Product Marketing and Strategy at Contentsquare, is a leading expert in digital experience analytics, insights, and AI. Based on his time as a principal analyst at Forrester and at Contentsquare, he believes too many companies are satisfied with merely good enough.

Those companies know how to use data tactically—for example, taking an existing experience and iterating on it. That’s a good thing to do, but you risk getting locked into one, set way of doing things.

They need to move beyond that. James has seen that the very best companies are insight-driven. They use data to experiment and optimize, of course, but they also use data to innovate, create new products/features, and, ultimately, give customers more value.

Insights-driven businesses make up 7 percent of the market

James has identified that only about 7 percent of companies are insight-driven. These 7 Percenters use data to experiment and optimize, of course, but they also know how to use data to innovate. And not just once or twice. They’re able to innovate continuously and at scale.

“We need to move beyond [tactical experimentation]. The very best companies not only use data to optimize. But, critically, they use it to innovate.”

Three drivers of insight-driven businesses

Instead of simply focusing on experimentation, James suggests companies wishing to borrow ideas from the 7 Percenters should adopt these three business drivers.

1. They want to understand the human behind the data

Insight-driven companies aren’t just thinking about optimizing campaigns or individual experiences. They’re not just counting clicks or visits. Instead, they want a holistic understanding of the human on the other end of the screen.
James McCormick
James McCormick
VP of Product Marketing & Strategy, Contentsquare

These companies want to understand why someone clicked when they did. They care about data like hover rate and time on page, the high-quality, high-fidelity data that tells you how someone engages with an experience. So they make it a point to use tools that give them access to that type of customer data.

2. They use experimentation as a platform to drive innovation

Experimentation takes opinion out of decision-making. That feels like a bad idea for some business leaders. But they haven’t yet appreciated how replacing opinion with data improves the quality of your decision-making.

The 7 Percenters take it one step even further. They experiment continuously and at every engagement point, not just, for example, in an email or on a webpage.

They know more and better data is the fuel they need to drive their business forward. They want to move into uncharted territory because that’s where innovation happens.

3. They scale their innovation with an enterprise-wide strategy

The last key principle all 7 Percenters follow is bringing the above tactics together under a top-down, company-wide strategy. A top-down strategy creates well-organized processes at all levels of the organization, connecting CX teams to developers, sales, and accounting, so all of them pull in the same direction.

This greater clarity makes it easy for everyone to be held accountable for their part in building toward common corporate goals. That also makes it easier to identify potential problems and resolve them.

They don’t often stumble across innovative insights by accident or dumb luck. Instead, 7 Percenters create their own luck. From the top down, these organizations are driven and focused on finding new ideas, new and innovative angles, and approaches to set themselves apart.

Take your lessons from the 7 percent, not the other 93

Experimentation is the engine at the heart of your highly-focused corporate strategy sports car. And when everything in that sports car is running optimally, it can get to those unmapped shortcuts and hidden byways—the innovations—faster than the competition.

If that’s what the successful 7 Percenters are doing, what do the other 93 percent do? In short, they stay in their lane. If they experiment, they’re just trying to optimize traffic to one page or clicks for one email campaign. It’s all about one product, one service. Focused experimentation, but narrow.

The 7 Percenters are looking for detours and unmapped roads into new territory. That’s where innovation is found. Of course, it won’t be a success every time. Still, if you’re not out there testing and iterating at every possible opportunity so you can see the human behind the data, you’re never going to find those successes.

Beware: Innovation is too easily used as a stand-in for “being busy”. Everyone wants to move fast, but innovation only moves the needle if it pursues improvements people want or solves their problems. Innovating at scale means constantly launching products, features and upgrades that wow customers. Speed plus quality.

Insights-driven businesses can do this not because they have access to specialists with secret knowledge. James believes these companies have simply chosen to apply three principles:

  • Understand the human behind the data
  • Use experimentation as a platform to drive innovation
  • Scale their innovation with a top-down, enterprise-wide strategy
  • Make your own luck


Experimenting and innovating aren’t just nice things to do in business. They’re strategically important things that should be core to your company's operations.

When you have a finely-tuned top-down strategy for innovation, you can continuously deliver great experiences to your customers. That allows you to convert more of those customers and retain more of the ones you already have.

Are you looking for more ideas for becoming an innovative company in the top 7 percent? Learn which data you can start with when building an experimentation program, and how to scale it with more advanced testing.

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