AI is taking over, but how do you get started in the field? We spoke to Data Scientist Adam Thorsteinson to break down the most important skills you need.
Data Analytics, Your Business, and You.
We live in the age of data. We’re all familiar with stories of innovators using data to massively disrupt the traditional industries. Companies centred around Big Data have emerged as major players within the tech world. Data analysis isn’t just the realm of giants like Facebook or Google anymore, though. The amount of data everyone has access to, combined with relative speed and ease with which we can examine it has turned data analysis into a field that every business, large or small, can benefit from.
What if I don’t have any data to use?
Every company has access to some data – budget and sales data, for example. Those data sets are enough to extract some patterns and trends – which can provide insight into productive actions that any business can take. Beyond that, most companies have the ability to make small changes that give them access to even more data – things like optimizing their website for better analysis, or using the analytics tools already built into their social media presence. You don’t need complex data sets or sophisticated data-gathering tools to start using data – you probably have a lot of the basic materials already.
Okay, so I have some data. How do I make sense of it?
You mean you don’t have a large team of skilled analysts on your team? The good news is, you can get pretty far without one. If you are running a large or medium sized business, it might be worth considering hiring or contracting the services of a data analyst. Even if you’re running a small business, though – or are operating a business of one – you can do a lot of data analysis yourself. There are a large number of enterprise-level tools for running high speed data analytics that can process massive amounts of data. Many digital tools for collecting, tracking, and analyzing data are available, for free, to the public. Google Analytics is a great example – the basic tools are free, and can provide insights that can be used to dramatically improve the performance of your business website. Data is more accessible than ever, and so are the tools to make sense of that data.
What can data analysis do for me?
Effectively harnessing data can augment your competitive position relative to others in your field. Knowledge is power – your business gains the ability to make informed decisions, set realistic targets, and predict consumer behaviour. Knowing how consumers are behaving in your target market improves your ability to meet their needs.
Social media can be an especially powerful tool here – what is your target audience talking about? How do they interact with your company? Do they share or like the content that your business is posting? Coupling your social media presence with good data analysis is a way to extract more value from your online presence. Social media both expands the reach of data you can access, and makes the data collection faster. It enables your company to adjust to the market in real time based on communication between you, your customers, and the public at large.
Social media isn’t the only tool that can be turbo-charged with analytics. Email marketing is also far, far more valuable with data analytics behind it. Email is a great way to reach a lot of prospects at once, but conversion rates can be low. Data analytics makes email sent double as an information gathering tool – you can determine which subject lines get the most opens, and what kinds of messages see the highest rates of success. You can test when your audience is most likely to see and open emails, and discover which times of day or days of the week get the best results. Data analytics ensures that you aren’t just sending your messages out into the universe and hoping for the best – it gives you the information you need to continuously improve.
Analytics also help you eliminate waste. They’re great for pinpointing just who exactly your target audience is, and where to reach them. Rather than spending a ton of advertising dollars to reach a needlessly broad audience, analytics give you the ability to target your ad spending more than ever before. Informed sales pitches that are tailored to their readers improve your ability to craft high-performing marketing materials on a leaner budget.
The benefits of data analytics aren’t limited to marketing. Tracking your expenditures over time, for example, can give you insight into where your organization’s biggest expenses are, and provide clues on how to run a more efficient operation. A/B testing isn’t just a way to improve your marketing emails – it can be used to test performance for both digital and physical products. Anywhere data can be gathered, analyzed, and compared against key performance indicators, it can be used to affect change, to improve, and to disrupt.
Every business can, and should, have a plan for data analytics.
Make sure that you have processes in place to collect and track data – even if you’re not totally sure how you’re going to use it yet. Once you start using data to inform your decision-making, you might be surprised by what you find, or what information is worth tracking. Having a strong foundation to work with increases the accuracy and value of your findings. Once you’ve got data to work with (remember, things like sales reports, budgets, email responses, views, likes and shares on social media posts are all potentially useful data points) you can identify areas where you would like to gain more insight. Finally, couple your analysis with action – data analytics only becomes useful after you use it to inform your decision-making.
Be sure to take a look at our upcoming 10 week Data Analytics course and request a syllabus.