Data drives everything. Whether it’s analysing sales figures, mapping goals to achieve the ultimate sporting performance or scrolling through recommended playlists on Spotify, it’s a big part of our everyday lives.

In fact, KPMG found that more data has been created in the last two years than in the rest of history. But data has no intrinsic value unless it’s used in the right way. As with all businesses, advertisers and marketers need to focus on using the right data for greater impact, rather than focusing on the total amount of data or storing excessive amounts and not putting it to good use.

Opening up opportunities

There’s a growing recognition within the industry that data-driven decisions deliver results – and today’s competitive companies found that out early on. Data provides a goldmine of insights waiting to be discovered, and in a competitive landscape these insights are the key to keeping that advantage. According to Experian, 90% of businesses feel they’re lacking a sophisticated approach to data management. This needs to change. Advertisers need to ensure they’re on top of the opportunities data and analytics present and ensure they’re fostering a data-first environment.

This year demand for data scientists will continue to soar, especially with 43% of companies reporting a lack of analytical skills. So too will demand for employees that can build insights out of the data. They will be fundamental to making sure the most important data is being used for maximum impact.

Developing a data habit

In order to really make the most of data, however, businesses need to make sure self-service analytics tools are in place so all line-of-business users have the ability to use data effectively. Data often conjures images of technical experts. It makes us think of professionals fluent in statistical analysis and coding. But for value to be fully achieved across all organisations/departments, data needs to become a habit and an intuitive part of business initiative. Line-of-business users need to be empowered with the right tools and training to use data so that it becomes as common a part of their daily routine software as Microsoft Office.

Whole organisations need to know which data has the ability to unlock insights to avoid sifting through reams of old, invaluable information. Opportunities arise and disappear at a fast pace, and the ability to react to them quickly is essential. Line-of-business users who spot an opportunity should be able to quickly examine the relevant data themselves to judge what the appropriate action should be. They know the critical business questions, so they need to be armed with the ability to directly ask these questions of the data. Crucially, they need to be working with only the data that matters, not information so old its relevance has passed.

High impact

2016 needs to be the year more organisations understand data isn’t truly valuable until it’s used well. Marketers and advertisers must start using data for high impact, whether that means using it to inform a decision or effect an outcome. Data loses its value when it’s too old or inaccessible; it’s not going to provide insights which aid the here and now.

The focus for 2016 must be about leveraging current, and therefore valuable, data in the right way. But it needs to keep going throughout the year and beyond to make a lasting impact. If the data’s accessible, the skill will be there, but momentum must continue. That’s where culture comes into play.

The data experts need to lead the way with data-driven decision making to ensure resources are being used for the best possible results. Findings, processes, and examples of best practices need to be shared with everyone. Ultimately, the right culture is the linchpin in building a data-led company which only uses information relevant to results. Advertisers and marketers should encourage data familiarity, fluency, and comfort from the get-go, and keep on encouraging it. Once that’s mastered, they’re set.