As shiny, pretty, kind of useless objects go, real-time analytics is very shiny, impressively pretty – and often quite useless. As computer processing power has become cheaper, many of the top web analytics platforms have added capabilities that provide you with a livestream of data with delays of mere seconds. (IndexTools had something similar in 2005, of course, but one tries not to dwell on all of the features IndexTools had a decade before anyone else.)
While the engineering behind real-time data is truly impressive, after the initial wow factor, many marketers find themselves struggling to explain exactly how they’re going to use this to improve their business. After all, how quickly can you really react? Most organizations I’ve seen have trouble incorporating insights from last month’s data, much less from data that’s five minutes old!
That said, I have seen a few organizations that have used real-time data in neat ways. Here are five that impressed me:
1. Service Outages
One national provider of cable and Internet service monitors how many people visit specific troubleshooting pages on its site, and has set alerts to know when and where this starts spiking. Is a web analytics platform the best tool to monitor your network? Probably not, but you work with the tools you have.
2. Daily Revenue Targets
An online retailer sets daily sales and revenue targets, and uses real-time data to make decisions about how aggressively they will provide discounts in their email blasts a few times each day. I find this really impressive, though a coworker of mine has suggested that attentive customers might catch on to this strategy and hold out for the best discounts before buying anything. Clearly, she is a far more sophisticated bargain hunter than I am.
3. To The Front Page!
The one place where real-time data is a no-brainer is in online publishing. With limited screen real estate on your key entry pages, knowing which content is being read, shared, and discussed right this minute makes it a lot easier to make those editorial decisions about what headlines should go where.
4. Cart Abandonment
Remarketing campaigns targeted to visitors who added products to their shopping carts but didn’t buy anything have proven to be extremely effective. Real-time analytical data has the potential to vastly shorten the time it takes for you to react, though every brand has to find its own balance between being responsive and being creepy.
5. Error Monitoring
Yeah, everybody has thought of this one already, but you can do it. Actually, you should do this. Please. Don’t be that guy who calls to say that your tracking has been down for six months – which you only just noticed – and it’s extremely urgent that you get help to fix it right away.
Now, some of you may be thinking about these use cases and wondering whether getting this data firehose is actually useful for human consumption, or whether it might make more sense if it was directly feeding some kind of automated response system. For instance, does a human being really need to be involved in the process for cart abandonment remarketing? Shouldn’t any best-in-class content publisher already have algorithms and software that optimizes their front page? Are you telling me the cable company doesn’t know my Internet is out until I complain about it on their forum?!
And mostly, I agree! The truth is, I have only found one unfailingly useful application for real-time analytical data that is intended for human consumption. And that is to excite and distract marketing executives during otherwise-boring meetings.
So if you’ve found any other ways to harness the firehose, let us know in the comments. And in the meantime, look, you just got a visitor from Antarctica! How crazy is that?
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