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Data. It's all the rage these days. Big data, meta data, social data, behavioral data. Many business professionals have access to it, but not everyone knows how to work with it.

Increasingly, the jobs of CMOs, CEOs and other business leaders require the synthesis and analysis of data. Decisions are increasingly being based on it, and often even a small amount of data is better than no data at all. At Vision Critical, we work with many marketers who use their online insight communities to engage with their customers and gather relevant data to help fuel business decisions. Working with data is simply one of the requirements of becoming a rockstar marketer today.

So how do you work effectively and efficiently with data? The following tips are from recent articles about this topic.

1. Ask the right questions.

Most marketers will not be involved in the nitty-gritty of quantitative data analysis, but you will likely have some role to play in the beginning and end of the process. In a Harvard Business Review article, Walter Frick gives a nice introduction to using data for managers (including marketers) who don't like math. Citing another HBR piece, Frick offers the following questions as starting points when working with quant analysts:

1. What was the source of your data?
2. How well do the sample data represent the population?
3. Does your data distribution include outliers? How did they affect the results?
4. What assumptions are behind your analysis? Might certain conditions render your assumptions and your model invalid?
5. Why did you decide on that particular analytical approach? What alternatives did you consider?
6. How likely is it that the independent variables are actually causing the changes in the dependent variable? Might other analyses establish causality more clearly?

TWEET THIS: Want to be more data-driven in your #business decisions? Step 1 is to ask the right questions. @wfrick's insight in this roundup:

2. Produce data that tells your story.

Data is more powerful when it helps to support the stories you want to tell. Creative Director and advertising professor Edward Boches gives the example of Prudential's "I Might Live How Long?" campaign:

Prudential generated its own data - asking people the age of the oldest living person they knew - in order to dramatize the amount of time we're likely to live between retirement and death and suggesting we better have a plan in place and the resources to go with it. They combined findings from that exercise with demonstrations of how long half a million dollars might last, and with relatable facts to show the likelihood that we might actually live to be 100 ourselves. They never started with an argument for their retirement products. They simply let facts and data tell a story that leads you to your own conclusions.

TWEET THIS: Want to use data in #marketing? Think about the story you want to tell. @edwardboches' insight in this roundup:

3. Talk to your customers.

Data alone can't give you a complete picture - and especially when you are dealing with behavioral data. This can tell you the 'what', but to better understand the 'why' you often have to directly engage with your customers. On MarketingProfs, Justin Gray highlights the importance of starting with your customers and finding out what they want.

"Data can only tell you so much, so your best option is to go straight to the source," Gray writes. "Your customers are complex people with unique joys, frustrations, challenges, and wins that affect their daily lives and, ultimately, their buying decisions. Data points can't tell you all of those things, but your customer can."

Of course, the key with customer intelligence is to use the information you've gathered from your customers and to combine that with other data points. Gray adds, "Once you've aggregated those results, combine it with your data and create buyer personas that have unique needs, wants, experiences, and buying behavior and tell a story about who they are."

TWEET THIS: Data can only tell you so much. Talking to customers is key to winning #marketing strategies - @jgraymatter:

What do marketing and business leaders need to consider when working with data? Share your tips below or send us a tweet at @visioncritical.

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