What's Wrong With 'The Hobbit' (and Maybe Your Analytics)

  |  January 14, 2013   |  Comments

What the bloated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel can teach you about trimming down your analytics efforts.

I loved J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." All three of them - the books and the movies. I thought the movies were even better than the books. And the trilogy itself was a better read than its precursor, the single-volume "The Hobbit." However, I found "The Hobbit" movie considerably worse than the book.

And that's after seeing it twice (both times in 2D, so this won't be about 40 FPS or 3D or any technical aspects). Because the first time I saw it, I felt I must have missed something. "How could it be this pointless?" I thought. "Let me throw another 12 bucks at it and see if a second look improves its appeal."


In fact, I left long before they ran into old Gollum. I know you may have loved it - or may not have seen it. I could be totally wrong about it, but this is what I came away with: a sense that Mr. Jackson, surprisingly, had fundamentally missed the point.

What's this got to do with analytics? Only this: that major efforts in fail-mode have many things in common. So I will describe the ways in which Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" failed, in language digital analytics folks will find familiar.

No Key Performance Indicator

Better known as "What's the point?" OK, the dwarves wanted their gold. That's not good enough for an adventure. It isn't specific enough and isn't compelling enough (for the audience). Nor did it seem all that compelling for Bilbo himself.

When you define a key performance indicator, you are defining the single most important action you are hoping to draw out of your user. It should not be "make me successful." That isn't specific enough. You will need to dig deeper into what your actual page-by-page goals are, and determine the behavior funnels where you want to drive visitors - so that more of them come out hitting the button you want them to hit.

Full of Disconnected Episodes

What do the trolls have to do with anything? Or Radagast? Or the Pale Orc? Or the Necromancer? Or anything with anything? Maybe it will be revealed in one of the final two movies of the trilogy - but that's another problem, for if the first movie can't stand on its own as a complete tale, how will the other two? Also, it pains me to think of the rather slender virtues of the book being ballooned into a multi-year saga.

Your analytics effort should be coordinated. Too many efforts, even at the enterprise level, are start-and-stop affairs, with a rotating team of "experts" and team leaders; too often lacking an overall vision for what the effort is about. There are too many moving parts, too many cooks in the kitchen, too many goals being chased. Simplify and stick to the story. If you have defined your goal, then you can slim down the analytics effort and get insights more quickly. Never mind the pyrotechnics the vendor can perform on your behalf. One good story line is worth a thousand screaming orcs.

Too Long Getting Started

"I'm going on an adventure!" cries Bilbo, 40 minutes into the movie. It should have been the first line. We don't need to know that dwarves are boorish and polite all at once, and that they have used up a ton of resources before anyone knew what they were even trying to accomplish.

Your adventure should start right away with what tools you have now, measuring what you have now. I'm not saying don't carefully plan a major rollout. But delays are no one's friend. People lose interest; momentum flags; a long wait for results may find the audience has moved on to other things, or that you've waited so long that now you've missed yet another development cycle. So, do carefully plan. But get some effort in place now - basic, simple, straightforward - so you can benchmark. You'll be surprised at how illuminating your next set of numbers will be if you have something older to compare them against. And don't over-prepare. Remember, one of the best things about digital media is that it can be changed in a day - and so can your tagging and reporting. Go on an adventure. Today.

Too Many Monsters, Not Enough Story

Sure, "The Lord of the Rings" had plenty of them. Balrog was my favorite. But the monsters seemed woven into the movie in a way that drove the story forward. In "The Hobbit," we have mountains fighting mountains. But what for? As far as I can tell, it was mainly to deploy a shock-and-awe campaign of massive CGI weapons against the audience. And for a few moments, it worked. But I found myself feeling empty afterward. Lots of hardware, little point.

Analytics tools can be like that. They can measure just about anything these days. In fact, they can measure so much more than web activity that I've called this emerging field "convergence analytics"; and you can combine web data with social data with CRM data with call center data with…perhaps anything anybody can build a connector to. But what do you need to gain insights into your business? The tools are getting more complicated, and there are many more of them these days. Try not to get lost in an avalanche of battling mountain-monsters created by algorithms. You can still control this. By taking a paring knife to the report set, strategizing what you want to deploy, and paying attention to the key metrics that matter.

Focus on Key Actions

In "The Lord of the Rings," through all three movies, there was one key action that drove everything: getting that ring back into the fires of Mordor. In "The Hobbit" - I'm still guessing.

Analytics should be focused on the ring. Take control of the measurement of your key business drivers; focus on a clear outcome; do away with extraneous activity; slim down the team to those who can really contribute; don't get distracted by "features" in your toolkit: these are all key elements of success.

In movies and in marketing.

Gollum image on home page via justasc/Shutterstock.com.

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Andrew Edwards

Andrew is a digital marketing executive with 20 years' experience servicing the enterprise customer. Currently he is Managing Partner at Efectyv Digital, a digital marketing consulting company, and Managing Partner at Technology Leaders, a web analytics consulting firm he founded in 2002. He combines extensive technical knowledge with a broad strategic understanding of digital marketing and especially digital measurement, plus hands-on creative in the form of the written word, user-experience and traditional design.

His practice is dedicated to building customers' digital marketing success and helping them save money during the process.

He is a writer, a public speaker and a visual artist as well.

His book "Digital is Destroying Everything—and What Comes Next" will be published by Pearson in the Spring of 2014. He writes a regular column about Analytics for ClickZ, the 2013 Online Publisher of the Year. He wrote the groundbreaking "Dawn of Convergence Analytics" report which was featured at the SES show in New York, and the second report in the series will be featured at the same show in San Francisco.

In addition to speaking at SES, he has presented at eMetrics; and his session was voted one of the top ten presentations at the DMA show in Las Vegas. He is speaking again at the DMA in Chicago in the fall of 2013.

In 2004 Andrew co-founded the Digital Analytics Association and is currently a Director Emeritus. He has designed analytics training curricula for business teams and has led seminars on digital marketing subjects.

He was also an Adjunct Professor at The Pratt Institute where he taught Advanced Computer Graphics for 3 years. Andrew is also an award-winning, nationally exhibited painter.

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