Analytics Today – a Flood of Tools and Data, a Dearth of Insight

Digital marketing practitioners seem to have rediscovered their love of metrics & analytics of late. As a result, witness the current flurry of activity in this space. One suspects this is partly a result of business beginning to question the efficacy and business value of social media and demanding that marketers prove its true value in terms of real, and measurable, ROI. How novel.

Those who have seen this movie before, most notably during the dot-com bubble, but really with every new-new thing to emerge since, can’t help but scratch their heads over this. And, truth be told, I have heard many a seasoned practitioner comment that they see a repeat of the hype we saw more than a decade ago, and they expect an inevitable collapse when business realizes that the snake oil they have been sold is just that. And, clearly, it was only a matter of time until social media entered what Gartner calls the Trough of Disillusionment and business leaders with P&L responsibility (or their C-level management and investors) woke up from their hype-induced delirium and demanded to know if their investment was actually moving the needle.

As a result, there is now a mad rush among business and digital practitioners to prove their worth, show evidence of the value of social media, and provide data to back up their claims. Suddenly, everyone seems to want data, the more the better. And tools, of course. Oh, don’t forget dashboards and reports, clearly, we want those too. But the problem was never really a lack of data, tools or dashboards but, rather, a lack of insight. Which gets to the crux of the matter: business today is awash in data, but true insight and understanding of what drives what and delivers true incremental value seems as elusive as ever.Getting from raw data to actionable knowledge

But, worry not, for here comes the latest over-hyped buzzword: Big Data. And, again, the focus is on volume rather than understanding, quantity over quality. A figure commonly cited is that 90% of all data has been created in the past two years. With the emergence of the Web, suddenly every online interaction became a data point. With the rise of social media, these interactions – and the resulting data – grew exponentially. With addition of the anyplace/anytime mobile Web and integration of POS systems and loyalty programs (both of which make offline behavior more trackable) and data volumes exploded.

We are now at the point where we are literally drowning in data, but even the best marketers will admit that true knowledge – actionable insight – remains as elusive as ever.

Of course, you’ll probably have to get them away from their boss and maybe get a few drinks into them before they admit this candidly. I spoke with one senior marketing exec at a recent conference I helped organize and he admitted as much: “Are we ready for Big Data? Hell, no. We still suck at “little data” and struggle to get basic Website metrics right. Sure, we have every analytics  and BI platform available and track just about everything that happens on our dozen or so sites. We just don’t understand what most of it really means.”

And that just about sums it up.

About Daniel Backhaus

Dan has close to 15 years of experience in the field of information technology, brand development, and interactive marketing, working with brands that include Bayer AG, BMW, Daimler-Benz, Deutsche Bank, H&R Block and Wachovia. His diverse background includes service in our nation’s military, and stints at Xerox, TSYS, several technology start-ups and leading interactive agencies in Europe and the United States. Originally from Germany, he has lived and worked in Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece and England before settling in Atlanta in 2005. A PMI-certified Project Management Professional and a Six Sigma greenbelt, his experience includes digital strategy, solution sales, new business development, enterprise systems implementation, project and program management, SEO/SEM and Web Analytics. Dan holds a BS in Business Management from Arizona State University and an MBA with concentration in international business from the European University in Montreux, Switzerland. The parent of three young children, Dan’s interest in environmental sustainability issues stems from concerns over their future well-being and his international background have given him an enlightened perspective on the challenges we face and the approaches other countries and societies have taken in addressing them. Dan blogs about technology, his love of writing, interactive marketing, brand development and strategy and whatever or whoever might have pissed him off the week before.
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9 Responses to Analytics Today – a Flood of Tools and Data, a Dearth of Insight

  1. This is interesting. I missed Bob’s debate at the Explore event with Jason Falls, so thanks for pointing that out first of all.

    The core issue seems to be somewhere between the crossroads of motivation and validation (two words I’m tired of using but still haven’t found a replacement for). The perception of value among different people is one of the most fascinating aspects of marketing for me. What is valuable to you as a brand? As a marketer? As an employee? As a (insert sociocultural standard here)? What makes your actions worthy of their investment and how do you prove that to the appropriate audience?

    In terms of systems we have marketing executives making decisions “for the good of the brand” that may be more about career positioning, politics or personal biases more than they are about driving long term sales or cost savings (not that they would admit this publicly). In terms of resources we have the tools and data to show value in virtually anything, so long as you know how to bend the data your way. I tend to agree with you that the gap we have is in the analysis. We’re great at making the data tell others what we want, but we’re not great at listening to what it tells us to begin with. In the same way we see UX, Usability, HCI and other areas grow in importance, I think we’ll see the growth in the importance of the Business Analyst type as a data story teller.

    • Dan says:

      Brad, thanks for the excellent feedback. This post is actually the first in a three-part series (already written and to be published later this week) and I touch on many of these points in the second and third installments. The next post will look in depth at the need for deeper, more business-relevant analysis skills at all levels of the organization and not just within the Web analytics and BI team silos. The third and last entry then, in particular, contains some humorous references to the frequent failures to ask the right questions and the tendency by some stakeholders to “massage” the data to support their goals, which are often not 100% aligned with the true needs of the business or their customers. I particularly like your allusion to the analyst as a data story teller, though one does hope the stories are fact, not fiction.

  2. Phil Kemelor says:

    Dan…I totally agree with your take on the bright shiny thing that is now Big Data. Web, mobile, social, print, tv…if these are what is meant by Big Data, then let’s just call it that. Understanding how to compare the relative effectiveness of these channels is a very real issue and I know lots of organizations that are trying to get their arms around this. While we could say that Big Data is over-used, from what I see, organizations are now understanding that there is more to data then simply the web…and that is a good thing. Tackling the problem of how to come up with good metrics that encompass all of these data sets and how to integrate this with customer data is becoming the holy grail…not an easy problem to solve, but the right one to go after…rather than viewing all of this in silos.

    Phil Kemelor
    VP Strategic Analytics
    Semphonic

    • Jessica says:

      Digital marketing is adristiveng with internet, mobile phones, and other interactive options. Digital marketing has been around for several years, but just recently became more important for businesses exposure and visibility goals. The technological age is growing by leaps and bounds yearly. Digital marketing is one of the most affordable options a business owner has for promoting companies.The world of SEO is wild, unguided and ever-changing. If your organization recognizes the importance of positioning your business and its online presence properly in search engines, then you need the help and guidance of a knowledgeable, proven and learned SEO expert.

  3. Dan says:

    Phil, Excellent feedback and thanks for posting. It’s not that I take exception to the Big Data label per se. Instead, it’s more that I dislike the hype associated with it. For, regardless of overall data volume being processed – which, while it might affect database structure, processing and tool needs to some extent – does not fundamentally change the nature of the business problem at hand. Much of this will be addressed in the two pending subsequent installments of this three-part series, but I see the biggest challenge lies in knowing WHAT to ask (which requires contextual knowledge of the business and applications) and then correctly parsing, analyzing and interpreting the data. Right now I see many organizations viewing data in and of itself as the panacea, without looking deeper and getting from data to insight and actionable knowledge. Data alone – whether Big or small – is just that. Without context, deeper understanding and the willingness to experiment smartly, data is poorly suited to provide the basis for intelligent, forward-looking and effective strategy. Stay tuned.

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  5. Dan – good point regarding how businesses today is awash in data, but “true insight of what drives what and delivers true incremental value.” At Adobe , we advocate that its not just about the data itself, but more importantly to take action on the data. How can you take action on data without having some form of insight of what drives value?

    • Dan says:

      Jason – great insight, thank you for it. Incidentally, I touch on this point in my second entry, posted just this morning, which you can read here. I think Adobe has the best and most complete suite of tools in the market, but I wager many of your customers could use a hand (or two) in setting up, configuring and running them, as well as with analyzing and acting on the insight to be gained from them. In fact, McKinsey estimates that “United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with analytical expertise and 1.5 million managers and analysts with the skills to understand and make decisions based on the analysis of big data.”

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