Al Gore and Web Analytics

  |  August 14, 2007   |  Comments

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Last week, I finally watched "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's film on global warming. It's been out for awhile, and I really wished I'd seen it earlier.

The film contains an interesting Upton Sinclair quote that got my attention:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

It started me thinking about why some people aren't as willing to engage in understanding site performance and looking at how they can improve their sites and businesses. The Sinclair quote nails it. Why would people want to measure something that could show a potential weakness when they aren't told by their superiors to demonstrate success in a measurable way? Why would I want to expose a potential weakness or failure if I'm not asked by my board or managers to do so? Why not go along with the status quo until I'm asked?

If they don't truly understand the issue, these marketers can continue to get more budget for redesigns, campaigns, and the like and continue to have people working to improve things in whatever way they want. They can then define success as rolling out a new site or campaign on time and on budget, without really focusing on the impact to the business.

This is obviously a flawed approach. When a company is profitable, though, the dollars may continue to flow into projects and initiatives without set success measurements. But as executives become more educated on the proper way to spend money online or as the company doesn't perform as well, the questions will come.

I've seen this happen to a number of people in different companies. Trust me, you're much better off proactively going to your management team than getting caught holding the empty cookie jar when the questions start cropping up.

In a way, it really isn't the fault of those who ignore their initiatives' performance; it's the fault of executives who don't require accountability. Why would employees want to take time to understand analytics when they don't need to and aren't encouraged to in any way? There may even be a personal disincentive for them to understand it, even though understanding different campaigns' success is best for the company in the long run.

This issue doesn't just hold true for individual companies. It's an issue in advertising, and between interactive agencies and their clients. Too often, agencies are afraid to expose failures to clients. Over the past few years, we've helped a number of clients introduce a culture of helping people fail faster. I know that sounds weird, but think about it.

To allow initiatives to fail, we must define what success and failure look like for any given Web initiative. Too often, this isn't done. Of 10 company initiatives, probably five are successful and five aren't. The problem is no one knows which initiative falls into which camp. They launch them on time and on budget and claim a success by doing so. If they'd defined success based on performance, they could then tackle the five that didn't work and make them successful on a second pass.

Failing faster also allows people to take more chances, which leads to better outcomes. By trying things out of their comfort zones, they will surely have some strikeouts, but they will also have some homeruns. I'm not saying you want to strive to fail and not fix it, but you should identify failures and fix them.

What it all comes down to is creating a culture where people are accountable in a measurable way and where they aren't afraid to try knew things, to push the envelope, to do things that may initially fail but ultimately lead to better overall business performance.

I leave you with two tasks:

  • Think about how you can make people more accountable within your organization, encourage them to fail faster, and reward them for understanding and driving toward success.

  • If you haven't seen "An Inconvenient Truth," check it out!

    Jason Burby

    As President of the Americas at POSSIBLE, Jason is responsible for leading the long-term stability and growth of the region. With more than 20 years experience in digital strategy, he is a long-time advocate of using data to inform digital strategies to help clients attract, convert, and retain customers. Jason supports POSSIBLE's clients and employees in driving new engagements and delivering great work that works. He is the co-author of Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions.

    Follow him on Twitter @JasonBurby.

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