San Francisco—In early March, 2012, the venerable Web Analytics Association changed its name to the Digital Analytics Association. Announced at the San Francisco eMetrics conference by none other than analytics ubermensch Jim Sterne, the name change confirmed rumors the web is officially dead. After a period of lying in-state in Switzerland, services will take place at the old headquarters of Uunet, an ancient provider of bandwidth now remembered only by a weathered stelae in suburban northern Virginia.
If you detect liberal exaggeration above, as well as a bit of fabrication, you're right. But the kernel of the story is true. The WAA is now the DAA, and for good reason. In fact, many would say it is late in renaming - though I would quibble with that given the lightning speed of change in the digital industries.
Some may say it's not only overdue but also obvious. We're hurtling down the information superhighway at speeds equivalent to that of a Bugatti Veyron now, with air dams deployed just to keep us from flying. And yet, as we speed into the "Big Data" mountains and deploy customer-location GPS systems unheard of in a simpler day, we may have failed to notice a few placards along the way: for while the web may be "dead," we are still relying on it as the bedrock delivery mechanism for content. Therefore, those placards must be saying something like "Long live the web!"
So really, it isn't that the web is dead - it's just that we are at last admitting to some of its underlying problems, and are, in fact, beginning to leverage ourselves beyond them.
Chief among the problems inherent in the web and web-based content is that while it lords over other media in a cost-benefit analysis; and can process transactions like a cashier on Red Bull, it has a rather embarrassing lack of entertainment value, at least in the traditional sense. Of course, there are those who will submit that Facebook is the new cinema multiplex and LinkedIn is the new corporate cafeteria, and they would have a good point to make.
But they would be wide of the mark as follows: the web may not be dead, but by comparison to other media, it's deadly dull! If it hadn't been the cheapest publishing technology ever invented as well as the most measurable, it would have stayed at DARPA where it started. Only now are we enjoying bandwidth speeds and technologies such that the web now can be the home not merely of rich media but compelling media.
Compelling media? Yes! As opposed to informational, search-oriented, transactional, utilitarian media, compelling media has dominated the web to date. In fact, as compelling web (and mobile and app-based) media becomes more common, many will wonder what all the fuss had been about in the early days. They will have forgotten that it was all about availability of information and collection of usage data - but that's a different story.
Let's take a look at one dimension of compelling media and how it's starting to blossom from the fruitful earth of addressable content. One of the keynotes at eMetrics San Francisco was given by an engaging pair of digital media experts: Rand Schulman and Pelin Thorogood. Both of them have been at the cutting edge of web measurement and digital communications for years. And they contend we are now shattering the website-centric engagement paradigm in favor of a new world of "apps, sapps, and mapps."
Apps, we already know. They live on smartphones and iPads. They use addressable communication technologies but are most certainly not "web pages" - they are far more customized and unique. "Sapps" are social media apps. Companies like Kontagent and Buddy Media are building these and enable measurement of them; sapps may be embedded in websites or they may be standalone, but they are unique from web pages in some important ways. First, they can be decidedly game-like (often measured by Kontagent) - in fact, they can be games pure and simple. Second, they can be task-specific, multi-functional, and self-measuring. "Mapps" are mobile apps that, among other things, take advantage of location services to target their audience. Some of them can sense when you are getting near a store that wants to reach you, and entice you with an offer; and entice you with another offer if you've moved away from the location - much like the old billboards that used to say "You missed the Red Apple Rest Stop! Turn back at Exit 17!"
By way of example, Rand and Pelin talked about an automobile dealership that drove far better conversions by adding an "Angry Birds"-like social app on their Facebook page (which is, the last time I looked, a web page); essentially putting a compelling entertainment factor into the mix that went well beyond "pick a color." Engagement and conversion metrics soared. People enjoyed playing the game. It was fun! And it was self-measuring. How many times can you say "win" before it loses all meaning?
Zynga, they said - quoting Zynga - is an "analytics company masquerading as a game company"; and they made note of how Zynga measured how much more often FishVille players bought clear green fish as opposed to other kinds of fish; hence, by building more fish like the clear green ones, it was able to convince users to increase fish-spend with actual dollars rather than imaginary ones! Remember: compelling, self-measuring media makes the difference.
Finally, they talked about a company called Kontagent, which offers a bolt-on analytics suite for social apps and games. Their example included Gaia Online, a substantial social network, and how Gaia used Kontagent measurement technologies to understand campaign effectiveness by country and user segmentation to identify its most valuable game users: both by average revenue per month and by virality; and by using compelling game content plus measurement, it was able to drive average revenue/user from $6 to $17 per month!
At a recent OMMA conference in New York, a fellow panelist said that while analytics used to claim victory in a 5 or 10 percent increase in effectiveness, now marketers are looking for multiples rather than percentages.
With compelling self-measuring apps, sapps, and mapps, the way forward is beginning to clarify: the web is part of the delivery mechanism; while compelling content is going to drive conversions way beyond the ordinary. And self-measuring modules will prove the victor.
Andrew Edwards is CEO at Technology Leaders, a web analytics consulting company he founded in 2002, and Managing Partner at Efectyv Marketing. He is also a founding member of the Web Analytics Association.
At Technology Leaders, Andrew created the firm's web analytics practice and has been involved in rolling out this service to hundreds of different customers worldwide. Technology Leaders provides web analytics and web site user-tracking expertise to leading organizations throughout North America and the world. The firm specializes in providing both business and technical skills to serve the complex digital marketing needs of its customers.
Andrew speaks and writes regularly about the latest trends in digital marketing and web analytics. He's the creator of the "e5o" virtuous digital marketing cycle as well as the "4x5 conversion cube" that compartmentalizes the approach to conversion for different site types in different stages of the customer lifecycle.
Andrew is an award-winning, nationally exhibited painter and his work is in numerous private collections.
June 5, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT