Predicting the Unpredictable in Analytics

  |  December 23, 2008   |  Comments

Are you ready to sail your marketing boat into the storm?

Like me, you're probably wondering what 2009 will bring. At this time of year, I often wish I had the attributes of the Roman god Janus, who could look backward and forward simultaneously. It's easy to look back and review a year, but it's harder to look forward and see what might be.

This time last year I wrote in this space, "If I'm to make one more prediction for 2008, it would be that I don't think it's going to be a dull year!" Sometimes you can wish that you were less prescient! It's been anything but dull. For a lot of us, this is the first time we're experiencing anything other than relative economic stability and growth.

If you're in the forecasting business, you mostly identify patterns and extrapolate trends. When you suffer shocks to the system that radically changes the way the system works, it's hard to extrapolate any trends because the trends have been broken or disrupted.

We can only look back to the last time such events occurred (decades ago in this case) and try to get some signals from all the noise. The problem is that looking back to the last occasions when our economy went into recession isn't likely to help much.

Circumstances were very different in the late '80s and early '90s. For a start, technology didn't impact our lives in the same way and the Internet was in its infancy. Fax and telex were still the primary forms of immediate communication.

With such a difference in our technological capabilities, what can we marketers learn from previous recessionary environments? Probably not a lot.

The other difference is scale. Historically, one global economy might be in recession while others might be stable or in growth. Multinational companies could play a portfolio game, managing losses in some markets while seeing compensating growth in others. This time round, there are no safe harbors.

If there's one prediction I'd make about 2009, it's that 2009 will be unpredictable. The degree of turbulence and volatility will make it difficult to separate the signals from the noise.

One outcome is that planning horizons will get shorter, from years to months, and from months to weeks. As a result, measurement cycles will get faster. In turbulent times, people want more frequent information and better insight delivered more quickly.

Analytics and insight teams (if they still exist) will be under pressure to produce more goods in less time of a higher quality. This will inform how organizations use the human and technological resources they have at their disposal.

Whenever I write or talk about this subject, I always get the same mental image: a boat sailing in a storm.

On a calm day, you can see for miles ahead and you probably don't need to check your maps and equipment that often. You have the time to plan and plot your course, and the navigator has time for a coffee break.

In a storm, you have to be much more reactive to the circumstances you find yourself in. You can't see that far ahead, so you need to rely on your equipment to tell you where you are and what to do next. You need to quickly communicate your decisions to those around you, and the navigator is chained to the desk.

It's the same for organizations as we head into 2009. We know the storm is coming, but we may not know exactly when or where it will hit or how bad it will be. As a result, we can't predict how we may need to react.

We must get prepared. For analytics and insight teams, now is the time to make sure the technology is working properly, the data is sound, and the business processes are in place. If you're in the right kind of organization, you'll have a very busy, very challenging, but hopefully rewarding year.

I wish you all the best for 2009.

ClickZ Live Toronto On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!

ClickZ Live San Francisco Want to learn more? Join us at ClickZ Live San Francisco, Aug 10-12!
Educating marketers for over 15 years, ClickZ Live brings together industry thought leaders from the largest brands and agencies to deliver the most advanced, educational digital marketing agenda. Register today and save $500!


Neil Mason

Neil Mason is SVP, Customer Engagement at iJento. He is responsible for providing iJento clients with the most valuable customer insights and business benefits from iJento's digital and multichannel customer intelligence solutions.

Neil has been at the forefront of marketing analytics for over 25 years. Prior to joining iJento, Neil was Consultancy Director at Foviance, the UK's leading user experience and analytics consultancy, heading up the user experience design, research, and digital analytics practices. For the last 12 years Neil has worked predominantly in digital channels both as a marketer and as a consultant, combining a strong blend of commercial and technical understanding in the application of consumer insight to help major brands improve digital marketing performance. During this time he also served as a Director of the Web Analytics Association (DAA) for two years and currently serves as a Director Emeritus of the DAA. Neil is also a frequent speaker at conferences and events.

Neil's expertise ranges from advanced analytical techniques such as segmentation, predictive analytics, and modelling through to quantitative and qualitative customer research. Neil has a BA in Engineering from Cambridge University and an MBA and a postgraduate diploma in business and economic forecasting.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Analytics newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.

Paid Search in the Mobile Era

Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.




    • SEO Specialist
      SEO Specialist (HeBS Digital) - NEW YORK                             ...
    • GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator
      GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator (British Consulate-General, New York) - New YorkThe GREAT Britain Campaign is seeking an energetic and creative...
    • Paid Search Senior Account Manager
      Paid Search Senior Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring a strategic Paid Search Senior Account Manager...