Like it or not, marketers have traditionally been viewed as creative types who rely on catchy copy, clever promos, and gut instinct to reach customers and prospects. Certainly they have not been seen as strategic business advisers. That's because measurement has been so haphazard that Marketing struggled—and typically failed—to demonstrate value.

But times are changing and marketing has had to adapt. The bottom line is that if a marketing organization is to deliver value and show tangible results, it must build an analytical culture.

Why is that important? Well, if you are like most marketing organizations, you already pack a strong dose of creativity. Applying analytics enables you to combine fact-based decision-making with creativity.

Analytics doesn't replace innovation. Nor does it supplant people or programs. Rather, analytics makes for less guesswork and more strategy. By rewarding curiosity, building confidence, and ensuring accountability, analytics enables innovation and makes a marketing program more creative and powerful.

If you're not quite there yet, here are six tips for building your own analytics-driven marketing organization.

1. Treat data as a portfolio

Your data is like your 401(k): You need to manage it so it delivers the results you want. It needs to be accurate; otherwise, your analysis and ultimately your decisions could be flawed. Accordingly, you'll need to rebalance it every now and then: look for sources you don't need anymore or data that isn't providing value... and get rid of them; reinvest your resources where you're getting returns.

Recently, in our marketing organization, we focused an initiative on data source performance, and we were able to eliminate the poorest-performing investments, which translated to cost savings and increased effectiveness.

2. Recognize the many faces of analytics

Marketing organizations have already evolved. They have readily adopted metrics, which demonstrate value, pointing to areas of progress and areas that need improvement. They are a critical component of the analysis you conduct, and so you need a process for continual evaluation and adjustment of your metrics.

Analytics in the marketing culture, however, is expressed in many other ways than just metrics. Some of the most powerful uses of analytics involve marketing optimization techniques that can dramatically decrease opt-out rates and increase conversion rates.

Optimization and modeling are pivotal for campaign design, list segmentation, and ultimately campaign execution.

Scoring and Web analysis anchor inbound nurturing campaigns, allowing us to better engage website visitors who arrive via search marketing and other sources.

If marketing can see the digital dialogue, the opportunities are endless. The ability to analyze visitors' behaviors, assign scores accordingly, predict which offers will be most attractive, and deliver the right message at the right time... translates into high conversion rates and happy customers.

3. Hire with analytics in mind

Hire marketers who have a passion for data and analytics and understand their value in decision-making.

Doing so is not as hard as it was 10 years ago. Anyone used to measuring digital and social media efforts or experimenting with A/B testing of Web pages or one-to-one marketing is primed to use more advanced analytics to measure the overall value of a program.

Hiring with analytics in mind is not about killing creativity or innovation. You're just seeking naturally curious employees with up-to-date skills.

4. Ask, 'Do you have data to support that?'

Start every project or request with that question. When considering a specific marketing channel or approach, ask for data that suggests it will work. At the very least, ask how you will know if it worked: What will you measure?

Taking this approach encourages marketers to think about how they create value for the company at a time when marketing channels are continually evolving and resources are stretched.

When you have hard decisions to make, data and analysis allow you to base those decisions on facts and create the right balance in your marketing efforts.

What's more, analytics will help you monetize your marketing investments. Say, for example, that you have traditionally attended a large number of tradeshows and conferences—which are costly and resource intensive. Now you have the opportunity to reach even larger audiences through digital channels. But how do you create the right balance?

Analytics will provide you with insight about the value of each marketing activity, the audience you reach with it, its historical and potential returns, and how to use multiple channels for optimum outcomes.

Linking the marketing activity to the expected value will provide you with the ability to make fact-based investment decisions.

5. Test, measure, and adjust

Give your marketers the freedom to test and learn so they can make intelligent decisions that will drive change. Optimization has a direct impact on results, and it will indirectly increase the confidence level of your marketers.

Since we began applying marketing optimization techniques, our conversion rates have tripled on outbound marketing campaigns while associated communication costs are dropping. Our list size has shrunk 14%, opt-outs have dropped 20%, and click-through rates have jumped 25%.

Together, all of that adds up to higher-quality leads, lower costs, and an improved customer/prospect experience.

With millions of visitors on our website, analytics is critical to determining how we make the best use of a person's time on site. With scoring and nurturing efforts, we have experienced conversion rates at 20%–30%. Add the ability to integrate online chat capabilities, and we've seen even higher conversions; and, more important, we have enhanced the overall experience in real time.

None of that could have happened if our marketers weren't comfortable testing, measuring, changing, and justifying marketing activities.

Let analytics decide the best approach.

6. Cement partnerships

Marketing leaders should focus on forging especially strong partnerships with Sales, IT, and Finance. Those relationships must be established on the basis of clear alignment, mutual respect, and trust, and they must be maintained via collaboration, joint objectives, and effective communication.

In short, you need to shift from thinking of other departments as "internal customers" to thinking of them as your partners.

Your relationship with Sales will benefit from your analytical approach. Analytics allows marketers to show how our activities deliver strong leads that convert into sales and turn pipelines into revenue. Providing sales with such intelligence builds Marketing's credibility and inspires confidence and trust.

IT has undergone its own evolution; and, like marketing, it has had to focus on delivering value to the organization. Working together, IT and Marketing have a lot of influence. Creating an analytical culture within marketing is dependent on IT infrastructure and expertise. IT needs marketing to advocate for the value that IT provides. Together, there is power.

Finance and Marketing also have a close connection—sometimes pleasant, and sometimes stressful. Just as Sales appreciates a focus on the numbers, so does Finance. So work with Finance to align metrics. If you can show that marketing activities are boosting revenue while reducing costs, Finance will love you and the relationship will flourish.

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image of Adele Sweetwood
Adele Sweetwood is vice-president of Americas marketing and support at SAS. She is responsible for directing interactive marketing plans and investments with a focus on increasing and protecting revenue.