Web Analytics Action Hero: On the Road to Actionland
- "Never confuse motion with action."
- —Benjamin Franklin
Every company wants to be in Actionland. It's the promised land of analytics, and it has all the coolest rides. In Actionland, you're regularly optimizing your business and driving real value. It's where the successful analytics professionals like to spend most of their time. When you originally decided to invest in web analytics, Actionland was the vision of where your company would be spending most of its time. Getting to Actionland, however, takes some planning and hard work; first you have to go through Setupland.
Just like you need to go through the parking experience (a regular adventure in itself) before you can enter Disneyland, every company needs to pass through Setupland before arriving at the ticket booths for entry into Actionland. Various products and types of projects may require a different amount of time in Setupland, but they all pass through it on the way to the real attractions found in Actionland. In this chapter, you'll learn how to efficiently maneuver your way through Setupland so that you can punch your ticket and begin your valuable adventures in Actionland.
Start in Setupland
In Setupland, every company passes through three main stages when setting up a web analytics tool (Figure 2.1):
- Alignment stage. Here you gather business objectives and requirements from key stakeholders and capture them in an online measurement strategy. At this early planning stage, a clear and complete understanding of the online business strategy is critical to success. The data has to be relevant and meaningful to the business. There can't be any gaps between what is actually measured and what the business needs to be measured. If the implementation isn't aligned with the business goals, you'll be in Actionland only long enough to get a hand stamp before you're paged back to Setupland to realign your implementation.
- Collection stage. At this point, the technical heavy lifting occurs: tagging, data validation, and data collection. You may spend a fair amount of time on technical implementation, especially for large companies with multiple web domains, online marketing initiatives, mobile and social applications, and so on. Frequently, you may complete this technical stage in phases, giving the company a potential day-pass in Actionland. With all the technical aspects in place, some companies may feel as though they're ready to cross over into Actionland and enjoy the park. However, just because your company is stockpiling data, you're still not ready for action.
- Reporting stage. The final stop before a company can leave Setupland for Actionland, this stage is where you create reports and distribute them to the organization using a manual or preferably automated approach. Knowing that you have the raw data on your online marketing initiatives may give your organization some comfort, but it's really not useful until it ends up in some form of report for your business users to consume (a standard report, custom report, dashboard, scorecard, or similar). These reports typically need to be configured and tailored to the specific needs of your end users. Reports will be useful only if they help to move your company forward, becoming a launching pad for questions, ideas, and analysis.
Figure 2.1 You pass through three stages in Setupland before entering Actionland.
Don't Get Stuck
Amazingly, many organizations seem more enamored or content with Setupland than Actionland. If the key to getting value from your web analytics investment is to enter Actionland, why do many organizations fail to leave Setupland? Some keep forgetting important items in their car and have to start over repeatedly (incomplete business planning). Others spend so much time battling unruly kids that they never make it far into Actionland before the park closes (stakeholder buy-in). Some fail to dress properly for their day at the park and need to leave early (poor tagging).
Many real and perceived obstacles prevent organizations from optimizing their business and essentially keep them milling around, collecting even more data or cranking out mundane amounts of reporting. Each organization has a unique set of data-driven challenges. One company simply may lack the analytical resources to go beyond reporting. Another firm may not have sufficient executive support for becoming more data-driven. Yet another organization's intuition-based culture may distrust data and fear accountability.
The first two stages of Setupland can trip up organizations in plenty of ways; however, I think the most common culprit is the Reporting stage. Companies are now collecting vast amounts of online data. As marketing budgets shift from traditional channels to digital channels (social media, mobile, video, and more), the volume is only going to increase. Analysts are caught in a vicious cycle of endless reporting, both maintaining current reports and building new reports. Unfortunately, too many organizations misinterpret reporting as the main destination of implementing an analytics solution and mistakenly view reporting as though it were a part of Actionland. Reports display information, not insights. Information is useful, but insights are invaluable. Insights from analysis can drive actions or optimizations, which can transform a good business into a great one. No wonder executives get frustrated when they learn that their analytics dollars are being wasted on standing around Setupland instead of spending time inside Actionland optimizing for success.
A Ticket to Actionland
Maybe, however, you're rethinking whether you really need to enter Actionland; you've heard some of the rides are a little unnerving and the lines are too long. Isn't reporting enough? No. Reporting is not going to improve a company's online performance on its own. If you want to optimize your business, you need to overcome internal obstacles and focus on analysis. Analysis is the isolating of meaningful and actionable insights in data and reports that when acted upon by your organization can drive business value. That's right: Analysis is the ticket to Actionland.
Analysis sets the stage for all optimization efforts. It can pinpoint new optimization opportunities. It can help prioritize the available options. It can evaluate why a particular initiative performed a particular way and how it can be improved. Analysis is the genesis for how your company can generate more sales, reduce marketing costs, enhance campaign performance, provide a better user experience, reach specific target segments, and more. It's the only way to gain entry to Actionland. On a personal level, if you're a web analyst or data-driven marketer, your career won't advance very far if you can't help your company to move beyond Setupland.
Myth: Setupland Is Once and Done
The deployment of analytics solutions is an ongoing process, not a project you complete once every couple of years. Your company evolves (new products, websites, campaigns, marketing channels, partners, senior executives), market trends change, customer behaviors shift, and competitors innovate. Three-year-old tags applied before your company's merger and two website redesigns won't cut it. Your online measurement approach can't remain static. It needs to keep pace with your company's online evolution and the shifting needs of your industry.
After you've entered Actionland, analysis may identify more business questions that can only be answered through further implementation to enrich the current data or better pinpoint the right data. You often don't know what you don't know until you've had an opportunity to analyze the collected data. While returning to Setupland again (and again) may be frustrating, it is an essential part of the optimization process to refine the online data. Some large firms find themselves in Setupland and Actionland at the same time as they roll out new implementation projects while analyzing and optimizing existing online initiatives. You may feel like your company is spending a lot of time in Setupland simply due to the volume of new projects. While you can't skip Setupland, keep your trips as short and efficient as possible. Actionland is your destination; it's where the real magic happens.