People are often grouped into two types--numbers and words. But the reality is that while people may have preferences, we need both to do our jobs well. This is especially true if you are a digital marketing manager. Your job requires you to be comfortable in both worlds. Unfortunately, many marketing managers are spending more time gathering data than using words to turn it into actionable insights.

This is not just opinion. According to a recent report from the industry analyst firm Gartner, marketing managers are facing several key risks this year. If you work in digital marketing, you should pay attention to one in particular--poor analytical insights.

The report revealed nearly half of marketing leaders said more time is spent preparing data to be analyzed rather than actually analyzing the data. Even worse, 60 percent of CMOs will slash their marketing analytics departments by 50 percent in the next few years because of a failure to realize promised improvements.

Yikes. If you are a digital marketing manager, those statistics should make you cringe. Or at least make you pause if it sounds familiar. Perhaps the problem is that your data is not centralized--you have to log in to several different tools to get what you need. By the time you collect everything, all those numbers can feel like a jumbled mess.

If it feels like you are spending a lot of time pulling data without getting to real insights, you may wonder if your work is really making a difference. But you do not need to wait in wonder. You can take steps to ensure your work is helping to drive the growth of the business--yes, even if it feels like there is not enough time in the day to properly dive into the numbers.

Here is how to effectively analyze and communicate your marketing data:

Understand the question

You need to start here. You cannot possibly uncover meaningful insights without knowing why you are searching in the first place. To get started, you need to deeply consider the following: What question am I trying to answer? Maybe the question is why churn is high or how the last program or campaign performed. Understanding this gives you the foundational context you need to recognize the patterns you see in the data and how they impact the business.

Think of your internal audience

Remember why you are doing this work in the first place--to help people make informed decisions. So, consider the audience who will be consuming your analysis. As you sort through the data, consider what information will be most useful based on the work they do. If you are unsure, ask. Clarify what kinds of decisions they need to make and how your results will fit in.

Look for patterns

With so much data available, you need to have an organized system in place. One way to start is sorting by categories based on the goals you identified. Then, look for similarities within those categories. This requires curiosity and flexibility because you need to keep iterating. This is because you cannot be satisfied with the first answer. Be dubious of your own bias and take note of everything you find until a true pattern emerges.

Tell a story

Turn those patterns into a story. What is the overarching theme you are seeing? Is there anything that seems surprising or new? If you already know what you want to communicate, it might help to start crafting the core concepts and inserting the numbers. Maybe it is something like, "We have 20,000 more users than we did last year, with 60 percent of them reaching us through display ads." Focus on the key plot points. To avoid distractions, put anything that falls under the nice-to-know category into an addendum.

Make it visual

It is one thing to read "60 percent" in words, but it is another to see that 60 percent take up the majority of a pie chart--especially if your analysis is communicated in a presentation. Consider how you can best visualize your data for the team. It could be as simple as a bar chart or pivot report, or you might want to ask a designer to help you create something more polished.

Ask for feedback

There is one important thing you need to do after you share the data--follow up. Was it helpful to the team? Will it help inform the decisions they are making? If not, what would they like to see more or less of? It's important to keep digging until you get answers to these questions. Otherwise, you will continue to wonder if all the work you are doing really matters.  

In today's digital-first world, we are all looking into an endless pool of data. But I do not think we need more time to sift through it all--I think we need more focus.

Zero in on the metrics that will make the greatest impact for your team. Bring them together in one cohesive, visual story. And always follow up to make sure that the time you spend mining raw data for real insights truly is making a difference.

How do you share data insights with your team?

Published on: Mar 22, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.