For better or worse, the 2012 U.S. election is in the books. Whether you favored one candidate or were simply an interested observer, the one sure thing is that you weren’t certain of the outcome until the actual returns rolled in.

The predictions were all over the board. Mitt Romney supporters, including such luminaries as Karl Rove, cited reputable pollsters who predicted his victory – some going so far as to forecast a landslide. Obama supporters, likewise. And we’re not talking in-house Republican or Democratic polling.

As Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard told the National Business Aviation Association convention last week: “Someone’s really going to lose their reputation.”

Indeed. Wednesday morning, Republican prognosticators were admitting that they had relied on overly optimistic assessments or mistakenly discounted information that ran counter to their hopes.

U.S. presidential political prognostication has become relentlessly more sophisticated – and small wonder. It was widely reported that spending topped $6 billion this election cycle. That’s a lot of incentive to find out exactly where things stand, and to get it right. You can be certain that Republican pollsters will be evaluating and revising their methods.

Still, despite increasing analytical refinement and the investment of billions to influence the outcome, the election remained in doubt until the votes were counted.

The Takeaway for Marketers

There’s an important lesson here for marketers. Yes, you need to harness the most sophisticated analytics you can afford.

Yes, you need to pay frequent and consistent attention to them and heed what clear guidance they provide. If either candidate had taken the position that, because election predictions were in doubt, they needn’t pay attention to their surveys or analysis, that candidate most assuredly would have lost.

We rely heavily on numbers and analytics to help our aviation clients target their markets, refine their messages and positioning and assess the effectiveness of everything from websites to email campaigns to advertising.

You can’t afford not to use Google analytics and other more powerful tools to ensure that your digital presence is doing what you need it to do. A simple tool such as SurveyMonkey – used correctly – helps you understand yourself and your customers better. A-B testing helps you sharpen your email campaigns. And for larger, thornier questions, scientific polls are really the only way to pierce the veils of assumption, preconception and bias.

No matter what you do, and how meticulous you are, some uncertainty will remain. Just ask the Romney camp. That uncertainty makes it clear that you can’t become a slave to your numbers. Let numbers help point the way. Inform your decisions. Don’t let them dictate what you stand for, but do let them help determine which channels and messages best resonate with your target market. You know your business.

You know your customers. Analytics can confirm what you know, and sometimes dispel incorrect assumptions. Where the numbers end, let your knowledge, experience and instinct bring it on home – into the winner’s circle.

*This article originally appeared in the November 8 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.