Data drives everything we do now. It's more than a reasonable expectation that everything we use from companies -- software, tools, platforms -- is more of a data play than a focus on the actual product or service itself. This is why it's so important to follow trends in analytics and anticipate where they'll lead your business.

Once used for assessing and reporting success levels, data is now used to drive customer experience and the majority of any organization's decision-making. As a marketer, it makes less sense to operate like Don Draper, "feeling" your way through developing ads. Smart marketers are letting data -- people's actual actions and insights -- lead their decisions.

This isn't an absolute, of course. You won't -- and shouldn't -- blindly follow data. But the more data you collect, the clearer the picture will be. It's like the Magic Eye poster you had as a kid: With enough data, you can easily see the sailboat hidden within the bigger picture.

As big organizations get smarter about data, the most important thing entrepreneurs will have to do -- as always -- is find efficiencies in order to compete at scale with large corporations.

The Inverted Retail Experience

If you've used Instagram, you've likely noticed an uptick in items being sold on the platform. Almost one out of every four things you see is an offer (hopefully) tailored to you. With the announcement this week that Instagram is adding a checkout function, it's a complete marketing and e-commerce game changer.

Small brands have been able to use data and analytics to compete with top retail brands by inverting the shopping experience. Rather than go out to physically browse and shop goods in stores, people are prompted to shop when they're most relaxed and willing to take a look.

It's fundamentally changing our perspective and expectations regarding time. We've heard for years that physical retail stores in trouble, but that has less to do with the experience they create and more to do with data. We're a culture of people who now want food delivered within minutes or accessible scooters we can quickly discard at a moment's notice.

The retail of the future isn't going to be based on an economy of scale, large inventory, cheap prices or big brands. It will be based on data, personalization and being able to attract the right person to click on your item at the right time.

With a checkout button now available on Instagram, the platform has reduced the greatest barrier for retail startups. Until now, they had to direct users to a website -- one that probably looked inferior to major brands' sites, possibly deterring shoppers who may not trust that experience.

With a checkout button, shoppers don't have to leave the app or participate in a secondary experience -- the smaller brand gets to share the experience created by Instagram. This has further leveled the playing field. The truth is that you can now create a retail brand with two things: great design and great analytics.

The Trend Toward Creative and Data

As these two disciplines merge in the retail sector, companies develop different data needs. I anticipate that businesses are going to pinpoint opportunities to streamline processes, just like Instagram has with its checkout button. And the most successful will weave analytics into their work.

One example is Adobe; the brand has taken a different approach than many others in the analytics field, including Google. Most small and large organizations use Adobe products, such as Photoshop or Illustrator, to fulfill their daily marketing tasks. Combining that with analytics creates an efficiency that's hard to ignore.

As we move forward and become more progressive in our data and analytics approach, the industry will de-emphasize areas like SEO and CRM, currently big business drivers. And that's simply due to a change in opportunities: Three years ago, selling something on Instagram wasn't an option.

Now, small businesses will be capable of establishing retail shops that rival big brands' efforts. With a strong knowledge of Photoshop and the right consumer data, for example, big and small companies will have access to the exact same resources. What they do with that data, however, will make all the difference.  

That's why keeping up on data -- where it comes from, where it goes, what it signifies -- is so important. If you've been following along thus far, you've already shifted from using data to create campaigns to using data to target and create prompts for purchase.

The future of analytics isn't in monitoring; it's creating actions. To survive, you'll need to use your skills to get people to take action.