Analytics can be one of our greatest allies in informing marketing decisions. Businesses today have a wealth of data at their fingertips that provide insights into consumer behaviour and campaign effectiveness like never before. Not just a fluff factory where catchy taglines come from, the world of marketing is a data-driven powerhouse.

"Arguably, the most important evolution in the history of marketing is the ability to understand what data you have, what data you can get, how to organize and, ultimately, how to activate the data," says Mark Flaharty, executive vice president of advertising at SundaySky.

But unless you apply the right framework from the beginning, it’s easy to get lost in numbers without a clear signal for where to go next. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. You can avoid such a pitfall by sticking to a clear and thorough methodology. Let's go through some of the basic steps for getting started.

Begin with the objective

Understand what it is you want to know first. This way, you can recognise if the data you’re using answers the question or not. And it’s perfectly okay if there are some questions the numbers just can’t answer. But because you know where it can and can’t help, you’re more prepared to use it to its fullest potential.

Naturally, objectives will change over time as marketing goals evolve with the business. Figure out what you want to know and how that translates into the metrics you'll measure. Do you need more eyeballs on your site? Look at ways to improve SEO and test out different channels. Or do you have a problem with engagement or conversion? Think about experimenting with site content and the user funnel. Need to improve your returning customer numbers? Look at ways to keep your business top-of-mind through your email marketing campaigns and promotions.

Know where your data comes from and how you’ll get it

Oh this could be a story in itself. So many times, leadership never knows what sort of extenuating undercover gymnastics the humble analyst will go through to secure usable raw data and transform it into a beautiful, clean, and compelling story.

One of the most fundamental things Marketing can do to make their lives easier is to keep up communications with the Product and Engineering teams. The ones ultimately responsible for building the software that houses the metrics need to know what Marketing’s goals are in regards to data tracking and reporting.

And this is about where the phrase ‘data quality’ should be rearing its ugly head. One myth about data quality is that it has to be perfect to be usable. But when you’re dealing with web traffic, that’s virtually impossible to achieve. Profile the data so you know what’s reliable and what’s not and why it’s not. What’s most important is understanding whether you can rely on the data to give you directional insight, even if it’s not perfect.

Do the analysis, then frame the findings as actionable change

After all that work securing the right data, the analysis is no place to start skimping. Take the time to crunch the numbers and review your results. Then start formulating the takeaways and findings. Hopefully, you set a clear objective at the beginning that lays down the blueprint for all the questions you’re going to answer. Check with stakeholders and other teams to make sure the interpretation is correct and broadly agreed upon.

And always include a proposed course of action to take in light of the information. Sometimes this ends up being the toughest part of the work. But just remember that if you don't include it, you're doing a disservice to all analysis you just put in.

Measure the success of your changes

Wash, rinse, repeat. Translate your new goals into measurable metrics and set a timeline for checking in on performance. Go through the whole process once more to see if you’ve improved.

The work doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated to get the job done. Even for small problems, you can apply a rigorous framework to ensure the most informed and data-driven decisions.