As a planner, data has always been the bread and butter of my professional career. Since the rise of planning teams in advertising agencies during the 70s, it has been our job to really get to know the consumers we are looking to reach, to get under their skin and understand what makes them tick.

We focus on collecting as much useful data as possible that can then be used alongside considered insight and observation to create more targeted campaigns that hit the nail on the head.

Digital marketing makes the collection of data a lot easier and, with the growth of techniques such as retargeting and personalisation, there has never been a time when we, as marketers, have more data at our disposal and more ways to use it effectively.

But with so much data out there, it is easy to become lazy or complacent. Information overload is a growing problem on the web with consumers often finding it harder and harder to keep their heads above the constant barrage of online noise.

For brands therefore, the challenge is to cut above this and create campaigns that truly engage and inspire, without dictating what the consumer must do. And data has a key role to play. Here’s how:

1. Identify common behaviour

Knowing how consumers behave online is one of the key ways to understand how to build campaigns that will gain traction.

This can be at a macro level (such as identifying which sites are most popular with certain demographics) but also in relation to less strategic concerns (for example, how long will the average consumer spend watching a video).

This will not only allow you to target the right channels, but will allow you to work with creative and technical teams to develop campaigns that get results.

2. Improve relevancy

Following on from this, it’s now possible to use data to ensure campaigns are relevant to the audiences you are looking to target. Data can help you identify topics and themes that are popular – what the audience wants to hear – and use this to inform your strategy and your campaign.

3. Be flexible

Data can help you to be more flexible in the way you communicate online and can help your digital campaigns become more agile.

Once a campaign is up and running, you can collect real-time data to see how it is progressing and use this to make changes and tweaks as it continues. This is a luxury that just wasn’t possible in the days of print or TV advertising.

4. Not all audiences are created equal

Now more than ever we are seeing increasing diversity across all online channels. Broad-brush assumptions and sweeping statements no longer hold sway.

Brands and agencies that realise this will be able to create highly personalised campaigns that make audiences feel valued like never before and get results.

5. Be social

Social media has transformed the way we plan campaigns. Social networks are increasingly opening up to let marketers have more and more insights into how users behave, their preferences, likes and dislikes.

Ultimately, the social media space is where the consumer is most likely to be open to hearing from brands that they will identify with.

But brands need to use this opportunity in a respectful way. A new two-way marketing approach, which focuses on engagement, is the only way forward.

By considerately using the data at your disposal, you can develop a real understanding of the culture of your audience and be part of it rather than trying to lead the conversation or push or force marketing messages at them.

Being social these days really means being shareable: delivering content that the audience wants to hear and wants to share with their network. This enhances your reach dramatically and also delivers to the contemporary behaviour traits of your audience who share a plethora of content from a wealth of sources daily.

Your brand needs to be part of that and now, it can.

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