Data should be a marketer’s best friend. That’s because marketers don’t make decisions in a vacuum. They [should] rely on data to help them create campaigns and improve these campaigns over time.

But for the average marketer, data can be a scary thing. For one, the use of data requires acquiring highly specialized skill sets that many traditionally educated marketers simply don’t possess.

But the black and white of data is also intimidating, particularly in an industry where it’s getting easier and easier to pinpoint exact actions (or lack thereof).

If your marketing efforts aren’t working, data won’t sugarcoat it. It won’t hide behind jargons and conditionals.

Then again, if you’re unsure of the value of a certain strategy (say, consistent blogging), data can help to put your mind at ease.

An easy way to understand just how important data is to your marketing is to think of it like this: when you drive, you do so with your eyes open. That’s because your eyes are constantly absorbing information to help your mind make important decisions. Red lights mean stop. A slowed car ahead means yield. Speed limits dictate how much you push on the gas.

Without the ability to see, your driving becomes erratic and dangerous. You’ll never get to your final destination and, more often than not, you’ll end up worse for wear from your journey.

That’s exactly what happens if you or your partnering agency attempt to delve into marketing without relying on data.

You’re driving blind.

The new normal: Every marketer needs to know data

Years ago, data and analytics were a small division of a marketing department. That silo-like environment no longer exists.

Data is now the foundation of every aspect of your marketing. It enables marketers to measure and optimize campaigns and initiatives in real time, as well as find ways to improve the customer experience.

The good news is marketers have unprecedented access to data. Not a day goes by, it seems, that a new software-as-a-service (SaaS) pops up that promises to give brands incredible control over their data. But in the end, one of the most valuable resources you can turn to just happens to be a free resource – Google, particularly, when you’re focused on gathering data from your website.

Below is the home screen view of a typical Google Analytics dashboard:

Google Analytics - gather data from your website

But that’s honestly just the tip of the iceberg. You can learn an incredible amount of information from your visitors, as well as the effectiveness of your landing pages, all from Google.

And other pieces of software aim at providing even more robust data. Hubspot, for example, is a fairly popular sales and marketing software that gives users the ability to track their audiences from first visit all the way to post-conversion.

Tracking audience since first visit to conversion. Turning gathered data into meaningful insight.

There is no shortage of data access. The challenge is turning all that data into meaningful insight, and then acting on that insight. That challenge is enough for many marketers to shy away from using meaningful data to their advantage.

But in reality marketers don’t need to be data scientists. They should, however, know how to use data to plan, execute, and measure marketing efforts, build an analytics team, and foster a data-driven culture.

Successful marketers make data accessible – and viable – across their entire team. They also know what tools, platforms, and technology to use to help them gain access to that data and use it for key decisions.

How to use data to drive marketing strategies

Most CEOs know data is key toward marketing success. But many business leaders aren’t sure how, exactly, data can drive growth. Yet understanding a few key principles can help you identify which marketing partners are worth their weight, and which are better off ignored.

Here are a few examples of how a successful marketing agency will use data to help you meet, and exceed, your goals.

Use demographic data while planning campaigns

For this example, we’ll look at GreenPal, a company that often describes itself as the “Uber for Lawn Care.”

Use demographic data to plan your digital marketing campaign

GreenPal ran an AdWords campaign with the headline “Local Lawn Pros in Nashville are a click away” and targeted users in the entire metro Nashville area.

Results were decent: 1% click-through rate and 10% conversion rate.

But, as CEO Bryan Clayton toldWordStream contributor RitikaPuri, “we needed to improve on it.”

So, they turned to easily accessible census data and focused on the average income and home values throughout the region.

What Clayton discovered was that East Nashville, an up-and-coming neighborhood, was populated with more people concerned with pricing.

So, they ran a specific ad to that group, with the headline “The Cheapest Lawn Mowing in Nashville. Lawn mowing from $20.” They then created a matching landing page.

After one month running that campaign, they saw a more-than 200% lift in click-through rate and a 30% lift in on-page conversions.

In other words, data doesn’t just come neatly packaged in places like Google, Sprout Social, or Hubspot. Data is everywhere. Your marketing partner should know where to look to get the information needed to guide campaigns.

Using trends from one channel to impact another

File this under the mantra: Never start a new campaign with a blank slate.

In other words, each channel in your marketing arsenal isn’t an island that stands on its own. Everything you learn from one channel (say, PPC), can impact another (such as SEO).

By using existing data from one channel to inform another, you can minimize the amount of risks you take with your investment.

For example, a marketing agency that doesn’t shy away from data will actively use PPC data to optimize a client’s web copy for SEO.

Sure, there are keyword tools made available, like the Google AdWords Keyword Planner, but in the end, these tools merely estimate data.

But, by running a PPC campaign, even for just a short amount of time, you can learn about the actual search volume of your keywords, by your targeted audiences, and will then get priceless insight into keyword query performance.

Keep up with industry changes

Back in early 2016, Google AdWords made a huge change: They removed right-side ads from the Google SERP.

Google SERP - right side paid search ads removed from the right side

When this occurred, here’s how most people responded:

  • Initially, they freaked out. Change is a scary thing!
  • So, they hopped online and read up on studies, most of which said that everything was OK, CPC was steady, low positions are doing better than normal, and ad space didn’t change much.
  • And so, these brands and marketers continued on their way because, according to Google, only around 6% of queries were majorly affected. Chances are they were fine.

But this approach is missing the point. The question isn’t How did this change impact the industry? The question is How did this change impact YOU?

The answer to that question can be found within your data. Here’s how the process could have looked like to determine whether your brand was impacted by the SERP change:

  1. Plot your CPCs, CTRs, and average positions 30-60 days before the date of change to the current date. Were there any interesting trends?
  2. Go to your advertising dashboard. Were there noticeable changes over this time period? Were there more advertisers? Fewer? Did competition impact your costs per click and conversions?
  3. Revisit your top performers to see if anything appears to be changing.

The data you gather here can help you determine how best to optimize your ad strategy moving forward. But this type of data isn’t part of the “normal” expertise of an average marketer. This isn’t just about traffic, bounce rates and engagement. It’s about being able to make comparisons, and then do something with those results.

It’s about knowing where to look, what to look for, and what to ignore.

Used strategically, data will help you market your business better. But it takes time to dig into the trends, explore, and figure out creative ways to add touch points to your campaigns.

The three examples above are just some of the ways our educational marketing agency use data to make key decisions for our clients.

All the tools on the planet can only do so much to tell your story. It takes marketers with a passion and expertise for analysis to make sense of the madness.

How can you make sure your marketing partner uses data correctly?

There isn’t a marketing agency on the planet that doesn’t say that they rely on data to make key decisions.

The problem is with the data they turn to.

Superficial numbers mean nothing to your bottom line. It may seem impressive that your landing pages have an increase in traffic, or that your ads’ click-through-rate are improving, but if your marketers can’t answer the question why, then you know they’re leaving dollars on the table with every campaign.

That’s the key question. Why?

When soliciting potential marketing agencies, make sure to gain access to real-world examples of the agency’s past work (such as case studies). As the agency makes its pitch to you, and wows you with numbers, make sure to ask why.

  • Why did those numbers increase?
  • Why did that ad outperform its predecessors?
  • Why did you choose to alter the budget of certain keywords?

What you’re looking for is a clear demonstration of data mastery from the agency. Are they comfortable not only presenting numbers to you, but telling you the story behind these numbers?

This attribute is key in a marketing partner because, in the end, you turn to your agency to give you clear updates on your marketing strategies. You don’t want to be left in the dark. You don’t want to end a conversation more confused than when you started it.

What you want, and deserve, is a marketing agency that doesn’t shy away from data and is ready to use that data to deliver consistent and long-term returns on your investment.

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal also recently earned him the honor of being selected as a 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year (Rising Star), and the 2015 Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).