Hello, I Am Analytics. And That's Not

  |  April 22, 2013   |  Comments

It's time for some clarity about what we really mean when we talk about analytics.

The other day it was rainier and colder than it should be in mid-April and I pointed my remote at Netflix and found a media relic from the Pre-Cambrian age of television. It happened to be season one of "Saturday Night Live." It was like stepping back in time - to a place where John Belushi was alive and Chevy Chase was really, really cool.

For those who've never seen these video relics, here is the reference: Mr. Chase was so very cool and confident then that he said to the television audience: "Good evening. I'm Chevy Chase. And you're not." He's been eating dinner on that line for about 40 years now.

Closer to our present, it's important to note that, in an environment characterized by competing visions of digital marketing, some of the lines have become blurred. And because of this, clear expectations about analytics have become somewhat elusive for some marketers.

It's time for some clarity about what we really mean when we talk about analytics.

So: I Am Analytics. And That's Not.

I am analytics. I am data collection and reports. I am trend lines. I am historical. I am based either on standard reports or configured reports. I need to be planned in advance and properly tagged and collected. My data is displayed in dashboards. If you are planning on using me to make decisions about the value of your content, you need to perform the following:

  • Understand how to work your way through my interface.
  • Accept "reporting" as my output.
  • Be prepared to interpret the data you see.
  • Remember I am a tracking tool only.
  • Provide data and leave the process of change to real people.

I am analytics. And here is what I am not:

  • I am not an automatic insight engine - I need people to do that, using data I provide.
  • I cannot tell what your business is attempting to accomplish. You need to know this on your own.
  • I cannot change your content. Only you can change your content (after you decide which content worked better based on my reporting).
  • I am not about "asking questions on the fly." That's not analytics. That's "business intelligence."
  • I do not provide answers to business questions all by myself. I can only supply data on user activity. A real person in the physical world may need to interpret my data and create natural language analysis (and presentations) such that my data makes sense for the business.
  • I am not a process. Process is an important part of the marketer's optimization exercise, but I do not embody a process.
  • I am not related to artificial intelligence. AI may one day mature and become marketable as a business service - pulling together massive amounts of data, interpreting, making decisions, creating changes in content without much human involvement. But it's not here yet. And it isn't "analytics" as we know it today.

Allow me to interrupt.

A pattern has emerged.

Analytics is reporting. Reporting gets the business about halfway toward optimization and is indispensable. It's currently based on a fairly wide range of tools in the marketplace. But expert humans are needed to make use of the data provided by analytics.

We keep coming back to people: us. We keep coming back to ourselves; and what we need to do for our businesses. Analytics tools are powerful. But putting hype aside, they are really just data collection and display engines. People have to bridge the gap between what analytics is; and what it is not.

Analytics image on home page via Shutterstock.



Andrew Edwards

Andrew V. Edwards is a digital marketing executive with 20 years of experience serving large organizations, and has been an operating executive and digital marketing consultant since the 1980s. 

In 2004 Edwards 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.

Besides writing a regular column about analytics for ClickZ, Andrew wrote the groundbreaking Dawn of Convergence Analytics report, and authored the book, Digital is Destroying Everything, in 2015.

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