You may have heard about “big data” and thought it was just a tool for huge corporations and businesses. Data driven marketing is something all small businesses can and should engage in, and there are a wealth of inexpensive or free tools that you have at your disposal.

Why use data?

This isn’t a rhetorical question!

You may already have a marketing plan created on guesswork, inherited processes, or just sheer dumb luck, and maybe that works fine for you, or maybe it doesn’t. But pulling data from your marketing efforts, social platforms, and website can put a finger on your customers’ pulses and enable you to be agile and predictive in your marketing efforts.

In marketing, knowledge really is power, and you can bet that if you’re not using data in your marketing, your competitors are.

Starting off your data journey

To get the most out of a data driven marketing plan, you need to start by gathering all the information you currently have. Broadly, remember that you need to gather information from all the points where your customers “touch” your business. That usually means their demographics, industry metrics, and buying habits to get you the best ROI for your work.

When your customers buy something, where do they start? What do they search for and what do they end up buying? What links got them to your site, and what platforms did they browse on? If they didn’t purchase something, how long did it take them to decide they weren’t going to?

Data can answer all these questions and more.

Get your data:

Okay, now let’s dig into where you should be looking for your data.

Take a glance at your Google analytics on your website, social media statistics, email marketing campaigns, consumer feedback forms, and your CRM.

Pull all this data together in a way that makes sense for you. Some people prefer to pull everything and put it in a centralized Excel document that can be shared, or others are fine just looking at these data sources on their native sites.

The important thing is that you look at all the data that can tell you about your business efforts and start to notice any patterns.

If you're a new business, using tools like Acxiom uses data from popular sources like Facebook to help you understand your audience.

Clean your data!

Speaking of data sources, let's talk quality over quantity.

Most businesses, small or large, have some kind of system that maintains lead and prospect information, as well as the details from past clients. Whether you have a formal CRM database or just a spreadsheet saved somewhere, this is a critical source of data for your businesses.

How long has it been since you went through and cleaned your data up? Good data hygiene is important so that you won’t draw conclusions with bad data

Go through and update any contact information you have, organize everything, and generally make your data more interpretable. Check for broken formulas or outdated naming conventions that can mess you up.

Draw conclusions

Okay, here’s the fun part: learn stuff!

I’m oversimplifying, but my basic advice for small businesses who’ve collected all their data is to look at what it tells you. If you notice that one Facebook post has sent a ton of people over to your site, look at why that happened. What was the message saying, when was it posted, and what was the visual?

If you notice that customers who buy from you during a certain promotion are never repeat clients, maybe you should ask yourself if that promotion is worth the effort, or if you need to revamp the offer.

Your goal here is to adapt and thrive, honing your future marketing plans based on what you learn.

Measure your future campaigns

You didn’t think you were done after you drew your conclusions, right?

Now that you have all your fancy new metrics, be sure to set goals and key performance indicators for the future. Going forward, you should have a clear idea of what a successful campaign looks like.

Engagement? Likes? Conversions?

These aren’t just buzzwords: they’re a road map for developing a marketing plan. All you have to do is take it from there.