A recurring conundrum within the digital analytics industry is interpreting a multitude of data sources and using them to take action. Numerous books have been written on this topic, great minds have applied Boolean logic to the issue, and countless businesses have dedicated significant resources in attempts to resolve this quandary. In fact, according to the Web Analytics Association's 2011 Outlook Survey, the number one challenge last year was "Actionability of the data" (cited by 36 percent of respondents), which was followed closely by the challenge of "Business decisions driven by analytics" (cited by 35.3 percent of respondents). Yet, therein lies the problem…data itself is inert. It does not "drive itself" anywhere, nor does it take action on its own accord. Human minds must interpret, categorize, and identify opportunities for data to become actionable.
So, if you're idly sitting by waiting for your data to spring into action, I wish you good luck. But, I caution that you might be waiting for an awfully long time. However, if you are ready to apply some human brain-power and analytical process to the situation, then I humbly offer the following three steps for converting data to action:
Create corporate imperatives. Anyone working in digital measurement knows that having a clear focus on goals is really important. Yet, all too often I've found that business people merely pay lip service to setting goals and defining measurement objectives that map explicitly to those goals. Instead they operate using ambiguous goals or ill-defined ones that aren't widely recognized across their organizations. But without clearly defined goals, you simply cannot create effective measures of success. Nor can you take the necessary steps for converting data to action. So, let's assume that at least one of the following three goals is mission-critical to your organization: a) making money, b) saving money, or c) satisfying customers.
Working from these three big picture goals, you should be able to create objectives and measures of success that everyone within your organization can recognize and respond to. For example, let's say that you are tracking big initiative XYZ, which was developed by your marketing team as a campaign to acquire new customers, and you discover that this campaign is hemorrhaging cash and generating low-quality leads. Once you confirm your findings, you should run, not walk into your CMO's office and throw a red flag on the campaign to reveal its shortfalls. But don't stop there; follow up your analysis with a recommendation for improvement that actually solves the problem such as refining the campaign to target a specific segment of your audience, which will get you back on track to accomplish one of your corporate goals.
Build a sense of urgency! Depending on the culture within your organization, some companies and individuals within will treat digital analytics data as a high-priority imperative, and others will only take note when there's a fire drill or emergency going on. I equate this to taking action on your car when the check engine light pops on vs. taking action when the low fuel light illuminates. The mechanically inclined will likely take steps to identify the root cause of the check engine light immediately. Alternatively, the vast majority will notice, but continue driving for some period of time before taking any action. The low fuel light however, is a universal key performance indicator (KPI) for drivers that indicates your situation is about to turn dire.
Strive to build metrics and KPIs that are the business equivalent to the low fuel light. For example, let's just assume that you're fielding customer inquiries and complaints across a number of channels including: web, call center, and social media. Since customer satisfaction is one of your clearly defined goals, everyone in your organization knows that resolving customer issues in a timely manner is imperative. Yet, you just discovered that the response time on social media response to consumers dipped below your acceptable two-hour threshold; and negative sentiment is building from multiple irate customers. First, confirm that these social inquiries were routed to the appropriate staff internally and that your alerting systems are working properly. If indeed they are, next identify whether or not something has gone horribly wrong that's prevented the customer response team from taking action. In either case, call attention to the breech in customer response protocol and make sure that individuals take action. As a last step, document your findings and annotate in your company-wide reporting to indicate why the threshold was violated and what remedial action the customer response team is taking to ensure that it won't happen again.
Delegate responsibilities. As we saw in the previous example, everyone within your organization has a job to do. Yet, it is critical that each knows what is expected of them and what the consequences are for failure to take action. Here, the trick is to hold specific individuals within your company accountable for taking action on key initiatives and to identify how they map back to your corporate goals. This will likely span across your organization and not be limited to your marketing group, but be careful not to position your measurement programs in such a way that they create problems for stakeholders across your business. Rather, position your programs in such a way that each area of the business has the ability to positively impact revenue, savings, and customer experiences; this helps to empower your staff.
More often than not, you will need to utilize technology to create workflow processes necessary to assign tasks to specific individuals. But this technology only functions flawlessly when analysts have defined rules and processes for escalating issues and delegating responsibilities. Further, as the mechanically inclined digital data analyst that you are, you should be evaluating all sources of digital data to establish performance benchmarks and identify standard operating procedures - which will allow you to provide information about campaign performance, while also generating insights that can support your primary corporate goals. The benefits that your organization will recognize by both understanding what you're working toward, as well as who is responsible will enable your business to take action from data.
Creating calls to action from your digital analytics data requires planning early on in the process. For each of the examples cited here, the need to plan your metrics strategically; to create thresholds of acceptable metrics; and to assign responsibilities to designated individuals requires that these issues be carefully considered before campaigns, programs, and initiatives launch. Yet, all too often in the rush to get a new idea out the door, these premeditated steps are abandoned. Don't let this happen to you. Insist on measurement as an early stage requirement for any activity and illustrate how your strategic measures of success will allow your business to convert data into actions.
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John Lovett is a veteran industry analyst and expert consultant who has spent the past decade helping organizations to measure their digital marketing activities. As a senior partner at Web Analytics Demystified, Lovett regularly consults with leading enterprises to offer strategic guidance for building innovative digital measurement programs. Lovett is also a trusted advisor to vendors within the digital measurement community. His deep industry knowledge and forward-thinking perspective help both vendors and clients alike to transcend mediocrity by changing the shape of business using strategic measurement practices.
Prior to joining Web Analytics Demystified, Lovett was a senior analyst with Forrester Research, where he was responsible for analytics and optimization technologies. Currently, Lovett is the vice president on the Board of Directors for the Web Analytics Association and has pioneered efforts like the Web Analyst's Code of Ethics with the WAA Standards Committee. He is co-founder of the Analysis Exchange program that is introducing eager students to analytics by helping non-profits with mentored analysis. Lovett is anticipating the publication of his first book, Social Media Metrics Secrets (Wiley & Sons, Summer 2011). He lives in New Hampshire with his wife, yellow lab, and three boys.
March 19, 2014