Missing Persons Alert: Analytics Superhuman

I need to file a missing persons report on the following individual, last seen in the mind’s eye of a human resources director looking to hire an “analytics person”:

Age: Youngish

Height: Able to see over the horizon

Weight: Big and brawny due to accumulated multi-disciplinary knowledge including business acumen, big data analysis, analytics tool expertise, mastery of social media (in whatever form that takes at the moment), very deep and flawless knowledge of several programming languages, ability to create beautiful presentations targeted at senior executives, possession of charming personality, and ability to answer arcane, unanswerable questions in real time

Hair: May have fallen out due to excessive brain-heat

Clothes: Stylish, and includes jetpack, night vision goggles, and multi-channel communications device

Have you seen this individual? Please contact Mr. Applet on planet Bitly as he is ready to interview this person three times without making up his mind.

OK, enough with the parody.

This is a serious problem. Companies are looking for real solutions to their challenges in web and multi-channel analytics. They are under more pressure than ever to deliver actionable insights about user behavior. In addition, they may be under pressure to “not spend money.” Hence, we encounter a case of cognitive dissonance – trying to reconcile opposites without frying the brain.

Dreaming Big: Good Luck With That

Who doesn’t sometimes dream sweetly of perfection? Any company would love to find someone who can perform every aspect of digital analytics – as suggested above. But is it realistic to imagine you’ll find a business-savvy, tech-savvy, code-monkey, social app-creating, Twitter-monitoring, KPI-developing, data-integrating message guru with the skills of a seasoned tool expert plus the polish to interact with and be relied upon by senior management in order to drive consequential marketing decisions?

Perhaps the answer is self-evident. And of course not every company is making this mistake. But there is a tendency to group what is really a panoply of skills under the single heading of “digital analytics specialist” – most often in cases where companies have only a shallow understanding of what digital analytics is about and how one can truly benefit from its bounty.

Mapping Skills to Real People

The skills needed to drive a robust analytics program are rarely if ever found in one person, and if they are, that person is probably not prone to being an employee but a highly-compensated consultant instead. And even then, they will probably have assistants to fill in the gaps.

Let’s say you were to decide you needed to fulfill all those requirements but in a more rational manner. You would want either to construct a team internally, or hire out to a consultancy that already possesses those skills and puts them on the market as a deliverable.

The skill sets would probably break down something like this:

Analyst. Based on collaboration with business stakeholders, this person will know what to report on in order to fill the business need. They will communicate this to the rest of the analytics team for deployment. Once the reports come back, they will be able to locate patterns and trends of importance for the business. They may also develop a spreadsheet to match the analytics numbers with other information in the company’s customer database. From this they’ll be able to “tell a story” of some kind to the business stakeholders that points clearly to deficiencies, action items, opportunities, and new areas of discovery. In addition, they will develop custom presentations to support their findings and communicate those to the business and/or management. This person will likely have the least technical role in the process, but the most communicative.

Tool specialist. Working with requirements developed by the analyst or the business team, this team member will use their expertise in deployment of the digital analytics tool(s); and be able to create reporting designs and data collection templates that will pull in user information to populate the reports. They should also be able to work with developers in making sure any page instrumentation (“tagging”) is done accurately, usually via an iterative quality assurance process.

Specialist in JavaScript/HTML/CSS, etc. The most technical of the group, this person, while not needing to be a full-fledged programmer, must understand all of the technologies that support websites, mobile content delivery systems, (increasingly) apps, and interactives and links (“APIs”) that tap into other systems. If reporting is basic and uncustomized, this skill set may be unnecessary. But it is rare that a robust digital analytics environment can survive without a keen ability to push the tools beyond their typical limits and to combine the abilities of tools to create multiple streams of data for the analyst.

Developer. Usually the developer is somewhere in the mix already as the “owner” of the web or mobile content itself, and is responsible for its upkeep. Often this person is not always part of the analytics team but is called upon to play a role when tagging or page instrumentation is needed. With access to the HTML or other display code, they will follow the guidance of the tool specialist and make sure the tags are put in the right place for proper data collection.

Smells Like Team Spirit

The team may include a member in possession of skills that overlap that of the next person – and there may be enough of an overlap that not every team member is needed for every situation. But the notion that all of them will reside in a single individual is a misconception and should be discouraged. The team must work well together and all may need to be available to talk at some point with the business team. An important part of digital marketing, this team cannot afford to be aloof or cloistered the way many traditional IT teams have been in the past. Instead, they are a blend of IT and marketing because their entire workload is dedicated to marketing. But even the most well-constructed team still has more arms and legs than a single human being!

Companies looking for the caped crusader of analytics, or hoping for that one mighty individual who can leap tall databases in a single bound, are probably hoping in vain. A more realistic approach – with a team-building spirit – will yield a greater result.

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