Every day, customers leave a trail of digital bread crumbs. From computers and notebooks to smartphones and in-store transactions, the information contained in available data streamlines the customer experience. It localizes and personalizes it. If your company isn’t gobbling up that trail, using it to gain market share advantage, you aren’t paying attention.

The cool thing about the whole digital marketing process is that data can be analyzed and used in ways that are helpful to both your customer and your company. It saves the customer time and money. It directs them to your product. It provides you with ways to improve branding, generate demand, and influence decisions at critical points.

Starting with something as simple as a friend’s 140-character comment, a filtered photo, a mobile ad, or a drive-by billboard, and ending with a localized offer or directions to a point of sale, the path to purchase can be complex. That’s where a bespoke analytics program, tailored to your goals, is so effective.

Many marketing departments do not understand the methodology behind applying analytics to their marketing plans. They don’t pay attention. They nudge new strategies aside with a wince of apprehension. They fear the result. They’re still rooted to print, which by the way, continues to have strong support, but only in some niche markets. If you aren’t paying attention to what your data is telling you, you’re losing an edge that someone else will use to cut into your market share.

Change can be hard. When you shine the light of analytics on the performance of your marketing plans, media buys, branding, and sales, some previously murky things become transparent. Some long-held love affairs with old ways may prove ineffective. Some strategies may hold pleasant surprises, proving much more profitable than ever imagined. You won’t know unless you pay attention. And do the math. Just to make sure you’re doing it right, ask yourself, and your peers and employees, these questions:

Are your marketing goals clearly defined? Your goals and objectives drive your media choices. If not clearly stated, you may be sending resources to the wrong channels. Misappropriated marketing dollars are painful, and anything that does not positively reinforce brand perception and brand awareness is just plain ugly. Put analytics to good use here and direct dollars to performance.

Are those choices backed up with accurate, empirically proven attribution via analytics? Analytics can help you here, but only if you are spotting the stars and ditching the dogs, based on solid metrics. Connecting the attribution dots between sales, orders, leads, and return on investment to the numbers on searches, emails, displays, PR, and even offline channels in print, radio, and TV will put marketing on a credible, accountable, solid status. Data in, analytics applied, attributable results out. No shadows. No magic. Just facts that illustrate and emphasize the importance of marketing as a profit center and sales driver.

Then, you will have everyone’s attention. Even that of your competitors.