Data is a vast haystack—so if you’re looking for a needle, be sure you know exactly what it looks like.

More than a century ago, the great advertising pioneer John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

That’s not true today. As a marketing executive you can track the performance of pretty much everything you do. But data alone won’t give you the information you need. You need to be able to ACTIVATE data, using it effectively and efficiently to empower marketing.

Everyone knows that we have more data at our disposal than ever before. But activating that data—actually deriving meaningful insights from it and converting them into action—is easier said than done. Focusing on the WRONG data is nearly as bad as having no data. It would be like a cuttlefish that spent its time looking at above-water rock formations that have no bearing on its ability to detect and capture under-water prey. Sadly, that seemingly nonsensical situation is a lot like what some marketing departments end up doing.

One of the most important factors for using data to empower marketing is to be able to define specifically what your goal is. When you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, it helps to know precisely what needle you’re looking for. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a lot of useless “needles” that will do you absolutely no good at all. As a marketing executive, that’s your job: to meticulously define your marketing goals so that your marketing team knows unequivocally what they are looking for.

Let’s say you’re a publisher with a popular blog. Tracking how many people read your daily blog is great, but it’s not as important as knowing how many of those readers then go to your catalog page and click “buy.” There are all kinds of tools to track just about everything—but ultimately, what you want to determine are the things you’re doing that lead to sales. Don’t let yourself get distracted by all the irrelevant information out there—those glittering “needles” that aren’t what you need.

Cuttlefish Marketers need fine-tuned monitoring tools that match up with all the factors that affect their product’s market. The necessary information needs to be carefully defined and accurately collected, and then systems have to be in place that allow the information to be applied nearly instantly to decision-making. Ultimately, data is what trigger marketing sprints, product development, and customer relationships. Activated correctly, it can turn your company into a hyper-growth business.