Why the Planets Are Aligned for Analytics

As I write this, I’m on my way back to the U.K. from the eMetrics Marketing Optimization summit in San Francisco. After having watched about 15 presentations over three days, this is probably the first chance I’ve had to reflect on what I’ve seen and learned.

The first thing that struck me was the breadth of content that was covered. I went to presentations ranging from the “eMetrics Ecosystem” to usability, and from testing and experimentation to social media measurement. The second thing that stuck me was the quality of the material and the presenters. In a conference like this, it’s possible to hit a duff presentation or two, but looking back at my notes, all the sessions I attended were spot on.

One theme that came out of the conference: there’s a lot more evidence of organizations using integrated measurement strategies. Plus, more organizations are showing how they use a wide array of tools and techniques to understand the effectiveness of their digital marketing programs.

Voice of the customer methodologies, such as onsite feedback and surveys, are the norm. Most people are using testing and experimentation approaches, while the use of data mining and predictive analytical techniques is increasing. Text mining tools are being used on verbatim comments from onsite surveys to extract the core essence of what’s being said.

The stage was set on the first day with a keynote presentation from author Tom Davenport on Competing with Analytics. “The planets are aligned for analytics,” he said, meaning that all the necessary components for organizations to adopt and deploy analytical capabilities are being put in place. Those components are: data, enterprise, leadership, targets, and analysts.

“Using analysis is good, competing on analysis is better,” summed up the need to be able to move from insight to action. There’s no point knowing stuff if you don’t do anything about it. He described the five stages of an organization’s analytics capability from being “analytical impaired” at the low end of the scale to being “analytical competitors” at the other end. Organizations, such as Harrah’s and Marriott in the U.S. and Tesco in the U.K., deploy analytics as a source of competitive advantage.

Another standout presentation was from Tim Goudie, group manager, interactive marketing, at Coca-Cola. Goudie described Coke’s journey from the early implementation of its Web analytics platform through to the development of its whole measurement framework.

“Metrics are ridiculously political; there is no such thing as a neutral metric,” Goudie said. Once you begin to measure things, then you’re likely to start to change behavior.

Other sessions I attended confirmed my belief that measuring and understanding the impact of social media is still in its infancy. Metrics and measurement frameworks are still in development, debates still exist about the meanings of terms like “engagement” and so on. Fellow ClickZ columnist Jason Burby reminded us about the importance — when it comes to social media measurement — of defining what success looks like in terms of key behaviors. While the activities may be different, the underlying measurement processes are the same.

A great take out came from the presentation by eBay regarding the use of “home visits” to better understand the user experience. Executives from eBay visited users in their homes to understand the context under which the site is being used, revealing more insight into what really goes on than a standard usability test would. I’ve seen this technique employed by consumer packaged goods companies where people from the company visit consumers in their homes to see them using their products in real life. This was the first time I had heard of this approach being used by an Internet company.

Web usability expert Jacob Nielsen, though, showed what you can get out of usability testing in the laboratory. He said tests show task completion rates are going up and he emphasized the value of using testing early on in the development process. Oh and by the way, “most people tend to ignore junk on Web sites.”

So this industry is now more than just what comes out of a Web analytics tool. It’s about having a range of tools and technologies embedded within strong business processes. As Web analytics expert Avinash Kaushik told us, it’s about “multiplicity, flexibility, and agility.” The planets are indeed aligned for analytics.

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