When I was in second grade, I learned how plants grow in science class, and as part of our lesson, our teacher helped us conduct an experiment. Each student was given a flower seed and a plastic bag. Some students were given all the components needed to grow a plant – water, soil and sunlight – while others were only awarded some. I was given water and soil, but no sunlight, for instance. We were then asked to form a hypothesis about how the experiment would turn out.

I decided that even though my seed was placed in the dark cubby (completely closed off from the sun) it would still grow just as tall as every other plant, because no one ever remembered to shut the cubby door, therefore exposing it to the sun at several points throughout each day. Just your average 7-year-old, throwing a little reasonable doubt into the mix.

Though I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats anxiously awaiting the results, I promise there is a connection to be made here – we’ll come back to my flower later…

Contrary to what you may think, this exsun-flower-1536088_1920.jpgperiment is not unlike the beginnings of many marketing campaigns. Most new initiatives begin with an educated guess based on data. Theoretically, the more data you have available, the more accurate your results will be.

Over the past few years, you’ve probably heard the term “big data” thrown around once or 12,000 times in marketing meetings. I know what you’re thinking. “Here we go…” And if that’s your response, then a.) We should be friends, and b.) Although I share in your distaste for overused phrases (seriously, we should talk), the hype is most certainly real with this one.

In fact, an estimated 2.2 million terabytes of new data is created every day, according to recent reports. Moreover, companies that use data analytics to drive more business decisions are five times more likely to make decisions faster than the competition, and two times more likely to experience top-quartile financial performance.

The sad truth is although many companies are making strides toward implementing data-driven campaigns into their routines (marketing, or otherwise), the vast majority are only scratching the surface – mostly because it can take a lot of time to sort through all that nonsense.

To help you keep up with the pace, I’ve put together a few tips I’ve learned over the years while helping clients drive strategy for various campaigns. Take a look:

Invest in a quality CRM: A recent Experian white paper reports that it is not uncommon for a business, even large enterprises, to have no CRM system of any kind. If you don’t currently use a CRM, toss those tired old spreadsheets out the window and start vetting some options – it’s 2016 people! Using these programs as a resource can yield huge benefits for marketers looking for more accurate targeting capabilities, and connecting that data with automation software can make your life even easier. Let the computers do the work, that’s what I always say.

Take advantage of free resources: Most marketers understand the value of using the free data provided by Google Analytics, but what about using social media or census information? The audience builders on each social networking site’s ad platform can provide excellent top-level audience information to help kick off your next campaign. American Fact Finder is another free resource available that tracks U.S. census data. You can filter by age, income, year, race and geography.

Let the numbers speak for themselves: Most analytics tools track so many different metrics it can seem impossible to sort through all the data. When you begin tracking a campaign’s results, take time to really learn the tool you’re using and its range of capabilities. Look for trends in the data and think about what those trends might mean in relation to your overarching goals. Only track what you need to know–the rest is just wasted time.

Utilize past performance: At the end of the day, past performance is the best predictor of future results. Analyze the results of similar campaigns to help guide your decision making on the next one.

So, my flower didn’t grow—sad—but for the record, I still got an A on the project. And, no, this was not one of those James Harrison situations where I was given the thanks-for-coming-out award. My teacher told me that even though my plant did not live as I predicted, my rationale for the result was plausible given the information I had at the time. And in science (and marketing, of course), finding out what doesn’t work is arguably just as important as finding out what does.

Moral of the story: investing in a new marketing idea, knowing there is a chance it will fail, can be a tough pill to swallow. But remember, doing nothing is never a solution. Test your hypothesis, and use as much data as you can gather to support your campaign.

Who knows, you might end up with a flower.