Data is everywhere today. After all, it is the age of big data. But for all the talk about how useful data is, it’s actually quite confusing.

If we’re being honest, who among us hasn’t pulled up a spreadsheet with thousands of rows and columns and run screaming for the hills? We’re marketers, and marketing is supposed to be a creative field, right? Well, yes, but marketing is increasingly becoming a data-driven field too. And, as it turns out, data can even help give the creative aspects of marketing a boost.

The problem is there’s too much data, far more than any person can reasonably grasp avoid information overloadand make sense of. So what’s a marketer to do?

Quite ironically, the antidote to information overload in the age of big data is actually data itself. But not just any data — data that’s organized in a way that makes it easy to view, drill down, understand, analyze and take action on it. In other words, analytics.

Why Data is the Modern Marketer’s Best Friend

Whether you consider yourself a data-savvy marketer or a creative marketing hero, data needs to become your best friend. The best modern marketers rely on data for all that they do because it can help with everything from identifying new opportunities and understanding performance to determining the best areas on which to focus to achieve desired results.

Just consider the following story:

You send out a monthly newsletter to all of your prospects. Over the summer, you decide to run some ads to attract new leads and boost the circulation number. You decide to do a mix of display ads and social media advertising. In July, you notice that the number of newsletter subscribers has increased a lot and that 85% of the new opt-ins came from the social ads. You were splitting your ad budget 50/50 between display and social, but based on that finding you decide to reallocate and spend more on social since that’s where you’re seeing the most results.

As the circulation for your newsletter grows, you decide to see what you can do to improve the newsletter itself. You typically use the same format for your subject line every month, but in August you have a new idea and decide to run an A/B test to see whether your old format or your new one performs better. It turns out the new one wins by a landslide, which you know because you can see the open rate for each version in your marketing automation platform. Based on that data, you decide to switch over to the new subject line format going forward.

In September, you decide to shake things up again and test out a fun new email template. This time around, the changes didn’t work in your favor as your marketing automation platform tells you that your click-to-open ratio was far lower for your new template, so you decide to stick to the previous template from here on out.

Meanwhile, when looking at the data from the past several months you notice that the articles you share with specific tips attract significantly higher engagement (in terms of click rate and social share rates) than the thought leadership articles you share. You decide to see if this trend holds true in October as well, and when it does you make the conscious decision to include more action-based articles from now on.

From that learning, you also decide to write more how-to posts for your blog and include more of those blog posts in your newsletter. You consult your analytics dashboard regularly, and start noticing a spike in a traffic as you publish more how-to posts on the blog. By January, you’ve identified a trend, as the traffic spiked in October when you made the changes and that spike has held steady since then. Now you know you’re onto something.

Even though most of those decisions had some sort of creative elementmarketing data to them, you were able to arrive at the conclusions you did because you had access to the right data. Furthermore, because you had quick access to that data and it was organized in a way that made it easy to derive insights, you were able to (a) make confident decisions, (b) make those decisions quickly and (c) put those decisions into action right away. As a result, you were able to make valuable improvements to your ad spend, your newsletter and your blog, all while maintaining a high level of productivity.

The key in this story is the type of data to which you had access. If you were pushing out a variety of ads and sending the newsletter to thousands of prospects through your marketing automation platform and only had access to raw data like how many people viewed your ads, who opened the email, who clicked and so on, the story would be quite different. But because you had access to an analytics dashboard that displayed data like conversion rate, cost-per-conversion, open rate, click-to-open ratio and click rates for different articles in your newsletter, you were able to understand the data quickly and take action accordingly.

How to Use Data to Your Advantage to Avoid Information Overload

So how exactly can you make data your best friend and use it to better track performance, identify new opportunities and become an overall more informed marketer like in the story above? It all starts here:

  1. Set goals based on business objectives: Have a sit down with your stakeholders to make sure you have a clear understanding of what goals you need to achieve and how marketing fits into the bigger picture for your business. Once you have those goals, you can use them to make sure you track the right data and ensure that everything you do rolls up to those objectives.
  2. Identify what data you need to track progress against those goals: Having goals is the first step, but you also need to be able to track your progress toward those goals. That’s where data comes in. Take some time to understand what data you need, including what data points from which data sources and how all of that needs to be put together in order to understand how you stack up.
  3. Invest in an analytics tool: This is arguably the most important step, as the data alone won’t do you any good. As discussed above, you need analytics that can help you glean insights from the data and understand what the raw numbers are telling you in order for the data to do you any good. If you’ve spent years in the world of data, maybe you can do this on your own, but we’re guessing you haven’t. And even if you have, that type of analysis takes a lot of time. Instead, invest in an analytics tool that can not only do all the headache-inducing data analysis for you, but also put it all together in beautiful looking reports that allow you to interact with the data and drill down based on different inputs and timeframes.
  4. Use your analytics tool regularly: Of course if you invest in an analytics tool you want to actually use it, but you when we say use it regularly, we really mean it. Get in there as often as you can so that you can (a) become a power user and understand how to slice and dice all the data to understand different views and inputs and (b) keep a pulse on the data at all times so that you know as soon as possible what kind of impact (positive or negative) different efforts have on your program and can react accordingly.
  5. Develop an action plan: So you’re using your analytics tool regularly and you know your marketing program performance like the back of your hand. Awesome! Now you need to put all that intelligence to work. To do so, develop an action plan that dictates what you should focus in on, how long you should wait to understand what’s an actual trend in the data versus what’s just a blip (e.g. did poor performance on your last newsletter indicate something is going wrong or did it just bump up against a holiday weekend and that’s a one-off you can expect to bounce back next time?) and how you will actually put any learnings into action.

Don’t Let Data Overwhelm You

The amount of data available today is overwhelming to say the least, but in order to succeed in today’s marketing world, you need to use that data to your advantage. Since you can’t just ignore data, you need to find a way to understand and learn from it without hitting information overload. The answer is analytics. And when you have the right type of analytics in place, you’ll not only avoid information overload, but you’ll also be able to use data to act more strategically, improve productivity and even boost creativity.