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As marketers, we are surrounded by data. We rely on multiple third-party reporting solutions as well as internal databases to measure our marketing efforts, and the number of data sources seem to be increasing every year. We now pull data from affiliate networks, paid search tools, analytics, ad servers, attribution solutions, and tag managers to get information. All this information sounds great, right? Unfortunately, data is your frenemy – sometimes it works for you and sometimes it works against you.

I talk to a lot of marketers and hear the same issues when it comes to getting the data they need to do their jobs: the data is not accurate, the systems are hard to use, keeping up with the data takes too much time and resources, and the data is missing key metrics. The biggest frustration is that these marketing teams are often measured by data that does not accurately reflect their efforts.

Most marketers rely on disparate reporting systems for their data. I have heard stories of discrepancies between multiple sources of data that vary by as much as 30% for the same information. If there are three sources for the “same” data and each varies by 10%-15%, which one do you use?

Another big issue facing marketers is the ease of data access. The harder the data is to get and analyze, the less likely you are to use it. Many systems are not user-friendly or built for speed, requiring time and energy to pull relevant information.

So what’s a marketer to do to make data more friend than enemy?

First, forget about what you currently have and start from scratch by determining the data you need to do your job. In an ideal world, what would your perfect reporting suite look like? What reports do you need daily, weekly, monthly? What data do you need to analyse? Do you need to review traffic and conversions for potential fraud? Are there specific internal metrics and goals that you are being measured on? Once you’ve mapped out your data needs, you now need to figure out where you can find this data and preferably how to automate the delivery of it. If there is more than one source for the data you need, determine which one is the most accurate source. The best way to figure this out is by running a small data set from at least three sources and comparing them to see where they differ and which seems more realistic.

Your business must do more than simply collect arbitrary, siloed data points and attempt to make sense of fractured intelligence. Avoid manually downloading data reports from different sources. Processing the data and presenting it in a meaningful way requires highly sophisticated “Big Data” technology and analytics tools. Consider investing in a solution that aggregates all of your data into one system so that you can track across channels in realtime. Only then can you make data your new BFF.

Todd Crawford is the co-founder and VP Strategic Initiatives at Impact Radius, a global SaaS marketing solutions company.

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