Since it was first released in 2005, Google Analytics has had a massively disruptive impact on the web analytics industry. With a free and relatively easy-to-use product, Google democratized access, enabling organizations who previously could not afford an analytics program, as well as different, non-analyst business units within a company, to perform some basic data crunching. This powered a culture shift in marketing toward data-driven decision making.
“Traditionally you had a dedicated web analyst. Now you have marketing managers and CEOs using analytics tools.”— CEO, GoSquared
It also forced some analytics vendors to double-down on enterprise customers, who needed the extra training, implementation, support and data volumes not offered by free analytics tools. Niche tools such as KISSmetrics and Mixpanel emerged filling in specific capability gaps left by Google Analytics or other free products.
“In 2007 and 2008, the free and mid-market customers almost disappeared because of Google Analytics. We saw our future was only in the high-end, and we developed more advanced features.”— CEO, AT Internet
“The various analytics tools each have a role because they're all different flavors. They have different ways of presenting the data. Every analytics tool has some kind of bias, so there's always room for those alternative options to Google Analytics.”— Keynote Speaker, Advisor, Bestselling Author
Having penetrated the market so much, Google is still able to change the industry with innovations such as their recent launch of Universal Analytics, which is a new version of Google Analytics that aims to focus on tracking people, through a unique ID, rather than devices. Universal Analytics could potentially force other tools focused on person-based tracking to re-think their value propositions.
“Universal Analytics will certainly put pressure on user-level tracking tools to evolve. Their main selling point was, ‘we give you the full user profile,’ and now Google can do it, with a little bit of work.”— Director of Innovation, Cardinal Path
However, some analytics vendors disagree.
“Google still isn't letting customers pass in email addresses, and therefore, you can't merge all the data. We've focused on the accuracy of the data and being able to see all of a customer's activities, no matter how long ago it took place. Our method of doing person-based tracking is better for certain use cases.”
Most digital marketers are now using data to drive decision-making around things like website changes, traffic acquisition efforts, advertising and other marketing endeavors. The next step is a more focused use of the data: the ability to take direct action off of data, in real time and even in an automated fashion.
This requires data collection technology, such as digital analytics, to be integrated with action-based technology, such as email marketing, customer relationship management, targeting and personalization, and marketing automation. The integration is not only about pulling data from those systems into an analytics tool, but also sending data from analytics to those systems to enable action—whether manually or, preferably, automatically. This elevates the importance of real-time capabilities in analytics tools.
“Customers are saying, ‘I don't want my measurement, planning and execution tools siloed.’ This rising demand for the integrated marketing platform is good for the industry as a whole. Customers ultimately want the ability to move data fluidly and accurately across all of these platforms, so that they can do more automated marketing, more personalization.”— Global Head of Google Analytics Premium
“There are two ways to act on data: (1) by looking at the data and using it to make decisions, and (2) by leveraging real-time data to instantly personalize experiences, allowing you to, for example, display a certain promotion to a particular segment of visitors.”— Founder & CEO, Woopra
The goal is usually to provide a better, more relevant experience for consumers, based on what is known about them. This could include things like automatically sending an email to customers who abandoned a particular item in their shopping cart, surfacing the most relevant products or articles for a website visitor based on what he or she has purchased or read in the past, or showing images or language that are more likely to resonate with an individual based on demographics, preferences or geographic location.
“The purpose of analytics is to report on what happened, develop insights on why things happened, and then finally I can take action on those insights. Usually the challenge on the last part is resources. This is where the machine-learning tools that automate tasks come in—to make actions happen on the data without a heavy human dimension. Amazon for example has tools that will automatically change search results based on what they know about a customer.”— Keynote Speaker, Advisor, Bestselling Author
In addition to wanting to take direct action based on customer data, marketers are increasingly focused on optimizing the individual customer's experience. This includes shaping each customer's interaction based on that customer's previous experiences. When visiting a website, an individual who has never heard of a brand, for example, is looking for something very different than a legacy customer. Certain words will resonate with a company's B2C customer, while the same company's B2B customer will be interested in something entirely different.
Treating each customer with relevant content based on everything a company knows about that individual means customer data needs to be unified across various marketing technologies—including those that track offline activity. Unifying customer data requires a universal customer ID. To truly join web analytics data with other customer data, companies will need to entice website visitors to log in or authenticate in some way, as well as entice store visitors to use person-based coupons or loyalty cards.
We're going to see more websites enticing visitors to log in with Facebook, Twitter or Google accounts, just so they can have that unique ID and gradually enrich the information they know about visitors. It's a tradeoff. I'm willing to authenticate myself in exchange for a feature or something I didn't have before.”— Director of Innovation, Cardinal Path
For businesses with a physical store, connecting an individual's online and offline activity is perhaps the most difficult, yet it can lead to important revelations.
“Apple is the best example of creating a consistent, relevant customer experience across online and offline platforms. I can make an appointment on my phone to go to a retail store, and when I get there, I check in with my device, they come over and show me things on my computer and my phone, I can check out, it emails over a receipt. It's easier, because it's fairly closed environment—they own the stores, they own where you get your content, and they own the device. But there are ways for other companies to strive for this…
There are a lot of situations where you have to include offline in your analysis. We had a large client that created a lot of expensive videos, and only a small percentage of their traffic was watching them. The first inclination might be to stop producing those videos, but when we looked at the likelihood to visit a store location to try one of their products out, the video turned out to be the most valuable aspect on the entire site.”— President, Americas at POSSIBLE
“The more difficult work in cross-channel integration comes when decisions need to be made based on the results of the integration. Companies have to align goals and cultural norms between channels or divisions of a company for the ‘common good’. Too often, not enough work is done in this area. For example, what will happen if, when the cross-channel evidence begins to come in, the company finds decisions that maximize value on the digital side actually restrict value creation for the offline channel? How will this conflict be resolved, and what are the rules of this resolution game? The answers to such questions often require new ways of thinking about customer and supplier relationships, and companies need to be prepared to resolve these issues or the benefits of cross-channel integration will likely be hindered by internal conflict.”— Owner and Principal Consultant, The Drilling Down Project