How to use analytics data for valuable business narratives and clear prescriptive action plans
You need a hot-button topic today to get fired up about marketing. So, we're learning about marketing analytics and metrics!
Dorky humor of data and spreadsheets, digital analytics is a rapidly expanding field that is both complex and nuanced. Successful digital marketing analytics practitioners mix technical know-how with big picture strategy chops, making proficiency a difficult state to attain.
Combined with rampant growth in the marketing field, this leads to a low signal, high noise situation aptly described by longtime baseball manager Leo Durocher, "Baseball is like church. Many attend few understand."
Your analytics need to be prescriptive: guiding your decisions, not re-stating the obvious business reality. How to do it better? Follow this framework:
- Build a meaningful measurement model
- Always include historical and relational context in your analytics reporting
- Escape the temptation to use data in aggregate: find direction by drilling down into smaller data
Are Your Marketing Analytics Descriptive or Prescriptive?
Most professionals have been there: the dreary marathon meeting in a cold room, enduring a painful death-by-PowerPoint, where somebody reads figures to you, verbatim, from a slide deck.
Was it awful or what? There's a root cause behind this dreadfulness:
An overwhelming supermajority of marketing metrics are used in a deceptive manner.
Someone on the phone tells you what was in last week's email: traffic was up 10% last month. Describing information others already know produces no business value and leads to frustration.
What then, dear reader, are you to do? Introducing prescriptive digital marketing analytics.
Prescriptive analytics makes digital marketing metrics less like a meeting, and more like a doctor's visit or retirement coaching session. You walk away with a better understanding of your situation and specific actions for improvement.
Adopting this mindset is critical to fully extracting the vast amounts of values trapped in your digital analytics.
Building Your Analytics Funnel and Marketing Plan
As astute marketers, we know SMART goal setting is a must-have piece of our strategy skill set. Otherwise, how else would we connect our brand's P/L targets with marketing budgets, agency direction, and so on?
Luckily for us, a smart gentleman named Avinash Kaushik has crafted a gold standard model for digital marketing and measurement planning. It's such a thorough creation, I have little commentary other than praise for it.
The aforementioned commentary: His framework is even more potent when you solve backward from your business goals. (His article covers the topic, but skips specifics in favor of serving a broad audience.)
A more specific example:
- $75MM online revenue target for the 2017 Fiscal Year
- $25MM marketing and advertising budget
- Budget distributed across 6 digital marketing channels
- Budget modeled and optimized for return on advertising spend (ROAS), or cost-per-conversion, or another metric.
After you read this article, visit Avinash's site and hammer away a plan, so you can present a roadmap for your brand's digital marketing success. With a plan in hand, let's consider two pillars of meaningful analytics: context and direction.
Context: Getting Past Lies & Statistics
Equipped with goals, you may soon find yourself in a meeting with a vendor or other in-house partner as they report on progress toward your goals. Now is the time where you can learn from their mistakes, and prevent similar outcomes for yourself.
Context is a key component in extracting value from digital marketing analytics. To illustrate the importance of context, we'll relive a real-life situation that lacked context.
Below, a sample report recreates real a file I received from a potential client some years ago. (Obviously, I can't share the real report, but this representation is sadly very close.) During the proposal process, we received past reports from the incumbent digital marketing agency. Briefly review it, do you see anything amiss?
You should notice that everything is up and to the right! Furthermore, you should notice that these data points are in isolation, in terms of time and relation to other digital marketing metrics. Some metrics increased by 5, 2 or less than 1. The lack of complete information is sadly laughable and utterly useless!
Be reminded- a real business paid real money to a real agency for this. Be ye warned.
So, you can introduce context to know whether your metrics are good are bad. Leveraging analytics in a year-over-year (Y/Y), historical fashion can eliminate seasonal bias, while comparing metrics can lend complete insight into performance.
Example: instead of some month-over-month charts, we might want to see paid search click-through rate and paid search conversions mapped out Y/Y. In doing so, we might see, for argument's sake, that click-through rate declined Y/Y, but conversions were up on higher spend.
A situation like this could direct us to look further at click-through rate by ad group, and potentially find under-performing ads that need revamping. While this is a hypothetical example, this approach saves sanity, produces actionable next steps, and could help your brand spend its marketing budget more efficiently.
Direction: Finding Power in Small Data
Demonstrated above, direction in digital analytics is important because it produces actionable next steps. The initial example combines metrics, and then pushes analysis down to a more granular level.
Therein lies the key to forging direction from your digital analytics: small(er) data.
Big data in aggregate, such as the lump sum of monthly visits compared to last month, is generally useless to strategy.
Here are a few quick ways you can get direction (and action) from your analytics:
Compare metrics against each other.
- Many marketing channels work in a balance between 1) Reach and 2) Efficiency. Comparing the two, such as in our example above, leads to action.
Mash up data sources. (With care!)
- As digital analytics evolve, expand and fragment, many large players are rushing to hoard the new commodity: data, at your expense.
- Example: if you pair the count of internal links to your website pages (source: Google Search Console) against the pages' average natural search ranking for high-value keywords (source: e.g., Brightedge), you may find an easy win for a page with a mid-range average ranking, but no internal links. Win!
Segment, segment, segment.
- Did we mention aggregate data is useless? Segmentation allows you to filter and shape data into something useful.
- Examples: Form conversion rates for PDF downloads, or e-commerce sales by channel are aggregate data that fail to prescribe action. However, if you were to segment form interaction by prospect personality type (yes, that's possible with effort) or segment channel sales by product type and time of day, you may have specific actions that could make or save money!
Wrap Up + Bonus Resources: Reading to Get Smart on Digital Analytics
What a tour! I sincerely hope this article provided you with a framework that you can act on today, and improve your digital analytics practice.
Failing that, below are some excellent resources which I respect on digital analytics. In any case, save the world from bad marketing by sharing this with your peers, and join the conversation in the comments below, or on social media. Cheers!
Growth x performance marketing. The awards, banner clients, P&L and the work come and go. The important, persistent questions remain, "Did I make a difference?", "Did it matter?", "Was it worth it?"
The key to these questions lies in the relationships we form with our fellow teammates. I've been fortunate to encounter success early in my career. The success has been marked by the generosity of hard working, smart folks who have deeply invested in me.
I am becoming a practice and thought leader in digital marketing. The awards, banner clients, P&L and work are important. However, they are only byproducts of my ultimate success factors: relationships and paying forward my time & talents generously.
Select speaking engagements/media:
- AAF Houston
- Blog Elevated
- Fort Bend Internet Marketing Meetup
- Houston Bloggers Association
- Houston Chronicle (interviewed as subject matter expert)
- Energy Digital Summit
- UH Bauer MBA
SEO Leader at iProspect in Fort Worth, Texas. Proven track record of client results and agency growth. Previously, took Forthea from a marketing startup to leading independent digital agency in the Southwest. I work tirelessly to advance the team's content, digital, inbound and search marketing offerings. Simultaneously, I ensure the digital marketing strategy of our clients is two steps ahead of their landscape and that team execution is sound.
I hold numerous digital marketing certifications and qualifications. My interests include emerging technology, research, continuous learning, measured marketing experimentation and entrepreneurship. I regularly speak on marketing strategy, digital marketing, SEO, PPC and other topics in the community.