5 ways to become data literate in digital marketing

Understanding the technology you’re using, beyond just clicking and scrolling, will give you a terrific advantage—and make you more than just a stagecoach on steel rails.

In the 1800s, during the early developmental stages of the steam locomotive, it was commonly believed that train cars would look like stagecoaches. At that time, who would have guessed that in 2013 the fastest high-speed trains would travel upward of 300 mph?

I think of digital marketing with a similar perspective. We are just beginning to understand its full potential. In a similar way as the early innovators of the steam locomotive made improvements through careful analysis and incremental technical revisions, innovative marketers must become technical and do the same.

Here are five practical ways marketers and PR professionals can improve their technical savvy and make smarter, data-driven decisions.

1. Improve your Excel skills

Did you know that Microsoft offers free video training on Excel on its website? Whether you need to brush up on making pivot tables or you’re just beginning to learn Excel, this is a great resource for sharpening your proficiency. In data analysis, proper formatting is crucial—and polishing your Excel skills will give you a competitive edge and save you time.

2. Learn to tell a compelling narrative

Learn to use data to tell a compelling story by weaving together facts, how they are connected, a hook, and a captivating purpose. Consider the audience you’re addressing—novice, executive, or somewhere in between? This should greatly affect the way you frame the story. Telling a compelling narrative with data is not unlike classic storytelling: write, edit, practice, perfect.

3. Learn basic coding

Kirk McDonald, president of the ad tech company PubMatic, recently said: “If you want to survive in this economy, you’d be well advised to learn how to speak computer code.” McDonald goes on to say, “Even if your dream job is in marketing or sales or another department seemingly unrelated to programming, chances are you will not get hired unless you can understand coding in at least a basic way.”

Learning to code will position you for success and enable you to communicate with developers more effectively. Even if you don’t plan on doing much of your own programming (which you probably will), this skill alone will greatly increase your value to your employer and prove you have the drive to pick-up new skills.

Here’s where to start:

Code Academy: http://www.codeacademy.com

Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org/

Team Treehouse: http://teamtreehouse.com/

4. Read developer API documentation:

What is an API? An Application Programming Interface allows for an application to extract information from a service and use that information in its own application. For example, I use an API to pull in a custom Instagram feed into my website. Custom applications of social media data and networks are becoming more and more common, but they must operate within what a given API may allow. By reading API documentation, marketers can learn what data is available for extraction and what is possible. Here are some examples of API documentations that are publically available.

Instagram: http://instagram.com/developer/endpoints/

Facebook: https://developers.facebook.com/

Twitter: https://dev.twitter.com/docs

Tumblr: http://www.tumblr.com/developers

LinkedIn: https://developer.linkedin.com/apis

5. EXTRA CREDIT: Get Your Google AdWords and Analytics certification

Thanks to Google’s most recent updates, getting certified in Google AdWords is now free. (The Google Analytics certification still costs $50.) Studying for and earning a Google certification can help you learn about AdWords and Analytics. The study guides are comprehensive, easy to follow, and cover even the most detailed topics. These Google products have become essential to our work as marketers and change constantly. Staying up to date with certifications is a great way to keep current with products.

Elise Gabriel is a Los Angeles-based digital marketing professional. She is also founding partner at KGB Relations, an agency specializing in marketing, data, and Web development. She tweets at @EliseMGabriel.

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