Tips for navigating the wild world of marketing analytics

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As published in CommPro August 18, 2013


It’s an analytics jungle out there. Just Google “marketing analytics software” and you’ll get more than 36 million results. Literally thousands of companies are now clamoring to help “prove” your marketing is/isn’t working and why. So if you’re a marketer looking to leverage big data to drive smarter decisions, where do you start?

For months now, I’ve been leading an exploration into this dense forest of data and dashboards for our marketing agency and our clients. Based on our team’s “no-skin-in-the-game” observations, I’d like to offer a few time-saving tips on how to assess your marketing analytics options.

To get your bearings, it’s helpful to take a 30,000-foot view of the analytics landscape — and categorize the broad species of solution providers.

The Big BI Brains. In this category are the most comprehensive providers of Business Intelligence (BI). While they do factor in marketing metrics, they’re built to assess broader organizational issues, like process efficiencies, product profitability, even employee productivity. Key players in this group include Oracle, SAP and IBM.

The Data Visualizers. There is also a subset of BI providers that excel at turning data mountains into digestible graphics. If you are looking for an enterprise BI system that makes data more relevant to more people, you may want to consider some of the leaders in this area, including Domo and Good Data.

The Mix Modelers. Narrowing the scope a bit, we found a number of analytics tools that combine market data with your own historical marketing metrics to predict future results. These tools can help answer questions like “what if . . . I shifted 15 percent of my TV dollars into digital?” Some leading players in this area are Nielsen, Thinkvine and MarketShare.

Beyond these integrated options, there are legions of specialists focused on helping you analyze the impact of a specific marketing tactic. Here are just a few.

The Web Watchdogs. With the help of new tools, you can track user pathways, evaluate visitor behaviors, and measure the cost-efficiency of various traffic drivers. Of course, the biggest name in this space is still the ubiquitous Google Analytics. But other major players include Adobe Analytics, IBM Digital Analytics and WebTrends.

The Social Media Meters. This newest frontier encompasses hundreds of providers promising to help you assess the Holy Grail of social media “engagement.” Beyond the traditional metrics of reach and likes/followers/retweets/shares/etc., some tools can help you analyze sentiment, track content performance, even gauge share of voice. Among the many players in this space are Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly Radian6), Viralheat, Sysomos, Blitzmetrics, Sprout Social, Mention and Argyle Social.

So how do you even determine which type of solution provider to consider? Answering these “three D” questions can put you on the right path.

1. What decisions do you need to make with more confidence?

Different tools address different questions. If you’re charged with running the business, a BI solution may make sense. But if your scope of influence is narrower, that would be serious overkill. Start with a list of the decisions you need to make and the key performance indicators (or KPIs) that can help you evaluate the effectiveness of those decisions. Then match the tool to the task.

2. What data can you regularly access?

The output of any solution will only be as good as the quality of your inputs. Be realistic about the type of data you can get your hands on reliably and regularly. Also consider whether your data sources can automatically update your analytics software. If not, be sure to factor in the hidden cost of the human resources/time necessary to manually feed fresh data to your analytics tools.

3. Which decision makers will review your data — and how?

Typically the ideal amount of data is in inverse proportion to the organizational level of the decision maker. Too many analytics efforts fail not because the data isn’t good, but because the presentation of that data is dreadful. Format matters. Your numbers need to tell a story. Even more importantly, they need to motivate actions. For example, it’s not enough to show declining Web traffic. You need to outline data-driven insights on how to reverse that trend.

So as you begin to spreadsheet your analytics options, here are some key factors to consider.

  • Cost structure: Is there a flat fee, or are you charged by the user or by the amount of data? Something that seems like a bargain can quickly become very expensive with add-ons and customization.
  • Access to — and format of — reports: Does the software offer throttled access so that different users see different data? Do the reports present that data in an audience-appropriate way?
  • Data integration: Is the system compatible with all of the data sources you need to evaluate?
  • Cross-source evaluation: Does the system allow users to “mash up” data streams to evaluate how different variables affect each other?
  • Support: Are you on your own once you sign the contract? Does the provider offer convenient web/phone support?

With all the possible solutions out there, there still is a huge gorge between data and insights. Analytics, like all of marketing, is still an art as well as a science. Just keep in mind that even the best tools still need to be wielded by master craftsmen.