Remember what it was like to navigate someplace before you had Google maps? Or before you had a smart phone? Before even having a computer?

It required a lot of face time with maps. You always had to know where you were going before you left. It also required a lot of guesswork. Word of mouth directions. Half the time you went someplace, you got lost.

Marketing without the right data technology is a lot like navigating without Google maps, and a lot of today’s marketers–now the owners of massive databases–are still figuring out how to build data and technology strategies that drive higher efficiency and improve pipeline flow. How does technology enable today’s marketers to turn growing mountains of data into pipeline and revenue?

Marketers Are Still Overwhelmed with Data

Today’s marketers can – and do – track more data about customers and prospects than ever before. You can track and store seemingly infinite data on prospects and customers: social media activity, online reviews, whether or not they advertise online, open job recs, and a whole lot more. Marketers are on the verge of harnessing this massive amount of data and using it at the crux of their decision making, but most aren’t quite there yet.

In research conducted by Forrester in 2013 on how marketers manage performance, only 10% of respondents felt that their marketing teams were effective at using data analytics to make decisions. More than half (61%) admitted that most of their data work went into reporting on how they did.

Data for Marketing Decisions

“We just can’t live with educated guesswork anymore.” –Director of Integrated Marketing at HP

Marketers know there’s a way to make sense of all the data they now own, and in an attempt to become data-driven, a lot of marketers are building more and more reports. But this means that marketers are actually creating more data, not making better sense of data.

The New Face of Marketing Data

Marketers revert to reporting because it’s a simple way to do something with all this data and because reporting used to be at the forefront of marketing data. A long time ago, marketing data used to mean data about marketing performance or broad demographics. What’s the size of the audience this TV commercial can reach? What does this demographic look like? How many decision makers are on that email subscription list?

Today, data is infused into everything you do, and it’s reshaping the way you evaluate customers. When you have access to vast data about your customers, you can evaluate them on more than just basic firmographics, such as industry classification and region.

However, despite growing access to better customer data, research from CEB shows that most marketers ignore new data when developing market expansions and generating leads.

Small business social media

Marketers are tracking data about their customers, but not to inform strategy. Chances are, you’re making marketing decisions about campaign execution based on internal data reports, such as the best time to send emails, or the best content to drive display ads to, but you aren’t using data to inform your acquisition strategy.

You’re running data-driven campaigns, but you’re not running a data-driven organization.

New Technology for New Data

In the same way that marketing automation helps marketers easily visualize data to make smarter decisions about campaign execution, new technology is emerging to help marketers get a grip on customer data. Some of today’s most innovative marketing technology companies are powered by new data management software like Apache Spark, which enables large-scale data processes and operates at unprecedented speeds to makes it easier for data scientists and engineers to build complex data solutions.

LinkedIn’s Lead Accelerator platform, for example, which was built out of the old Bizo ad network, uses Spark to compare behavior of website visitors based on whether or not they’ve been exposed to a display ad on the Bizo network.

Using marketing data to drive strategy decisions doesn’t have to be a struggle anymore. Technology can help marketers take advantage of data to drive smarter decisions about more than just when and where to run campaigns and what messages to say. Today’s savviest marketers are asking how data can inform decisions on which markets to grow into, and how.

Using Data to Predict Buyer Behavior

As data-driven marketing becomes a lot more like driving with Google maps, marketing gets significantly more fun. Where lead generation used to be about buying lead lists and running poorly-converting display ads, it’s now about discovering new markets and predicting growth.

Data shouldn’t restrict or limit your capabilities as a marketer, it should expand them.

Lisa Fugere