Most marketers acknowledge that to excel and stay relevant today, learning to leverage the myriad of data tools available is imperative to growth. The challenge is figuring out which data tools will best suit you and how you can harness them to meet your marketing needs.
This month we’re excited to have Tristan Handy, vice president of marketing for Silverpop partner RJMetrics, discuss six data tools that can help every marketer take their marketing to the next level of efficiency. As a recovering consultant and spreadsheet junkie, Tristan understands the pain of doing operational reporting in spreadsheets, writing and maintaining SQL queries, and building data-driven organizations with legacy tools. Today Tristan preaches the gospel of cloud business intelligence, showing marketers everywhere that there’s a better way.
If you work in marketing, you probably notice data creeping into your day-to-day life. And with good reason: Businesses that run on data are more successful, reporting 33 percent higher revenue and 12x revenue growth. Problem is, in order for data to get these big results, it has to get out of the hands of IT and into the hands of people who need it to make decisions every day — that’s you.
The good news is that you don’t need to be a data analyst to get results from your data. There are tools that will help even the least data savvy to start making data-driven decisions. What is imperative is that marketers understand the universe of tools at their disposal: how they’re similar, how they’re different, what they do well, and where they fall short. Here are six data tools every marketer should know about, from the basic to the highly sophisticated:
Spreadsheets are the best-known data tool. They hit mass appeal in 1995 and have remained the most common data analysis tool ever since. Today, marketers use spreadsheets for everything from organizing content calendars to calculating marketing ROI. They’re an incredibly helpful tool, but frequently misused.
Spreadsheets are great for things like simple financial modeling, brainstorming and one-time analysis. But with every layer of complexity, spreadsheets become riskier. Operational reporting is painfully time-consuming in spreadsheets, complex analysis increases the potential for error, and once multiple people are collaborating on a spreadsheet, the risk of errors is high.
Mistakes are incredibly easy to make in spreadsheets, but difficult to spot. It’s estimated that 88 percent of the world’s spreadsheets contain errors.
Structured Query Language (SQL) is the universal language used to interact with databases. SQL is a powerful tool to query large data sets. It’s useful for marketers looking to answer questions like “How many orders did we have yesterday?” or “How many active customers do we have?” But it also tends to be a bit intimidating for non-technical marketers.
SQL excels at one-time analysis. For this reason, it’s worth learning a few basic queries just so you can find quick answers to basic questions, but there are some distinct drawbacks. As the complexity of a query increases, SQL becomes harder to write, debug and maintain. Complexity also makes execution take longer. If you’re running queries against large data sets, expect to wait quite a bit for the results.
3) Statistical Software
Most business reports rely on sums, averages and counts. But if you need to do something more analytically rigorous you’ll need specialized software. Statistical software will help you confidently answer questions like “What characteristics of a visitor predict purchase?” or “What customer behaviors predict churn?”
While having a basic understanding of statistics is helpful for any marketer, it’s rarely necessary to use them in day-to-day work. Statistical tools like R, STATA, and SPSS are hard to use, and take time to master. For strategic decisions, be rigorous in your analytics. For day-to-day work, getting to a decision is more important than flexing your analytical muscle.
For most online marketers, the primary way you’ll interact with statistical software is using A/B testing tools like Optimizely and Unbounce. These tools require users to form a hypothesis, collect data, and take action based on the results. It’s a simple but effective way to benefit from statistics.
4) Visualization and Dashboarding
Visualization and dashboarding tools provide a graphical layer on top of your data. They’re not great for number-crunching, but if you already have your analysis done and want to communicate the results with your team, you’re in the right place.
These types of tools encompass everything from chart-building tools and interactive visualizations to plug-and-play dashboards that pull key numbers from marketing sources. They shine when you’re trying to tell a story with data. If you need someone to understand complex data, take action, or get a large number of people aligned around data, these are the tools for you.
Keep in mind, these tools have a very specific purpose. They provide a lens to view data you’ve analyzed, but they don’t help you with the analysis itself.
Every online marketer is (or should be) using Google Analytics. Without a doubt, this is the most well-known analytics tool. But today, just about every piece of marketing software includes an analytical component. Tools like Hootsuite and AdRoll all provide analytics related to their product.
These software-plus-analytics tools are so valuable because they are creating and collecting an entirely new data set. The basic reports that typically come standard make it easy to answer single-domain decisions like “How many website visitors did I get?” or “What subject line performed best?”
Where analytics fall short is in helping you answer questions that cross domains. For example, Hootsuite won’t be able to tell you what clicks turned into paying customers. Deep insights about your business require you to combine data from multiple domains. Want to figure out how to optimize your product prices? You’ll need to integrate Web, order and accounting data. Analytics alone can’t do this.
6) Business Intelligence
Business intelligence (BI) tools extract data from transactional systems and load it into a data warehouse. They prepare it for analysis by pre-calculation and denormalization. And they serve it to users with a visualization layer. A BI tool takes raw data and makes it usable for the average marketer.
These tools shine when you want to understand the big picture. Instead of relying on click-through rates alone to measure email success, a BI tool will let marketers see if their campaigns are creating loyal customers over the long term. BI also solves the spreadsheet problem, making it effortless to do operational reporting in real time and collaborate with team members in an error-free environment.
BI tools handle cold, hard facts with ease. This also means they have difficulty with the more nuanced art of financial forecasting. In addition, while these platforms typically do some basic statistics -- mean, median, covariance -- they won’t be able to help you do advanced statistical analysis.
What This Means for You
The business world is changing. A proliferation of data, and the tools to analyze it, necessitate that marketers learn to think like analysts. Like anything new, this is a little scary, but incorporating data actually makes marketing a lot more fun. Data allows you to confidently take risks and test new ideas, freeing you to be creative and to innovate.
Personally, I love that RJMetrics’ marketing team can freely test brand new designs for our home page without endless meetings. Our opinions don’t matter — the only thing that matters is results. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Want to learn more about the data tools marketers have at their disposal? Download “The Data Toolkit.”
RJMetrics helps online businesses make smarter decisions with their data. They provide the kinds of deep insights that were formerly only accessible by large companies willing to invest in full-time data scientists. With RJMetrics, any company can become truly data-driven. For more information, visit www.rjmetrics.com.
1) Blog: “3 Ways Marketers Can Measure ROI”
2) Video: “3 Tips for Getting Started with Revenue Attribution”
3) White Paper: “Revenue Attribution: How to Measure the Impact of Your Marketing Efforts”