Web Analytics Lessons From Arthur Nielsen


My last column discussed some key themes on Eric Peterson’s Web analytics forum recently: setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and the challenge of reporting Web data for or to business users in a meaningful way. The two are related subjects because once you focus on what’s important, it theoretically becomes easier to report the data in a way that makes sense to its end consumers.

Today, let’s take a look at how you can engage a business with Web-based data.

This isn’t a new problem. It’s not a product of the information age or of the development of the Web channel. Ever since Arthur C. Nielsen invented modern marketing measurement in the 1920s when he developed the concept of the retail audit, people who work in marketing data production have struggled with how to get end users to understand, engage with, and act on the data.

Nielsen set up a business that continuously measured grocery sales of consumer packaged goods and sold the data as reports to supermarket brands. Initially, manufacturers were very enthusiastic about having data that showed for the first time what they were actually selling through stores and how that compared to their competitors.

After a while, however, the manufacturers started to cancel their contracts with AC Nielsen. When one of his biggest clients said they planned to cancel, Nielsen asked why. They responded that although they found the data interesting, they didn’t really know what to do with it. As a result, it wasn’t bringing enough value.

Sound familiar?

The story goes that Nielsen persuaded the client to let him demonstrate how they could use the information. If he could prove its value, they’d continue with the contract. He worked through the night, charting the data and creating trend analysis that allowed the client to see the cause and effect of their marketing activity. He was able to demonstrate the relationships between their actions and what was important to them: sales. They remained a client for decades.

The basic tenet remains the same. If you can demonstrate cause and effect so your clients understand it, they’ll see the value and continue to invest time, interest, and money.

What do you do and how do you do it?

I can’t pretend to have all the answers, and everyone has his own style and approach. But here are some thoughts and tips primarily aimed at a Web analyst trying to get share of mind and attention within their organization:

  • Understand what keeps people up at night. Make sure you’re clear about what the main issues are. This relates back to ensuring there are clear, agreed-upon KPIs in place.
  • If they won’t come to you, go to them. Instead of waiting to be asked to examine some issue, do some discovery work and take the issue to decision-makers. Create the opportunity to demonstrate value. Find something that’s really useful and they can respond to quickly.
  • Don’t get hung up on technology. Most people aren’t interested in the details of the data, just so long as you believe it’s credible and they believe you’re credible.
  • Don’t rely on technology to do the job for you. Most Web analytics products have dashboards and so on. Their job is only to report data; they don’t interpret it.
  • Add value. Busy “C-type” people say they need the facts. What they mean is they need the analysis and interpretation of the facts. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily.

Take a leaf from Nielsen’s book. Create a deliverable that’s distinctly yours, not the product of a technology. Discover and interpret relationships between different types of data. Add value by adding insight. Present that insight in a way that makes it easy to consume (face to face is best). Work through the night, if that’s what it takes.


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