As all our lives become more intertwined with digital devices (entertainment, shopping, information searches, social, etc.), we find that we are leaving more and more digital paper trails recording where we’ve been and what we were seeking online. While the privacy concerns are real (and constantly changing how we as marketers can operate in this space), the opportunity to better understand our target audience and bring them digital content that they value is unmatched. For digital marketers, this is the new golden age of marketing, a time when we can measure the effectiveness of our messaging to our audience in real time where we can track who is interested in the products or services we offer and be available to answer their questions and meet their needs faster than ever before.

Analyzing the behaviors and intent of our prospects and customers has never been easier—once you know how to read the digital paper trails they leave behind.

What Is Marketing Analytics?

To understand what amazing measurement and planning tools we modern marketers have at our disposal, we should take a glance in the rearview mirror—just for a second. We don’t want to take our eyes off the future for too long. In the days before digital media when mass media consisted of television, radio, and outdoor and print advertising, the measurement tools available to us were extremely limited. In those days, mass media was a one-way street. Messages were created and published or broadcast to thousands, tens of thousands, or many millions of people. But there was no feedback loop or measurement device to allow us to see who actually read or watched the advertisement we had paid for, much less who was interested in learning more (heavens no, that didn’t exist).

Image by Mark Neal via Unsplash.

In those days, we relied on circulation numbers, readership surveys, Nielsen reports (for TV viewing), and Arbitron information (for radio estimates) to make educated guesses on audience size and composition for all of our marketing efforts. Today, with IP address technology allowing us to pinpoint who is receiving our messages down to the device, we have left the era of estimates and entered the world of digital analytics.

Marketing analytics refers to the analysis of audience and content viewership and engagement data that comes through a variety of digital marketing tools. Most modern digital marketing platforms—such as web browsers, social media accounts, customer relationship management systems, and other web-based content—contain built-in marketing analysis tools that allow the publishers or advertisers on those platforms to measure a multitude of valuable attributes about the audience, the content being viewed, and the interactions or engagement between audience and content. All in virtually real-time.

Even back in the dark ages of marketing information, we used marketing data to help us plan and execute marketing campaigns that were both more effective and more efficient than the previous campaign. Yet, back then, those data were much less precise (crude estimates really), took weeks or sometimes months to gather and interpret, and were incredibly expensive to produce. Today’s built-in and third-party marketing analytics are superior in every way; they are faster, cheaper, and much more accurate. The challenge is learning how to use these powerful tools and not letting the abundance of data (oh so much data) lull us into a false sense of knowledge or wisdom.