Web Analytics and Big Data: Hype or the Next Necessity?
Since 1996, the litany of internet trends for the professional marketer has been a veritable laundry list of annual “must-dos” and these trends are usually couched with a certain breathlessness that forebodes imminent failure should the marketer fail to act.
Not so coincidentally, there’s usually an entirely new crop of tech companies and providers supporting these various trend niches with the attendant “gurus,” research briefs and industry writers touting the same. The hot topics today, amongst others, include marketing automation, content marketing and mobile optimization, with yet others looming omnipresent on the horizon.
While all trends have an elemental importance to them, not all trends are created equal. No company (that I’m aware of) has spontaneously combusted because they didn’t have a Facebook page (or a blog, for that matter). Yet, “big data,” an unwieldy term with an even less user-friendly definition, feels like one of the trends, at least as it relates to web analytics, that has an opportunity to transcend hype and confusion to become something meaningful for marketers.
Explaining the Unwieldy
To make “big data” understandable, I’m going to forsake its still very much evolving definition (at its heart, it means finding correlations in massive amounts of data bringing John Nash-like skills to the corner office) and focus in on what I think it means from a web analytics perspective – a much more granular application relevant to marketers and those involved in marketing analysis.
By way of analogy, a decade ago, the holy grail for IT Managers was, “A single pane of glass” – a quirky euphemism that described a single access point to view (from a computer monitor) an entire company infrastructure in real time, usually with gauges, red/yellow/green lights, and various and sundry other visual geegaws.
If the email server went down, the “single pane of glass” of visual monitoring metaphors would flash red before the end-user calls started hitting the help desk.
On a more personal level, when Mint.com came out in 2006, the service provided a way to incorporate all of a user’s financial information together– bank activities for checking and savings, credit cards, investment, and loan transactions in one spot with an ability to track and set goals, all underpinned with clean, visually striking graphics – making it, literally, easy to understand what’s going on with your money.
Suddenly, users of Mint noticed the leak in their checking account that went to Starbucks as a mindless daily expense, seeing the cumulative dent a daily caffeine fix could bring.
By comparison to our analogies, marketing analysis is still reasonably isolated and just as much art (qualitative) as it is science (quantitative). Reports come in from various channels – direct mail spreadsheets via email, Google Analytics data is in one spot, PPC data in another, display advertising data in yet another. Social media analytics is from one provider and social listening from another. Often (not always, but frequently), these bits of data are viewed in silos without looking for co-mingling interrelations.
Big data, from the viewpoint of the marketer, and web analytics, therefore means pulling all of this data into one spot (usually called a dashboard) for a holistic (and visually graphic) view on marketing campaigns, and their interrelations.
The promise then is not seeing where we’re spending too much money on Starbucks; it’s isolating that return on investment (ROI) is a metric that can now become truly meaningful. Or, as a BtoB Research Insights study published earlier in 2013 notes, “Tracking marketing ROI via technology is the most transformative factor marketers face today.”
The market for web analytics and dashboarding in 2013 is incredibly messy. Dashboarding solutions are kneeling down to the web analytics market from the enterprise Big Data space, social analytics are still in relative infancy, SEO providers are trying to lean into web analytics as their niche legitimizes, Google is trying to get into the enterprise web analytics space, tag management for tracking code snippets is evolving into the hands of marketers and away from developers, and, frankly, most hardcore users of web analytics haven’t gotten as far into the business value via meaningful tracking of KPIs as they could.
Yet, the market will continue to expand apace, perhaps chaotically. However, out of every bit of chaos comes order and I strongly believe that in just a few scant years, every marketing organization will not only have at least one dashboard governing their marketing activity, but they will be a mission critical analysis and decision-making tool.
Most marketing departments aren’t ready for dashboards yet, so in order to prepare, you can begin by identifying internal skills gaps, and conducting knowledge management to support learning around what’s to come. Below are a few resources as you begin your investigation.
Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics (Link initiates download)
SOUND OFF: Is Big Data, scaled down to marketing and analytics for dashboarding, a coming reality or more over-wrought hype?