Defining A Web Analytics Strategy: A Manifesto

Published by John Lovett on December 22, 2009 All posts from John Lovett

…Strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. ~Liz Gebhardt Thinking Out Loud

I’ve been thinking a great deal about strategy lately and what it means to truly build a winning strategy for Analytics. All too often strategies take shape after a plan is already in action. We’re seeing rampant instances of this type of reactionary measurement strategy in social media today because marketers simply don’t want to get left behind in the latest digital craze. Yet, they really don’t know where to focus their strategic measurement efforts, so tactics take precedence. But even with more mature disciplines, like Web Analytics, strategies are often ill formed and don’t contain the vision necessary to carry an organization to the next level. And often times it’s not their fault – getting something done requires tactical execution – but companies and marketers in it for the long haul eventually come around to a strategic approach.

In many cases, consultants are brought in to build strategic roadmaps for measurement practices, especially in the complex realm of Web Analytics. Yet, outside experts (and internal champions) are usually at a distinct disadvantage because organizations have already embarked on a process of web data analysis and somewhere along the line, those efforts failed. New strategies must then clean up in the aftermath of failure to override distrust and misguided use of digital data. However, a well defined strategy will set you on the right track. Whether you endeavor to take this strategy on by yourself or hire an external resource to guide you through, this manifesto should help. It’s one that I adhere to and offers some guidance that should make the difference between rudderless marketing efforts and well-defined programs with quantifiable measurement success.

Strategy Credo #1: Listen to your constituents. Building a sustainable strategy of Analytics requires some serious fact-finding. To advise an organization on steps toward improvement, you must first fully understand their unique situation. For internal strategists, this means soliciting feedback from your cohorts and establishing a collaborative environment – while external consultants are required to get under the corporate covers by asking the right questions and listening carefully for ambient and recurring themes. When you stop and take the time to listen you can find out some incredibly revealing things.

Strategy Credo #2: Roll up your sleeves. … And get to work. Our tight knit cottage industry that is Web Analytics is quickly outgrowing its humble origins and becoming a marketing imperative of global proportions. Yet, amid the experts and audible voices in our space there’s some derision between those who spout analytics theory and those that actually practice analytics. To become effective at delivering a strategy for Web Analytics, one must go beyond the academic exercise of offering models that propagate general best practices to proving real value through demonstrated client success. This success comes from working with clients to understand their unique issues and customizing a solution to meet specific needs.

Strategy Credo #3: Assimilate to the culture. This one is important because culture within the organization will dictate the Web Analytics strategy. If you’re on the inside working for change, you are probably already ensconced by culture so the trick will be to separate yourself from bias and your established notions of what you see – to how things really are. For outsiders, culture is something that you can actually pick up on pretty quickly. By observing who takes over a meeting immediately upon entering the room or listening to the pleas of a frustrated analyst, you get a good sense of how things operate. Culture is definitely the most difficult thing to change at an organization, so understand it in order to work with it rather than against it.

Strategy Credo #4: Mediate judiciously. Web Analytics managers and staff can typically identify 99% of their own issues – they often just need a story and an effective communicator to incite management to change. By 1) listening to your constituents, 2) demonstrating empathy and a desire to affect change by rolling up your sleeves, and by 3) understanding the culture you are working in you’ll be in a position to shape the story. However, often times, internal employees are unsuccessful at pleading for the cause. For this reason, consultants are called in to argue precisely the same points that internal advocates have been saying for years. When this is done judiciously and with conviction the light bulb goes off and management actually begins to take action.

Strategy Credo #5: Identify creative solutions. In my experience, I’ve found that when it comes to Web Analytics it’s typical that: a) resources are limited, b) budgets are constrained and c) inflexibility exists somewhere within the system. A valuable manager or crafty consultant will assess these limitations and deliver creative solutions. This means quit complaining that you don’t have enough staff or resources for Web Analysis – nobody does! Instead determine if contractors can get you over the hump – or perhaps offshore labor can free up bandwidth – or maybe just tin cupping it around your organization to get funding for that measurement project is a viable solution. Creativity requires new thinking and developing a measurement strategy that works is predicated on fresh thinking.

Strategy Credo #6: Transcend mediocrity. I’ve been saying this one for a while, but it’s something that I strongly believe in – and it’s really hard to do. Mediocre analysts spend their days producing reports and processing data that can be (but usually isn’t) consumed and put into action by others. Too often, there’s little time for actually thinking about the data and translating what it means to take insights to action. This is essentially the equivalent of opening your mouth and letting the unfiltered drivel run out before thinking it through. It’s your Does-This-Actually-Make-Sense meter that should be pinned to the red when communicating analytics data. Climbing out from this sea of mediocre analysis requires a measurement strategy that ensures everyone is working towards the same goal and that the signposts are legible and in the same language for every traveler.

Strategy Credo #7: Actually solve the problem. Strategic Web Analytics goes beyond merely pointing out problems to actually solving them. Personally, I get immensely frustrated when efforts cease upon identifying the problem and fall short of providing tangible resolutions. This classic downfall of theory is quick to point out that your Web Analytics program blows, but beyond pointing to more technology or generalized tactics, there’s no real solution. This is a result of not actually doing the work (see #2 Roll up your sleeves) and thus not really knowing what is effective. Whether initiated from the inside or from an external consultant, a Web Analytics strategy must solve the problem and establish a working solution.

Strategy Credo #8: Establish a waterfall strategy. By this I mean strategy should flow from the headwaters of the organization and align with the corporate goals set forth by the executive team. Once your measurement team is clear and united on the goals, then identify objectives as the next tier in your waterfall that supports the corporate goals (these are your business promises). The base of your waterfall strategy consists of the tactics. Tactics are the actual campaigns and programs that emerge from your marketing machine (your creative promises). Each tier within the waterfall has specific metrics that indicate success. These metrics must be clearly defined and baked into the system at all levels to ensure proper measurement. It’s also critical to recognize that neither you nor an external consultant is likely to change your corporate goals, but you can refine the way in which you get there.

Strategy Credo #9: Ensure executable recommendations. Practice a crawl → walk → run approach to implementing a measurement strategy. This involves clearly illustrating the immensely lucrative and sexy benefits of being able to run, but knocking some reality into your key stakeholders by showing that serious work is required to get there. Successful strategies are designed in bite-sized chunks that align the components necessary to perform analysis wonders. If you try to take on too much too soon, then you’ll end up falling on your face and losing the confidence of your champions. By establishing clear expectations and milestones of accomplishment you will be on your way to executing on a measurement strategy.

Strategy Credo #10: Embrace change. Change management must be factored into any Web Analytics strategy overhaul. In most cases, refining (or defining) a strategy for marketing measurement is a monumental task. To offer an analogy, it’s like asking your grandfather to step out of his Oldsmobile so you can rip out the dashboard and replace it with an entirely new one that includes foreign instruments, dials and gauges. After you go through the painful process of getting this new system in place you need to explain to your grandfather that knowing how fast he was going using the speedometer was simply not good enough. Instead he should be focused on his fuel consumption per mile in order to conserve gas (tactic) – so that he can adhere to his fixed income budget (objective) – so that there will be some money left over when he eventually passes on (goal). Apologies for the crude analogy – but your grandfather’s Oldsmobile simply won’t cut it anymore! Your measurement strategy needs to create change – communicate the benefits – and deliver value. No one said this was easy ;-)

So there you have it. That’s my Web Analytics Strategy Manifesto. I really believe that there’s a profound difference between “people who think about Web Analytics” and “people who do Web Analytics”. This Manifesto is based on doing. I’m curious to know what you other “doers” think and how you’ve embarked on establishing a strategy for measurement in your organizations?

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  • http://www.ankitnagarsheth.com ankit nagarsheth

    Thats a gr8 post! A manifesto for 2010…

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  • http://www.site-booster.com/blog/ Rahman Mehraby

    Interesting approach to strategies on analytics!

    I specially like N0.7. Practicality is a great way of tackling whatever in your way of success. Softwares like Google Analytics are great help for those who want to begin a winning strategy on their sites.

  • http://www.overtone.com Russell Wirth

    Like this and believe it’s very much on target. Believe right place to begin is with #1: Listening.

    Brands need a comprehensive strategy for collecting the wisdom of their customer crowd. Multi-channel is key … many will provide different insight direct to brand vs. external commenting to their peers in social media. Reusing the Oldsmobile analogy, this is not your traditional periodic, batch, structured survey. Aggressive use of open ended text is best for direct feedback. Real-time categorization/reporting/alerting of changes in sentiment, key words and thematic topics (concepts like “value”, or “intent to purchase”) is where business value comes from.

    Run an on-site search at Walmart.com and see the “Did You Find What You Were Looking For?” box at the end. Walmart is collecting real-time quantitative (1-7 scale) and qualitative (open ended text). They’re able to correlate and understand WHY someone is a 2 or a 6.

    Windows 7 Is My Idea campaign is brilliant full frontal messaging. Product Management at Microsoft is advertising that they’ve given up their historical role as the brilliant genesis for the roadmap …. and instead directed their new launch and innovated based on the wisdom of their customer crowd.

    Shameless plug. My company Overtone helps major brands listen to their customers across multiple channels.

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  • http://www.unica.com Akin Arikan

    There is so much real and practical advice packed into these 10 credos. Would be very fun if you happen to have time to create some biz school style case studies to explain the recommendations further.

    Say, company X is in situation ABC. Hippo says do do do, but your manager say no no no. Meanwhile your budget for XYZ is nada nada. You are the web analyst, what do you do next?
    8-) Happy holidays
    Akin
    Unica

  • http://john.webanalyticsdemystified.com John

    Thanks for all the positive feedback!

    @Russell – Thanks for your comments. I agree that voice of the customer is a critical part of understanding customers today…so is testing. In my practice, I place tools secondary, but each of these aspects are essential to understanding today’s empowered consumer. With social it’s only going to get more complicated.

    @Akin – I appreciate your feedback. Maybe I could moonlight writing those biz school case studies! LOL But you’re right in that understanding scenario-based use of analytics helps to bring the concepts to life.

    Cheers,
    John

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  • Ned Kumar

    Hello John,
    Your post definitely has useful tips for folks in terms of approaching web analytics from a long-term perspetive; and I agree with Akin that a few scenarios would really add flavor to your points. A couple of additional comments.

    One thing we might differ on is ‘Web Analytics Strategy’(Title) vs ‘Strategic Web Analytics’(Credo #7). To me the two are not the same. The former has more to do with how you plan to unleash web analytics in your organization (resources, tools, ownership etc.), whereas the latter is more about leveraging web analytics to pursue and execute on a strategic intent (at least the way I think). I really apologize if I misunderstood your usage context.

    Totally agree with your points about listening to your constituents, understanding the culture, being creative, and execution. Btw, I should emphasize that ‘listening’ means really listening — and not just translating the words :-) . Just because you and me have a headache need not mean we feel the same way.

    On the use of theory & models, not sparking a debate here :-) — but I will admit openly that I belong to the school of thought that models and frameworks can be useful and sometimes needed to create a good strategy. I taught strategy at B-school and have also developed/executed a few as a practitioner. And it is my humble opinion that many a times models (even a well-worn out one like Porter’s) can help folks understand the dynamics that will shape their strategy or to prioritize trade-offs. Having said that, I am not advocating the use models/frameworks/theories as the end all. To me it is like a chess-champion’s playbook- it allows one to study the various ‘moves’ and ‘possibilities’, but at the end of the day it is the ‘player’ that need to make THE move against the opponent (the actual strategy).

    And lastly, as your initial quote alludes to — a successful strategy is always executed properly. Having a good strategy not well executed is hardly better than having no strategy. Now to be clear on execution, one must have a clear and simple strategy. And most importantly, it is critical that everyone in the organization has the same strategy :-) .

    [As a side note -- strategy should not be confused with the mission or vision of the organization. Mission is more about the motivations and doing all the 'right things'. Vision is really about looking out and deciding where you want to be over a period of time. On the other hand, strategy is really the blueprint for the 'how' you are going to get there.]

    I think any organization or even web analytics within an organization can benefit from following some clear thinking in their strategic planning [bad strategy is also partly responsible for many "unfulfilled promises" :-) ]. Anyway, without going into too much detail a good strategy(irrespective of whether it is web analytics focused or corporate) should be clear on what you intend to achieve, your playing field, and a clear value-proposition for your audience (e.g why should anyone use web analyitcs at all). I think having clarity on these will help the community understand in terms of how one can contribute to make the strategy a success.

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  • http://sunidesigns.com/ Suvarna

    And lastly, as your initial quote alludes to — a successful strategy is always executed properly. Having a good strategy not well executed is hardly better than having no strategy. Now to be clear on execution, one must have a clear and simple strategy. And most importantly, it is critical that everyone in the organization has the same strategy

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  • http://www.chrisfaron.com Chris Faron

    At different companies I worked for, I too have often found the culture within the organization the hardest wall to climb when defining a web analytics strategy. Great post

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