Field Report: Analytics & Advertisers

Last week, I attended Web Side Story’s ActiveInsights user forum hoping to gain new insight on the role Web analytics in measuring and aiding online ad campaigns, particularly from the client user perspective. The conference was kicked off by keynote speaker and fellow ClickZ columnist, Mark Kingdon, whose presentation, “Avoiding Blindspots” focused on “the era of consumer engagement.”

Much of Mark’s presentation presented a case for shifting big TV ad budgets to online marketing. Traditional television advertising, Mark says, is “lazy man’s marketing.” He describes consumers as “walking Tivos” who are bombarded with so many ad messages that they end up filtering out anything that remotely looks like an ad unless they have a predisposed interested in it. To engage the consumer, “you have to give to get,” meaning give them meaningful or entertaining content, encourage them to participate in the dialogue, or provide them with stuff they want. Consumer engagement may not even occur on your own Web site, so there’s less ability to control or measure it.

Kingdon’s agency, Organic, has created ways to track and measure these kinds of consumer experiences, in part with planning what to counts as an experience (or “event”), then using WebSideStory’s tools to collect and integrate the data into consistent, measurable means. Digitaria, another agency, does likewise, treating any forward-to-a-friend functionality as a separate HBX campaign, for example.

I was curious to hear what audience members thought about Kingdon’s perspective and ideas, so I asked a few. Opinions were all over the board. Some found the presentation was interesting and thought-provoking, others said that this was the first time they were hearing terms like consumer engagement and Web 2.0; still others, like an attendee from Fed Ex who was already familiar with social media, had a hard time envisioning how a business solutions company like theirs could make effective use of this form of marketing. Many, like someone from CarFax, said social media was on their radar but not something they’d executed.

Many brand marketers have held back from social media because they need to refine ways in which to measure those initiatives. An attendee from AIG (and others) expressed apprehension about the negative side of social media, which provides disgruntled customers an open, public forum in which to air complaints. “The Christian Science Monitor,” which tried in the past to embrace consumer generated media, decided to terminate their efforts because controlling or moderating the voices took too much time and manpower. The feeling was the positive didn’t outweigh the negative. These concerns, coupled with a lack of confidence in the ability to track social media efforts, fuels a reticence to embrace advertising in social media. Advertiser fears aren’t mollified by recent lawsuits against bloggers, either.

Another common theme among the attendees from companies like Charles Schwab or Taylor Made was that few had enough manpower dedicated to Web analytics (often departments of one) to thoroughly analyze and understand all the data at hand. Perhaps that explains why I found myself wondering about a disconnect between the client ad campaign manager and the Web analytics manager. In an ideal scenario, the two work as a team. They establish baseline traffic measurements prior to a campaign, then looking for spikes in traffic, page views, or non-directed actions as a result of that campaign. Analytics tool could also help the campaign manager better understand visitor attrition in the conversion process. I found this coordination happening less than you’d expect.

WebSideStory does have a robust tool, an Excel plug-in called ReportBuilder, that allows for easy, push-button report building and data analysis, including campaign analysis. The tool allows data crunching by campaign type, audience segments, and traffic sources, which help supplement understanding of a campaign’s performance beyond the data provided by ad serving tools. Plus, campaigns can be analyzed more easily for attrition and non-campaign actions, which can give the advertiser better overall insight on how to improve conversions by changing Web pages, on-site messages, and calls-to-action.

Web analytics is too much of an afterthought for too many big advertisers’ campaigns. Everyone would benefit if ad reports and Web analytics reports were better paired and analyzed.

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