Imag­ine tak­ing a class in col­lege with­out clearly know­ing what is expected by your pro­fes­sor or how you will be graded. Noth­ing could be more stress­ful to a recov­er­ing “grade whore” like me. You could lean over to an intelligent-looking class­mate beside you and ask their opin­ion of what is expected and how you will be graded. That’s not going to help you get the high­est grade.

If you’re going to be suc­cess­ful in the class you really need to have a copy of the syl­labus from the teacher. If you think back to your col­lege days, a syl­labus (that col­ored piece of paper that ended up crum­pled at the bot­tom of your back­pack by the end of the semes­ter) was pretty impor­tant because it pro­vided the course objec­tives, top­ics, and grad­ing plan. With a syl­labus in hand, any stu­dent has the poten­tial to achieve an “A” in the class (mmmm “A”).

After empha­siz­ing the need for an exec­u­tive spon­sor, my next key to cre­at­ing a data-driven orga­ni­za­tion is align­ing your imple­men­ta­tion with busi­ness objec­tives. Many com­pa­nies strug­gle with becom­ing more data-driven because they don’t have the equiv­a­lent of a “syl­labus” for their online busi­ness. A web mea­sure­ment strat­egy is a clear, cohe­sive strat­egy for mea­sur­ing online busi­ness per­for­mance against busi­ness objec­tives. It encap­su­lates the organization’s cur­rent online busi­ness objec­tives and strat­egy, KPIs, and other unique report­ing requirements.

In a recently released report by e-Consultancy, we con­tinue to see that many com­pa­nies still don’t have a mea­sure­ment strat­egy in place. After sur­vey­ing more than 800 dig­i­tal mar­keters, e-Consultancy found “…that just one in five com­pa­nies (22%) has an inter­nal strat­egy that ‘ties data col­lec­tion and analy­sis to busi­ness objec­tives’ and only 27% say their web ana­lyt­ics ‘def­i­nitely drive action­able insights.’”

Why do we need a mea­sure­ment strategy?

In my opin­ion, there are four main ben­e­fits to devel­op­ing a web mea­sure­ment strategy:

  1. Gain a clearer under­stand­ing of your company’s online busi­ness per­for­mance. With­out well-defined KPIs, you’re not going to truly under­stand busi­ness per­for­mance and take appro­pri­ate action.
  2. Achieve greater buy-in and adop­tion by involv­ing key exec­u­tives and stake­hold­ers in the busi­ness require­ments gath­er­ing phase.
  3. Align your orga­ni­za­tion around shared mea­sure­ment objec­tives that are tied to key busi­ness goals. Hav­ing every­one focused on what’s most impor­tant to the busi­ness is extremely valuable.
  4. Avoid costly mis­steps that may require re-implementation and delay “time-to-value”. Mea­sure twice, cut once.

Why are they so elusive?

In terms of man­ag­ing a web­site, the pace of work hasn’t let up much since the late 1990’s. It’s a daily bat­tle to keep the company’s web­site cur­rent in terms of con­tent (e.g., prod­ucts, arti­cles, spe­cial pro­mo­tions, cam­paigns, brand­ing, etc.) and tech­nol­ogy (e.g., video, social media, behav­ioral tar­get­ing, mer­chan­dis­ing, test­ing, etc.). Being caught up in the day-to-day demands of man­ag­ing one or more web­sites, many com­pa­nies fail to set aside time to estab­lish and com­mu­ni­cate a clear online strat­egy for their web ini­tia­tives. It’s hard to form a web mea­sure­ment strat­egy when there isn’t a clearly artic­u­lated web strat­egy to begin with.

At a suc­cess­ful high tech com­pany, I met with 15–20 prod­uct mar­ket­ing man­agers to dis­cuss their busi­ness require­ments. After some debate about what they wanted to mea­sure online, the prod­uct mar­ket­ing man­agers told me to ask senior man­age­ment what their web strat­egy was and “let us know when you find out what it is.” Ouch.

When approach­ing a new imple­men­ta­tion project, man­agers who are tasked with man­ag­ing the project can be tempted to dive right in and may feel a web mea­sure­ment strat­egy isn’t nec­es­sary. They may feel they can suf­fi­ciently rep­re­sent the “inter­ests” of the busi­ness based on their inter­nal con­ver­sa­tions and insights. Unfor­tu­nately, this approach has led to sit­u­a­tions where senior exec­u­tives later com­plain that the pro­duced web ana­lyt­ics reports do not reflect their actual busi­ness needs.

Sim­i­lar to the children’s “tele­phone” game where a whis­pered mes­sage dis­torts as it passes from child to child, key busi­ness objec­tives can become equally dis­torted or mis­in­ter­preted as they are passed from VP-to-director-to-manager-to-analyst within an orga­ni­za­tion. Unless you go through the process of build­ing a for­mal web mea­sure­ment strat­egy, you may not fully under­stand the key require­ments of your business.

Build­ing a mea­sure­ment strategy

Omni­ture Con­sult­ing has worked with var­i­ous com­pa­nies to help define their online mea­sure­ment strate­gies, and I’ve iden­ti­fied three main stages in this process: Gather, Refine, and Align. The Gather stage typ­i­cally involves sev­eral stake­holder inter­views to bet­ter under­stand busi­ness goals and require­ments (prefer­ably face-to-face ses­sions). In the Refine stage, we eval­u­ate, clar­ify, and pri­or­i­tize objec­tives in order to develop a sound mea­sure­ment strat­egy. In the Align stage, we share the new mea­sure­ment strat­egy with the orga­ni­za­tion and then work towards align­ing the imple­men­ta­tion with key busi­ness objectives.

Is your over­all busi­ness strat­egy static?

Prob­a­bly not (or you may be touch­ing up your resume if it is). Most suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies will adapt online strate­gies to new mar­ket con­di­tions to seize oppor­tu­ni­ties and avoid threats. For exam­ple, I imag­ine very few busi­nesses have the same strat­egy today as they did two years ago.

How­ever, many com­pa­nies fail to re-calibrate their web mea­sure­ment strat­egy and imple­men­ta­tions when their busi­ness objec­tives have changed. These com­pa­nies then won­der why their web ana­lyt­ics reports aren’t help­ing them to man­age their online busi­ness. A Ger­man proverb states, “What’s the use of run­ning if you are not on the right road.” What’s the use of track­ing “met­rics” if they don’t align with your busi­ness? Align­ment is critical.

My next arti­cle in this series will focus on the impor­tance of staffing and train­ing.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Paul, I don't think your company is alone. I think many companies struggle during the Refine stage, especially when goals need to be clarified and prioritized. It is better to vet out goals and requirements BEFORE implementation rather than after. It's more time-consuming and costly to do it after implementation because you will most likely be forced to re-implement parts of your tagging strategy.

Paul Web
Paul Web

At our company it is the refining stage which seems to be the most difficult. Once people have adopted an idea, we've found it is an uphill battle getting them to change or re-consider it. However we have also found this is the most important step, as decisions made early on might not have been fully realized and should be adjusted before implementation.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

You're absolutely right, Tim . The "Gather" phase is all about understanding the key business objectives -- I should have highlighted that more explicitly in the table. I try to be diplomatic when I ask for a company's current measurement approach and strategy. It is VERY rare that a company is able to provide me with such a document. At that point, we turn the focus to identifying and agreeing on their key business objectives. As you've noted, it can be a great early win.

Tim Wilson
Tim Wilson

In my experience, the measurement strategy often fails (or at least falls short of expectations) because the overall corporate/department/program strategy and objectives aren't clear. I think that's part of what you're getting at here, but I would broaden the "Gather" phase a little bit to including gathering the key business objectives -- not simply doing an assessment of the current measurement approach and strategy. Sadly (or happily, depending on how you look at it), this is sometimes where you get a quick and early win -- bringing to light that the objectives of the department/program aren't clearly articulated and agreed to (and, in the process, helping get that clarity). Without clear objectives to start with, any measurement strategy is going to fail!

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

I'm glad that you enjoyed the post, Florian. Thanks for highlighting SMART objectives. That project mgmt framework can be very helpful in developing a sound measurement strategy.

Florian Pihs
Florian Pihs

Thanks Brent, I always enjoy these strategic posts. Very insightful and touching a point that many of us face on a daily basis. in this context I also recommend analysts to look at the SMART framework the Stephan Hamel is championing.