Is ROI the analyst’s greatest frienemy?

In the world of marketing and business, it’s all about ROI, right?

Well, not if you want to understand what is happening and what you can do about it.

Extremes are our enemy. Typically, we get tangled in the extreme of over-complication. We want to run statistical analyses, regressions, econometric models, and the like on our data, even sometimes on relatively simple data sets. This is when we alienate our audience by trying to look super smart rather than keeping the story simple and digestible. When we involve all of this mathematical alchemy, we can lose touch with the underlying business questions and get lost in the numbers, muddying the message.

On the other hand, overly-simple is equally a pitfall. That overly simple view typically boils down to the viewpoint that everything has to have a demonstrable ROI. And that, as they say, is poppycock.

I can’t prove this, but I think that on any given day, the vast majority of your “customers” (visitors on your site, people on your Facebook page, etc.) are in the high-funnel. Maybe not even in the funnel at all. They are just beginning their search for a washing machine. Just researching what replacing their old digital camera will get them in terms of picture quality.

In our media mix, we have keywords, emails, social engagement, display creative and more targeted to the high-funnel. Remarketing campaigns have the sole purpose of bringing customers back after an “unsuccessful” visit. Keywords like “best digital cameras” drive consumers to commerce sites, when the consumer is almost certainly looking for content to help them narrow the field and is not yet a buyer.

And what do businesses do? They measure it all to ROI. Spend vs. return. They see everything through the lens of our business, rather than through the lens of the consumer. And that’s really just not the best approach when you want to understand what will lead to greater financial success in the future. This view just doesn’t give you enough detail into why things are working or not working or what you can do about it.

A consumer’s interaction with our business is a chain of micro events that hopefully leads to macro outcome in terms of a sale, a subscription, a lead, etc. It’s in these micro events that our business “leaks” customers. And the only way to see this leak clearly is to zoom in to each element and measure the business’s success at that level.

I think that luxury hotels offer a great metaphor for how this works. Luxury hotels want your loyalty. And the way they earn it is not a single coup de grace, it’s a sequence of tiny little events that all go perfectly.

When you arrive at the Four Seasons, for example, the valet will open your door and ask you if you are checking in (unless they recognize you, in which case they will welcome you back). When you give him your name, the valet will wait for you to turn around, immediately radioing to the front desk where they will look you up to see if you are a repeat customer. The desk then immediately radios back to the valet and doorman. By this time, you’re at the doorman who is swinging the door open. He says, “Welcome back, Mr. Smith.”


Throughout your stay, you notice everything. The flowers in the lobby. They politeness of the front desk clerk. The professionalism of the bellman as he asks if you’d like your hanging clothes to be put into the closet for you. You notice every aspect of the room: its cleanliness, the smell, whether the clock on the bedside table is correct.

When you come back out into the hallway to head out for the afternoon, employees you see in the hallway step aside to let you walk by. They push carts out of your way and everyone greets you and wishes you a good day. On the way out the door, they will hand you an umbrella if rain is in the forecast and may offer you a bottle of water and directions, if you need them.

And this goes on and on throughout your stay.

Now, here is the thing. Each of these actions has an ROI, it’s true. But each of these things is partially or completely dependent on all of the others. The ROI of the doorman can’t be localized to the doorman. If the room smells funny, your entire experience could be marred. Your opinion of everything else changes because of one “leak” in their system.

With your web site, your social media, your marketing channels, etc., it is no different. The ROI of your marketing channel is completely dependent on your landing pages, your product detail pages, your cart, your checkout process, everything. Yet we measure this channel to an ROI. And going even a step farther, we measure even the high-funnel segment of this channel to ROI as well. These being people who are not there to convert; they are there for a different micro case you could measure and optimize against.

The only way to be an effective analyst is to intimately understand the role of each of your micro-events and find opportunities to improve. Almost zero A/B or multivariate tests should have sales, revenue, or leads as the goal or measure. There is simply too much in-between — this is not to say don’t look at it, just realize that any single interface is rarely intrinsically tied to the end-game. You need to look at the pieces themselves. Make each piece serve its function perfectly. As you eliminate leaks on the micro level, the macro level will take care of itself. Faith-based initiative? Sure. What isn’t?

I know that the culture of ROI exists in most companies and your colleagues aren’t going to want to talk about sissy pants micro conversions. But that’s where the magic is. Your customer reacts to every little thing presented in your marketing, your architecture, your interfaces, etc. Consciously or not, your customers judge you and interact with you by the micro. So if you want to keep more customers and make your existing customers more valuable, judge yourself like they judge you.

6 keys to a killer career in web analytics

Every day, I become less of a dumbass, usually as a result of reflecting on what happens when I am one. Here are a few lessons I have learned that may be helpful to you, whether you are just getting started or if you’ve been doing this for a while. I hope you’ll add your own lessons to the comments.

So, here are 6 lessons I feel, if I had learned earlier, would have really helped me out.

1. Learn the tool(s).


Get training. For Omniture, you can’t do better than Keystone Solutions. For Google Analytics, you can talk to us, or any GACP. Learn the way the tool is laid out, how to use its advanced features, how to get lost going down a rabbit hole but still know what you are doing.

And then this (warning, you might not like this): take 2 vacation days and spend it getting completely lost in the tool. Click on surprising data to see why it’s doing what it’s doing. Click on unsurprising data to gain an appreciation for the surprises that probably lurk underneath. The vacation days will allow you to get away from everyone else, get away from specific requests, and focus on getting lost in the data and the tool’s capabilities. You aren’t going to break it. Learn all of the nooks and crannies. Click on everything you can possibly click on (maybe not in the admin side of the tool, watch your clicks in there). Make a list of questions, and get them answered by someone who really knows their stuff.

Finally, learn more than just the basics of implementation. This will do two things. First, it’ll help you understand how the data is gathered and why you might see odd things happening. Second, it’ll help you understand the pain involved in implementing and how “something simple” really isn’t. Use this understanding to build a relationship with your IT team, or even better, justify a tag management system (Satellite, Ensighten, Tagman, Brighttag) that will get you focused on using the data, not getting it. Focusing your time on getting data is not a good thing.*

* Don’t give me the argument that without getting data, there is no data to analyze. Without celery, there is no ants on a log. Without rain, there is no celery. Without evaporation, there is no rain. Without glaciers and the ocean, there is nothing to evaporate. Without hydrogen, there are no glaciers. Without the big bang, there is no hydrogen. Give me a freaking break. Which brings me to #2:

2. Focus on the output

Particularly, when presenting. Know your audience and deliver first, before anything else, a message that gets their attention. Your process is your content. Your conclusion is your headline.

Maybe conclusion is a crappy word, since it’s usually something you figure out a the end. But rather than making your presentation a playback of the process you went through, reverse the order and start with what you found out at the end. Usually, this is just the “hook” that you need to get everyone’s attention, get them asking questions, and help them arrive at the same conclusion you did.

I’ve found that when I start by walking through my process, the audience knows they are in for a long, boring meeting where I don’t get to the point for quite a while.

3. Focus on YOU

YOU can answer questions. YOU can get information and numbers. YOU can tell executives what people think about the web site. Not tools.

Yes, the tools provide this information, but YOU put it into terms (a la “focus on the output”) that the business can consume. SiteCatalyst was not custom-built for Best Buy. OpinionLab is not only installed on Williams-Sonoma. These tools have to be built to handle any web site and every business model. It is you who is valuable; you are the one who adds context and a sense of reality and applicability to the data.

Without tools, you can’t answer questions. But with tools, it doesn’t mean you can answer questions effectively.

How many people saw Tiger Woods crush the competition at the Masters and then went out and bought the clubs he used to win? Did those clubs work for these people? People think they can buy a better game. They think the tools will get them on the podium. Unfortunately, my golf game proves without fail that this is not the case.

Try to get people to ask you the question, not ask you to get data. If they do ask you for data, show them what they asked for behind a page that you put together. Try to illustrate on that page why the request for the data could have led them to the wrong conclusion (if that’s true) or didn’t tell the whole story. You don’t have to do it in an overt way, just show that the human is where the value comes from, not the tool.

Once you realize that you are the bomb, it’s time to…

4. Focus on THEM

When you are delivering your powerful message and wrapping that in your own brilliance, remember that even if your conclusion is the same, you will see that people from different departments will grapple with your ideas in radically different ways. The same sentence read by or spoken to a CEO, a CFO, a CMO, a Paid Search Manager, and a Usability Engineer may mean different things. Some may feel the message helps them. Others may feel threatened by it. Some may see savings and cost reduction while others see upside. Some will see increased productivity while others will see their fiefdom shrinking.

I have made huge mistakes in my work by throwing an “unframed” idea out to a mixed group of stakeholders or by framing it the same way to all stakeholders. Huge mistakes.

By learning what goals and motivations each of the players has, you can show each player how an idea benefits them. If it doesn’t benefit them directly, you can help them understand how it benefits others in such a way that it may warrant sacrifice (which may be repaid in the future). You will also understand their goals and motivations for the future, allowing you to be on the lookout for ideas that do benefit them, which will build a tremendously successful relationship.

If you see salespeople or other charismatic people who are seemingly able to do this on the fly, don’t despair. There is no gene for this: these people spend a lot more time than they let on trying to see things from other peoples’ perspectives. Charismatic people work hard to understand others’ wants and needs so they come into these meetings prepared to speak in a way they know will be successful. By giving others’ perspectives some forethought, you literally stack the deck in your favor, but it does take conscious effort.

5. Be the closest thing to a graphic designer possible

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why do so many people just say, “wow…,” when you put something truly amazing in front of them?

Some of my most successful presentations had just a single chart on the first slide. I make an introduction, and say, “Here is what we need to figure out today…,” change to this slide, and just watch the faces in the room.

A book written by the company that helped Al Gore design his famous “Inconvenient Truth” presentation shows a chart of two different kinds of companies. One line (red) shows the market cap of companies who have design deeply-ingrained into their company and culture. The other, blue line shows the rest of the companies in that exchange (a UK exchange). Over a period of about 7 years, the companies who had design at their core had grown by a factor of 2x compared to the companies that did not.


When you are able to convey ideas clearly, your customers know what your product is, what it does, how it works. When you can convey your thoughts clearly, and this usually happens graphically, people “get it” instantly. They want to know more. And they trust that when they ask questions, those questions, too, will be answered in a clear way.

Looking at companies and people who do not communicate through effective design, on the other hand, you may feel that interactions with these people are cumbersome and unproductive, that your questions are answered in round-about or indirect ways, and you are generally less-likely to interact with someone or see their value clearly.

Personally, I’m about as good of a graphic designer as Hellen Keller. But I try as hard as possible. I try to strip things down to their most basic elements, show them to people, get feedback. I try to be a student of effective communication. I can assure you it is a skill that can be improved.

6. Focus on reaction, not perfection

If you could answer a question 10 times (instead of just once) on Jeopardy, what would be your strategy? If it was me, I would answer as quickly as humanly possible with a semi-educated guess. What if Alex told you if you were getting “warmer” or “colder” with each answer? Yeah, I’d be jumping all over that buzzer to ring in.

Online, this is exactly how it works. Yet we are obsessed with trying to answer the question “right” the first time. We believe that analytics is a practice designed to help us make better decisions. I disagree.

I think that digital analytics is best used to help us make more decisions, more quickly. I would just about wager my life that if I can make 5 decisions in the time it takes you to make 1, I will get a better net result almost every time. This is the premise of A/B and multivariate testing, but even with tests, people criticize the “loss” in the test variants that fail to find upside or in a test where all variants produce inferior results.

“Getting colder” is the same as “getting warmer.” Remember that.

When we use analytics to make better decisions, it’s like when a shop owner tries to learn everything he possibly can about how to organize his shop, stock his shelves, hire help, and get it all just right for opening day. Imagine the OCD shopkeeper who delays his store opening for a month because he keeps getting little bits of information, reading just a few more articles in hopes he’ll get it just right on opening day.

Then the store opens.

Which period of time do you think taught him more about his customers and how to run his store? The months before opening, or the hours after?

When we use analytics to “open the shop early” and get ideas out into the real world, we can learn quickly and react. In the time it would have taken us to learn what should work, we can learn 5 times what does work.

There are exceptions, but to me, this is the rule.

See the light

What is the eventuality of your career? Where is this taking you? In 10 years, when someone else is putting the reports together, delivering the types of presentations you are delivering today, where will you be?

I don’t know the answer to this question. Not by a long shot. But my gut tells me that what we are doing today will train us for some pretty impressive roles in the future. And if that is the case, my gut tells me that these roles will get farther away from the kinds of metrics we work with today and closer to the kinds of metrics and questions that Wall Street works with every day: How efficient is your company? How is it growing? What is the promise intrinsic in the business’s plans for the future? What evidence is there that new business opportunities will pan out?

Those are things we are probably pretty good at today, and will be incredibly good at farther down the road.

Your turn

This has just been my experience and a few things I feel help me. But what about you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Avoid Firing a Cannon from a Canoe (how to make your analytics count)

For my birthday, I gave myself the gift of re-reading Dale Carnegie’s great masterpiece How to Win Friends and Influence People. In the very first chapter, Dale was explaining the research behind the book: the polls they conducted, other published material they researched, people they interviewed, etc. They reached a conclusion that sort of blew my mind:

Less than 15% of what influences someone’s success in their career is their actual competence or skill in their craft. 85% of your success is determined by your ability to handle people and get them on board with your way of thinking.

This probably isn’t all that surprising. Looking at the most shining examples of success, people like Jeff Bezos, for example, we know for certain that his success doesn’t come from his unparalleled ability to ship packages, stock warehouses, build a web site, etc. And when we get out of the clouds of uber-success stories like Jeff and into more everyday situations, we may think the scenario changes, but it doesn’t.

So what’s with the cannon and the canoe? I was watching Mythbusters the other day and Grant had created this harpoon shooter that could shoot a 10 lb “anchor” 60 feet, or something bonkers like that. It used compressed gas at 3,000 psi to do this.

In their test run, Grant set up a mattress to catch the anchor, put the cannon on top of a tripod, pressed the fire button, and watched the tripod go flying backwards, crashing into the back wall of the warehouse with enough force to just about kill someone.


This episode reminded me of this “firing a cannon from a canoe” thing, and it all got me thinking about what we do. How we have this incredible, amazing power to effect change, but often struggle with making it happen. Perhaps it’s because we work so hard to become amazing at what we do, but that, unfortunately, may not be the place that needs the most focus.

Now among the community of brilliant people in our industry, I am yet to meet a person that I didn’t find convincing. When you work in our field, it’s hard not to be: you are highly intelligent people who have such great information. So, I think we are prepared to succeed at both the skill and the people side of things, it may just be a matter of how we apply these abilities, or a misunderstanding of what the people side really is.

Rather than pretending I am capable of helping 1% as much as this book, I’m just going to briefly summarize. Pick up a copy of the book and give it a read. You’ll see some things that are almost laughably simple, but work. Simple things like learning what other people are interested in, forging great relationships, building on success and learning, rather than focusing on failure. Ways we can create rapport and relationships that build a stronger base for our cannon, most importantly by not talking about the cannon at all.

The surprising thing is that the 85% isn’t our “delivery,” because the 85% has nothing to do with what we are going to talk about in the 15%. Our relationships with people are more human than that. Yes, a significant part of (and probably the impetus for) our relationships are professional in nature, but what Dale Carnegie writes about is world leaders talking about stamp collecting, boats, hunting, and other personal interests in order to lay the foundation for the professional discussion that follows. The 85% is truly a person-to-person connection, and once that is achieved, the potential for your talent to make a difference is amplified immeasurably.

Once that foundation has cemented, I’ve found that my cannon can actually do some real damage to inefficiency, poor execution, and misallocation of resources, rather than the ill fate I’ve suffered many times where I have just blasted myself farther away from my target.


My 2 predictions (and hopes) for analytics in 2012

Last year around this time, I did a post outlining some predictions and hopes for analytics in 2011. It’s a good thing I am okay with making a fool out of myself. Regularly. Like, with amazingly high frequency and dependability.

Here’s how last year’s predictions and hopes turned out:

1: We will find out we aren’t ready for our seat at the table (but we almost are)

Like a big fat jerk, I compared us to the Jamaican bobsled team. That we can show up at the executive roundtable, but we aren’t really ready to compete at that level.

Do I think I was wrong? Maybe not. Do I think we made progress? Definitely. Do we still have room for improvement? Also definitely.

Analytics is already seeing more than just a sliver of dawn light. We are coming into a more fully-illuminated state, and Sterne’s netting of great speakers and real world success stories demonstrates that. Our ability to see analysts who have graduated into central, executive roles demonstrates this maturation. We are getting there. And it’s accelerating.

Many analysts in 2012 will be faced with a decision of whether they want to ride the bigger waves, as they begin to appear. They are riskier. You are more likely to face plant or even drown, but if you can ride these bigger waves successfully, you get more exposure and the mobility to get your ideas (and your title) to places where your abilities will make heads spin.

2: Analytics will no longer be about measurement

I tried to find a picture of a dead horse that wasn’t offensive. I couldn’t.

Let’s not dwell on this: we use measurement to generate ideas to put into practice to drive real world outcomes. It’s our own decision whether we open conversations with the word “outcomes” and work backwards, or open with “measure” and try to work toward outcomes. You all know how I feel about this one, so we can just move on.

3: Vendors will stop selling “insight” and begin selling enablement and competitive differentiation

Ha, well I was on vacation looking at a snow-covered mountain when I wrote this last year. The world seemed so right. So much promise. And I was heavily dosed on crazy pills.

The point of this is to say YOU are the one with the insight. Remember that. The tools will never stop claiming they generate ROI, insight, cure sickness, and bake bread.

They do not bake bread.

Vendors will continue to sell in a way that works. It’s up to us to sell ourselves even better. We are what makes the technology work. Not the other way around.

4: Analytics will separate from its association with other teams

I think we’re really getting there with this one. We are less IT, less marketing, less product, less x, more us. The less we align with any one arm or discipline, the more we are able to be real analysts, weighing our various options and competing priorities to come up with holistic, realistic options for our company to invest in. Thoughts?

5: Privacy concerns will come to a head in the media and we need to address it well, as the referee

This wasn’t as sensational as I had dreamed up. There was a low simmer, but nothing that broke out into rioting in the streets and knee-jerk legislation.

The EU is preparing tin foil hats for all of its residents with some business-crushing upcoming laws around first party cookies and data capture opt-in. The good old US of A will lag a long way behind because of our powerful lobby, and that’s where we need to be smart. It’s very important for our businesses to be able to articulate the value of analytics in terms of how data is used to improve customer experience and marry that to real outcomes in terms of both consumer satisfaction and business outcomes.

Brands that people respect can do a lot of good for our industry: if TOMS shoes can show how web analytics led to more sales, more donations, happier customers, more activity in the social space that boosts awareness, nobody’s going to start thinking TOMS is creepy. It’s time to paint what we do in terms of the good it does and be proud of it, rather than trying to hedge the assumption that evil companies are using data to do evil things (which they are).

Consumers need to see both sides, so just like everything else, they realize that good people do good things with analytics and bad people may do bad things; but analytics itself is not the bad thing.

Our success in protecting what we do and how we do it will not come from our direct interaction with the government. It will come through educating the executive suite on the value this presents (and threat that losing it represents), and allowing the guys who talk to the media, stock analysts, and the lobby take care of it for us.

So, that was last year. How about this year?

My wishes for this year are a little simpler and conveniently less quantifiable. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you already do these things, whether you think these represent a bad or unrealistic approach, or whatever other feedback you have.

1. Analysts need to stop talking about savings

No business on earth is saving for retirement. No business wants to move to the beach or the mountains, live a comfortable life, pay for its grandchildren to go to a good college. No business really cares about savings. Businesses care about spending to grow.

The concept of the capital markets, and funding in general, is all about growth. Most companies are physically worth only a small fraction of their market capitalization. All of the extra money is there for growth. When companies have an IPO, get venture funding, or even get a loan from the bank, that surge of cash is used to fund an accelerated pace of innovation, production, sales, etc. Money is used to buy hard capital (machines, buildings, trucks, copiers, etc.) that will fuel growth, it is used to pay higher salaries for smarter, more innovative people, and more of them, it is used to advertise, and more.

Companies want to spend, not save. Spending is what makes money come in the door. The only reason that money is coming in today is because spending happened yesterday, last month, last year, or 5 years ago. It led up to this moment.

When a business “saves” money and doesn’t put that money to better use somewhere else, that money just sits as cash, which provides little to no return to the business (unless it’s being saved for a large event like an acquisition, etc., or there really are zero viable places to spend). There may indeed be a few scenarios where saving is the only option, but what really matters is more effective capital allocation.

So, let’s stop talking about saving and start talking about reallocating. And in a big picture sense, too. Don’t limit your reallocation thinking to the web site, your digital marketing, or even digital itself. If you find $20 million of “wasted” paid search budget, go to the top and figure out where, anywhere in the organization, a $20 million investment will have the greatest return. Put your money back on the table and keep playing. Saving is quitting.

2. Get businesses to take “I didn’t know we had that” out of their vocabulary

How many times have you been in a meeting where people were recapping a bad decision and someone brought up the fact that there was substantial data, market research, or other evidence that could have helped the business make a better decision, only to hear one or more people say, “Well, if I knew we had that information, I would have used it!”?

Once is too many times.

People, especially in larger organizations, ask for what they think is available. In fact, they may not even reveal their true need, and their request is for specific reports or slices of information they know the organization has on hand:

  • “I need a report of traffic source ROI by month and callouts on strategy/tactical shifts on the chart.”
  • “I need to know the average time from the first time a visitor comes to us until they purchase, by campaign.”
  • “I need a report that shows us which keywords drove the most pageviews in the first quarter.”

Each of these requests is really about something else. Someone is trying to spend their marketing budget more effectively, understand how long after tactical shifts the business will have to wait to see impact, or see how effective their past efforts have been. Each report request is something the requester already knows exists, and it allows for little creativity, analysis, or true assistance with their core effort or goal.

In a perfect world, though, we would hear this:

“What information can we drum up that will help me make decision XYZ?

When people state the nature of their need and simply ask what is available, our role transforms radically. We understand their true need and can bring a creative mix of data, qualitative and quantitative, to evaluate and influence the decision, either making it more quickly or better.

Easy enough?

This second one is more of a hope than a prediction, but knowing the people in this industry, nothing surprises me any more. There are some truly talented and determined people in analytics, and it’s going to be another great year for us.

Tag Management Systems, thoughts from Atlanta Analytics

In all fairness, let me start this off by saying that I am personally in the tag management business. I created Satellite, what I believe to be the most usable, approachable, and forward-thinking TMS available today. So there is that. If this post is colored, well, you know why :). And if you actually read this blog regularly, you can blame Satellite for the lack of posts, lately.

But the point of this post is that it comes from the same place where all AA posts come from: we all want what we do to be easier, more meaningful, more recognized, and done with less drama; all so our intellect can fuel results. I wanted to write a few thoughts about tag management, from the perspective of this blog. So, here we go:

Something to make clear, right away

While I think everyone in the world who has anything to do with a web site should see our tool, Satellite, I think everyone in the world who has anything to do with a web site MUST explore the category and its key players. If you are not actively working to integrate a TMS into your web site, you are living in the past. Get with the program.

No, I am not joking. Really. Get with the program.

Here are two of the other players (among many, please feel free to comment if you represent another provider) that people should be talking to as part of this process.

TagMan – TagMan touts itself as the first TMS and the inventor of the category. Thank you! TagMan has excellent technology and is highly valuable to companies managing dozens or even hundreds of third-party tracking tags. I have not seen their interface, but I hear that people find the tool very valuable. And the employees I have met have been incredibly sharp and nice people.

Ensighten – Ensighten is without a doubt an incredibly powerful tool with a rich feature set, including simple methods to track Flash and native apps. Ensighten has an army of outrageously intelligent (and I might add very nice) people working there, and they are pushing constant innovation in the space.

Our offering, Satellite, is geared toward not just empowering the current teams who do this work (mostly developers), but looking forward to where this work should be done, and offering an intuitive tool set that gets rid of the technical aspects of tag management to empower marketers and analysts to take back what is rightfully theirs. In fact, Satellite is purpose built so you never see a “tag” ever again (unless you want to).

Finally, I have to recognize Adobe and Coremetrics, each offering their flavor of a TMS to offer these great benefits to their clients. I also haven’t seen these interfaces, but I’ve heard great things about them. While I personally (and professionally, in fairness) think that going with a vendor-supplied TMS is counter to some of the greatest benefits of a TMS, I can’t deny that for loyal clients, they provide a great benefit.

On a personal note, I want to make it clear that I have a tremendous amount of respect for the founders, employees, and technologies of the major players in this space, and I always will. While there has been some uncalled for drama in the space, none of it has actually happened between the highly professional and capable leaders or employees of the players, themselves. I am lucky to work and compete with such great people, so my fondness for this community (and this subsection of it) continues to shine.

Tag Management is a “when” technology, not an “if” technology

Tag management, like CMS’s, development frameworks, and myriad other technologies that came before, is absolutely, without a doubt, going to be a pervasive web technology, and I’ll take it even a step further: web sites will be built with these systems in mind in the very near future. Not only do they present a feature set that is a nice to have and presents a real and immediate ROI; I believe that the best TMSs will prevail, and they will meaningfully alter the way sites are developed in terms of process, workflow, roles and responsibilities, and internal expectations.

In other words, this is big. Especially for analysts.

If you haven’t yet begun the process of investigating a TMS, start now. Create an RFP, or just reach out to the providers you trust or have heard good things about. This is not a matter of whether or not you will benefit. It’s just a matter of when.

I know this sounds pushy. But I would say it if I wasn’t in the space, and I wouldn’t have bothered getting into the space if I didn’t believe it.

Why Tag Management is important to our industry

OK, here’s the real shark jump:

A TMS is important to us because a TMS addresses the least important part of what we do.

If we again start to erect a shrine to yet another technology, we will be no further than we are now; we will just be there faster. The greatest thing about a TMS is that you can think less about your tools, not more. Our value is our output, not the inputs. The less time we waste on the inputs, the more time we can spend creating output: ideas that fuel success in your business or help your customers love you more.

Like when car windows went from self-winding to just a button: today you want a window to go down and BAM, there it goes. Yes, there was a little honeymoon when the technology was new and you’d gather friends and family in the parking lot or driveway, but today, we’re past it. We’ve moved on. Because we’re in the car to drive. Not play with windows.

I think it is absolutely the best approach that the internal selling of this technology focuses on getting businesses back to work. Removing boundaries. There are direct financial benefits of a TMS (one-touch window operation: faster, easier), but they absolutely pale in comparison to the value of you analysts, and what you can do when yet another boundary is removed (keeping your attention on the road, rather than cranking a window and getting paper cuts on your knuckles from the maps you keep in your door pocket). Like we think of crank car windows as stone aged now, the way we do things on the web today will appear cro-magnan when we look back 5 years from now.

The better the technology gets in our space, the more it will enable analysts to be great. Technology enables greatness in people, not the other way around. As an analyst, a TMS is there so you can pay less attention to the challenges and technology associated with your job. Not more. You are what’s valuable. Not the TMS, not the analytics tool. You.

Why “Measure” means EXPENSIVE to businesses

I’ve been having some really interesting conversations after yesterday’s post, and it got me thinking a little bit. Now, I know this “measure” thing has been a bit of a sore subject, but I really think we need to consider the consequences of that description from a number of angles, one of which just occurred to me.

“Measure” = Expensive.

Why? Because now, a business is going to have to hire two people, rather than one. One’s going to do the measuring, and then they’ll have to go out there and find someone else to figure out what the measuring means. Maybe they’re just looking for step 1 of 2 for now, but when they get to step 2 (it won’t take long), they feel like they need to go out there and look for someone else. It may not be you they’ll ask to do #2 (that just doesn’t sound right, does it?), it’ll be someone else, because you’ve already told them you do #1 (still doesn’t sound right).

When we describe what we do in terms of input and process, rather than output and value, it appears that the input/process IS our output. And that only hurts us. Yes, businesses need measurement. But they need it not in and of itself, but to do something else. And the great thing is, that something else: answers, decisions, insight, confidence, faster learning and refinement, accountability to business outcomes; that is what we are awesome at.

This is not a war on a hashtag. The hashtag is lovely, and we can and should continue using it among ourselves. But consider eliminating the word “measure” in describing what you do among your clients or colleagues. For them, we are the in the business of feeding the organization insight, not collecting it.

You’re forgetting to analyze something very important

What would you tell your business if you found a tactic that was under-funded but has proven to consistently deliver real return for years on end? Something that has made the company a positive ROI for the entire time it’s been around, but where investment is just a fraction of what it could be and where incremental investment would mean that the opportunity wouldn’t disappear, that it may yield greater results, and that the opportunity may have more authority to drive decisions in other tactics?

So, that last part may have been a give-away. We’re talking about YOU.

You are incredibly valuable to your company. Probably a lot more valuable than you realize (only if you are driving business decisions, not if you are providing reporting). And you know what valuable people get? They get what they want.

Web analytics people consistently want these things:

  • More say
  • More ability to influence decision making
  • More people coming to them, earlier in the process, to discuss ideas
  • And who doesn’t want more money?
When I talk to most analytics people, though, I hear the same things. “It’s a slow process. These things take time. That’s now how things are. That’s not what businesses think of us. We aren’t worth that much.”

Well, pardon me, but that’s ridiculous.

We are a group of people who deliver amazing results that have real financial meaning to our businesses. We reveal mistakes that, when fixed, close the gap on hideously large amounts of lost revenue. We find the nuances to turn good ideas into great ones, when executed. We make every one of our channels more effective and profitable. We ensure that our usability and information architecture “best practices” really work for us, and add accountability to hundreds of SME-based tactics. And we make businesses ass-tons of money.

If we want to reach these goals of influence, respect, and money, we need to be aiming at targets that are farther out. We need to be impatient with results. You can’t just count on your business to give you the raise you deserve, because to them, you are a gold mine who thinks you are a dirt farm. You make a company millions and then call yourself a “measurer.” And they love it, because you are one of the cheapest success stories in their entire portfolio.

Yes, we may never have million dollar salaries and we may never have influence over companies that won’t make a single move without consulting us. Maybe. But are we going to get closer by saying we aren’t going to get there, or will we probably get closer by trying to get there?

What do I think? Knowing you people, I think when we try to do something, we do it.

Thanks for the Inspiration

Steve Jobs was truly and immensely inspiring to me. Like most inspiring people, it was all about passion. In Steve’s view, he knew what good enough was, and he knew when he, his colleagues, his products, and his company were not there yet. His passion didn’t allow him to settle for anything he couldn’t be proud of. There were no shortcuts.

Few of us, if any, have seen the inside of our iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, or any number of Apple devices we have owned. But look them up. Find pictures. That’s what I mean.

I never met Steve, and I really don’t know much about him as a person other than what I’ve read. It’s impossible for me to know his character. But what I think I do know is that a person who cares how memory gets flawlessly soldered onto a board, or how wires are arranged inside an un-openable case, how the bottom of a computer looks, how beautiful battery contacts inside a mouse look and how the perfect “click” should feel, how the momentum of a swipe on an ipad should look, a person like that cares on a level many others do not. There is a degree of integrity to these creations; something that lets him sleep better at night knowing that it was all thought though.

What I love about Steve is that he knew that the facade would sell. He knew that a pretty exterior is marketable on its own. But he couldn’t live with knowing that the beauty of his creations was only skin deep. Many businesses live this every day. Beautiful marketing, brilliant promises, idealistic mission statements, with effort only where they think it counts.

I am blessed to work with people who know it counts everywhere. People who use the good wood on the part of the furniture that goes against the wall. I am in an industry of brilliant idealists who know that businesses will win when they do the right thing and put the customer first and run a genuinely better business. I’m around people who make amazing things that are artistic and meticulous, even in the least exposed corners of their work.

Whether you like Apple or not, or whether you like Steve or not, hopefully his passion for knowing it counts everywhere inspires. The integrity of our work does not lie on the surface. It’s not about whether it works, or if it beats a competitor, or if it meets all specs. When it’s done with passion, those things are automatic. Passion measures itself on a whole other level.

Thank you Steve, thank you to my co-workers, and to my friends in this industry who let passion fuel the amazing things you all do every day.

A website is usually less than the sum of its parts. Let’s fix that.

There is a broken mindset out there that goes something like this: “If we hire the best people, if we have the best technology, we will be the best.”

Not true.

The problem with this is that people look at their companies like they might look at a race car. If we put the best tires on it, the best engine in it, the best transmission, suspension, exhaust system, and fuel, it will win the race. But the problem is that they aren’t paying attention to the chassis. A better engine, tires, suspension and all of that on a mini-van will be the best mini-van possible, but it’s still going to lose every race. The idea that our chassis (the operational structure and tendencies of our business) is automatically going to change into a race car when we put better tires on it is an illusion.

Businesses that operate on the web have to overcome two key hurdles (and there are others) when integrating “better” into their process, and the hurdles don’t always look the same.

Technology, Marketing and Design

On the one hand, there are the hurdles that are presented when integrating best-in-class technology or when presenting isolated victories to the user (like designing great landing pages apart from the rest of your site). These hurdles represent incongruence to the user, conjure skepticism and doubt as to the consistency or quality of your offering, and ultimately can destroy the brand if people think you are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Many brands come under intense criticism when users realize they are just pretending to care but really do not, and the idea that someone can buy technology to cover up the lack of a customer-oriented business model or a genuinely good experience is akin to the idea that someone can buy an official Kevin Garnett jersey and suddenly be able to dunk. It doesn’t work like that.

Let’s say your web site is poop (many are). How does poop look when…

  • You launch a world-class marketing campaign? High-exposure poop.
  • You create awesome landing pages? Poop behind a pretty door.
  • You have awesome product photography, 360 views, and reviews? Interactive poop.
  • You make the site super-responsive? Faster poop.
  • You have the best checkout process in the world? Poop that accepts Discover.


The “issue” of hiring great talent is a different one altogether. The reason I say “issue” is that it’s never a bad thing to hire a rock star, but when you try to plug that rock star’s guitar into the same amp that someone else in the band is already using, their mind-altering guitar solo is going to come out like mud.

The people issue can be different than the technology issue, although there are many similarities. The most notable hurdle is that people consume resources. They consume budgets, they consume attention, they consume human capital; and all of this consumption can cause a lot of strain. Why? Because no organization has unlimited resources, and the resources these people consume are the same resources others wish to consume. Sure, it’s easy to split budget up, but what about the home page? How do you split that up?

  • Hint: the way we do it today just makes our home page look like Mardi Gras — everyone loses, especially the user
  • Hint #2: the home page isn’t your front door: that’s an outdated mindset, so quit fighting over it

The problem with hiring rock stars is every one of them wants to wail on their solo. But that’s not how music works. People have to take their turns soloing, and while they aren’t, they need to keep the beat and back the person who is. So why are most businesses creating goals and financial incentives to practically ensure everyone is trying to solo at the same time?

While you can layer technology on top of technology and often avoid conflicts (obviously not always), this is nearly impossible with people, especially if they specialize in different trades and think that that their trade is God’s gift to man. People think that marketing is more important than customer service. Other people feel the opposite. People think that aesthetics are more important than utility, others feel the opposite. And meanwhile, your company is bonusing everyone based on their solo. This makes for bad music.

Who will save the day? You.

You are a pretty unique person. What you bring to the table in the form of data that helps prioritize the solos and show how to integrate technology, marketing and design is invaluable. You, for example, can see that people on twitter are cutting your company down at the knees for hiding a crappy experience behind a lovely landing page. The information you can gather reveals how poopy your site is, where it’s poopiest, and how you can empower the right rock stars to make it awesome by getting the most out of their specialized talents.

But wait, that’s not the important part. Not even close.

What you really bring to the table is a perspective shared only with the CEO and COO of your company (hopefully): a lack of decision bias. What makes you truly special is the fact that you don’t get a bonus based on a marketing outcome. You don’t fight for a bigger budget to drive ever more people to your house of poop every quarter. You don’t think that any one sub-component of your web site will usher humanity to nirvana. You understand that we are making music.

You can help the company execute better by helping the company integrate better. You can help create scenarios where, when budget, resources, hires, or home page space goes to one stakeholder and not the other, they both win. You can reveal the positive impact of one stakeholder sacrificing for the sake of the other, and suggest that both be rewarded for a holistically good decision.

When someone asks me, “What does an engagement with your company look like?” that can be a pretty hard question to answer. We will do anything and everything to make your business better so you can make your site better. Yes, we can optimize your search campaign. Yes, we can do world-class SEO. Yes, we can create dashboards and do implementations, design landing pages and optimize your cart experience. But that doesn’t necessarily stand out: there are other companies out there that have amazing, incredibly talented people like ours, too. What makes us (and you) unique is we know we are in a race, not in a tire-quality contest. And if your company is a mini-van, the chassis is the main thing we need to fix.

Austin, TX: The Nucleus of Analytics and Grumpiness

Emer keeps calling me Mr. Grumpypants, so I’ll go with it for now.

I’ll be speaking at Keystone’s killer event in Austin. Yes, I know that’s not enough to make you care. But here’s what is:

  • Emer Kirrane of Yahoo Analytics will be there. She is awesome.
  • John Lovett of Web Analytics Demystified will be there. He is also awesome.
  • Michele Hinojosa of Red Door Interactive will be there. She has awards to attest to her awesomeness.
  • Nicholas Einstein will be there. The dude’s name is EINSTEIN.
  • Lee Isensee will be there, ensuring availability of beverages and finger foods, in addition to evil vendor pitching.
Matthew Wright is moderating the thing. This dude is seriously smart and will probably ask me questions that will bring my whole house of cards down. You should definitely come if you want to see me fall apart under intense questioning.

The event is in Austin, TX on 9.26. Hope you can make it.

Check out the details on the Keystone site.

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