The amount of data that can be tracked online is overwhelming.

If we focus purely on rich-media display advertising, there are a slew of metrics you can track. These include video play times, interaction rates, tab clicks, scrolls, hovers, and the list goes on.

Assuming that your sources of data are accurate, the amount of data isn't an issue.

The issue is 1) deriving insights from an overwhelming amount of information and 2) deciding how to apply those insights to your business right now.

Why are these issues important to consider?

As a brand manager, you probably have a packed schedule. You're the hub of the wheel. One minute, you're approving creative from the graphic designers, and the next, you're forecasting sales numbers or determining the ideal dates for a product promotion.

All of these tasks are urgent and necessary to keep your brand on track to meet both short and long term goals for your category.

With display advertising as just one part of your responsibilities, where do you start analyzing all the data at your fingertips? How do you figure out how to get the most ROI out of your investment in online advertising?

There are two approaches that can shape your understanding of your ad campaign performance:

1. Start with a specific question and use the data to answer it.

The benefit of this approach is that you're focused. You have a question that you know helps to make a decion at hand, and you'll know when you find a satisfactory answer. It could be in the form of one metric or a few that piece together to form a story. When you narrow down what you're looking for, you don't get distracted measuring something just because it's measurable.

The downside is that because you have tunnel vision, you might not be as open to exploration that could provide unexpected insights about consumer behavior.

2. Start without an agenda — survey the data to see what seems out of the ordinary.

By taking a bird's eye view of campaign metrics, you get something very valuable: context.

Since metrics don't occur in a vacuum, your broad view provides information that helps to anchor your thinking and judgment.

Is a 2% increase in engagement rate disappointing or spectacular? You don't know unless you know what the baseline is, what your static ads achieved, what prior rich media ads achieved, etc. When you survey the metrics without a specific agenda in mind, you get a sense of what the highs, mids, and lows are for each metric.

You notice variances — peaks and valleys — that help you develop questions that lead you to a fuller understanding of what your customer is trying to tell you via their interaction with your ads.

Did they like the new video you added? How much more did they like it compared to old videos? Your data will tell you this, especially if you see a spike in engagement rate for a specific video versus all others.

The disadvantage with this method is that insights are interesting, but they don't move the needle — unless an actionable recommendation comes into play.

So you must have the discipline to ask yourself whether that metric actually helps you make a decision. If not, move on.

Which method is better?

That's a trick question, because the answer is neither. The key is to start with one, and alternate back and forth between the approaches.

To truly see both the forest and the trees, you need to keep an open mind to noticing insights, while seeking answers to important questions you have when starting out. This is the way to achieve an accurate understanding of your ad campaign performance.

It takes practice and a little bit of time to get used to, but the result is unparalleled access into the minds of your customers. They're telling you what they think and what they care about in the form of metrics. It's up to you to uncover what they want and how to give it to them.