Today there is an enormous amount of data available to guide marketing decisions. In fact, there is so much data that it is hard to know where to start. But today’s marketplace is changing so fast that there is a huge risk in not using “big data” to your advantage.

Consider how fast consumer preferences can change. MySpace (remember them?) lost 35 percent of its users in one year and went from being a leading social platform to a dinosaur. About a year later, Pinterest gained 18 million users in one year and went from being a niche site to a vital marketing platform.

What is critical to see is that consumer preferences now change faster than your fiscal year so it is not good enough to plan in yearly cycles. You need to analyze, test, learn and evolve in much shorter durations. Here are five ways to do that.

1. Use search data from Google as a primary source of market intelligence

Every search term entered into a search engine is a digital footprint that a marketer can follow. Google offers this data through two free tools: Google Trends and Google AdWords Keyword Tool.

As a test, I used just these two tools to see what I could learn about the recent bed bug outbreak (you have heard, haven’t you?). In about an hour I learned the following:

There are 46 million monthly searches on bed bug related terms
One of the most frequent search terms is, “How do you get bed bugs?”
The problem is focused in large cities of the Midwest and Northeast, particularly Cincinnati
The problem has worsened considerably since 2010
There’s a strong need for strategies to address the problem

So if I can learn this much about bed bugs in an hour, imagine what you can learn about your product and category using the same sources!

2. Teach your team Google Analytics

Google Analytics provides detailed, valuable and free data on the performance of your website. This data should be a constant source of guidance that your team taps every week. To ensure that your team knows how to use Google Analytics, ask each of them to get trained in its use through free instruction from Google.

3. Tackle data analysis and insight mining in small bites

Gone are the days when you can rely on instinct when planning and targeting marketing campaigns. Use data. Here’s how:

The next time you plan a lead generation campaign, do a quick ROI analysis using data from Google AdWords Keyword Tool to check quantities of searches on particular keywords. Then see how much those terms cost to buy. Using the bed bug example, I know that there are 33,100 monthly searches for the term “how to eliminate bed bugs.” And I know that I can buy that search term for $2.78 per click. Using that data, combined with an estimate of conversion rate, I can quickly calculate ROI for a campaign and determine if it will succeed.

4. Ensure that the cost of deriving insight is commensurate with its value

I once worked on an advertising campaign for Ivory Soap where we spent about $150,000 on research and testing in preparation for deploying the campaign. $150,000 might sound like a lot, but it was just two percent of the $8 million media budget, and it was well worth it to ensure that the campaign worked. When your team is determining how much to spend on research and analytics, make sure that the expenditure is commensurate with the overall business value.

5. Optimize during campaigns, not after

When you turn on a digital marketing campaign, plan to check results weekly and make adjustments right away. For example, with paid search campaigns you should reallocate the budget away from low performing search terms toward high performing ones. Additionally, you can conduct multivariate testing to identify what elements of a landing page work best in driving conversions. Then, based on what you learn, you should make changes to your site immediately.

The marketing world is speeding up and so should you. But rather than feeling overwhelmed by “big data,” make it work for you. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, please join me for a free webinar that is part of the Data Informed Big Data Academy Marketing Analytics & Customer Engagement series on August 14 at 2:00 pm EST. Sign up here.