In today’s increasingly data-driven world, insights and information on your own business, competition and customers are everywhere; with marketing departments rapidly employing analysts to make sense of it all. Never before have marketing organisations been so accountable for every program and campaign; and so the question is posed. With so much data and so little time, how can marketers avoid the trap of simply relying on data to prove what was done and was worthy of the cost, versus using data to gain true insight for the future? Keeping sight of key objectives and managing your efforts to leverage new data points is a challenge that requires prioritising and discipline.

I have the great pleasure of working with a range of leading online marketers, many of whom are experts in quantifying their marketing through the use of research data in smart ways. These marketers represent businesses of all levels of marketing sophistication across hundreds of industries, each with their own challenges in managing and applying data. Over the years I have collected some effective ways marketers have created effective, data-driven marketing organisations:

Measure what you can action
With so many data points now available, marketers are expected to have every statistic about their customers and the campaigns launched readily available at their fingertips. As a result, companies too often spend time and resources on gathering information they do not have the capacity to action. Instead, small and large companies alike have been extremely successful by picking a handful of complementary data partners to report on a select number of internal and external business drivers to manage their business. In doing so, they are able to not just gather the data, but actually do something about the insights they collect.

Don’t forget the big picture
Data is a record of the past. A snapshot in time that tells you what has happened, and may not happen again. This is due to the fact that customer and competitive activity are dynamic, which makes it necessary to have timely data on hand. The dilemma, of course, is to avoid becoming reactive instead of proactive. One online marketer handled this dilemma by segmenting out data points – that is, one set of metrics was used primarily for day-to-day operational decisions and ROI justification, and she used another set (and carved out regular analysis time) for insight on future decisions. While this seems obvious, too often data-driven marketing teams forget about the big picture. While the detail is important, and at times highly addictive, it is crucial that data is also viewed on the macro level to ask why something happened and question if it will continue in the future versus simply reporting on what it did.

Diversify your marketing team
With so many metrics now available, the DNA of marketing departments also needs to change. Companies can no longer afford to have a marketing department of generalists, but rather require the delicate balance of those who can crunch the data, those who can interpret, and those who can create. This shift in focus from a world where creative was king to a data-driven environment brings with it a human resource challenge to CMOs and marketing directors. To address this issue, a colleague of mine has divided his marketing team not just by discipline, such as online, direct and branding, but has also ensured his team has the right mix of data enthusiasts, marketing practitioners and strategists. As a result, his team as a whole is uniquely positioned to both analyse the data, and apply the insights for the future.

One of my favourite market researchers once said, “Insights are like a lamppost, you can either lean on them or be illuminated by them.” In the highly competitive online world information is important, but getting positioned to take action on it is what separates the leaders of today and those stuck in the trap of just reacting to all the data that comes their way.