While pre­sent­ing at an online mar­ket­ing con­fer­ence, I was reflect­ing on the impor­tance of strat­egy for ana­lyt­ics and opti­miza­tion. At a high-level, strat­egy can be defined as a plan of action or ini­tia­tives to achieve a set of busi­ness goals or objec­tives. Well-known strat­egy guru Michael Porter stated “a strat­egy delin­eates a ter­ri­tory in which a com­pany seeks to be unique.” It’s the secret sauce. It’s what sets your com­pany apart from its competitors.

As such, strat­egy should always influ­ence the imple­men­ta­tion or set-up of your ana­lyt­ics and test­ing tools. I know of very few “vanilla” or “cookie-cutter” com­pa­nies that need generic imple­men­ta­tions. In order to col­lect the right data that is rel­e­vant and com­plete (let’s not for­get accu­rate), your met­rics need to be based on the unique busi­ness goals of your orga­ni­za­tion.

As I’ve worked with sev­eral dif­fer­ent global lead­ers, I’ve dis­cov­ered out­wardly sim­i­lar com­pa­nies need­ing dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions in their imple­men­ta­tions based on their unique strate­gies. Although one retailer may share many of same KPIs as other e-commerce sites (e.g., rev­enue, AOV, con­ver­sion rate, etc.), there are often unique require­ments spe­cific to each retailer. Dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion can and should spill into the data.

Win­ston Churchill said, “How­ever beau­ti­ful the strat­egy, you should occa­sion­ally look at the results.” Hav­ing a web mea­sure­ment strat­egy in place ensures your com­pany is able to mon­i­tor the suc­cess or fail­ure of its online ini­tia­tives. It aligns dif­fer­ent data dimen­sions, KPIs, and reports to your busi­ness objec­tives so that your com­pany can effec­tively mea­sure its online busi­ness per­for­mance. As you can imag­ine, it’s dif­fi­cult to align your imple­men­ta­tion to an unknown strat­egy. And yet I still find our con­sul­tants work­ing with large, well-known com­pa­nies that seem­ingly can­not clearly artic­u­late what their cur­rent online strat­egy or busi­ness goals are.

Why is the strat­egy part so chal­leng­ing for companies?

Both web ana­lyt­ics con­sul­tants and prac­ti­tion­ers alike would prob­a­bly agree align­ing an imple­men­ta­tion to a company’s busi­ness goals as one of the most impor­tant steps — but also one of the most dif­fi­cult to accom­plish. Why can it be so dif­fi­cult? I’ve iden­ti­fied three road­blocks that can cre­ate problems.

1. Tac­ti­cal focus

Web teams are really busy han­dling the onslaught of daily tasks — launch­ing new paid search cam­paigns, man­ag­ing site updates, plan­ning the next site redesign, cre­at­ing new online sur­veys, build­ing ad hoc reports, test­ing new land­ing pages, etc. Work­force reduc­tions in the last cou­ple of years may have bur­dened these teams with more respon­si­bil­i­ties and less resources to com­plete them (let’s not for­get the smaller train­ing bud­gets). They are essen­tially strug­gling to keep the online boat afloat — bail­ing water while try­ing to keep the sails up. How­ever, I fre­quently find that not enough peo­ple have stopped to check if the boat is head­ing in the right direction.

They might be mean­der­ing in a gen­er­ally safe direc­tion, about to hit the rocks, or already ship­wrecked — and nobody even noticed. Even when an indi­vid­ual or team isn’t clear on the company’s online strat­egy or busi­ness goals, they will con­tinue to dili­gently focus on accom­plish­ing their day-to-day, tac­ti­cal respon­si­bil­i­ties. The default set­ting in most of us is to keep busy, keep our heads down, and get things done — not wait around for an online strat­egy to be pro­vided or clar­i­fied. Good tac­ti­cal exe­cu­tion is impor­tant, but strat­egy ensures that efforts are not wasted on the wrong activ­i­ties or goals. As Sun Tzu stated, Strat­egy with­out tac­tics is the slow­est route to vic­tory. Tac­tics with­out strat­egy is the noise before defeat.”

2. Orga­ni­za­tional dynamics

Too often the online part of the busi­ness is treated more like com­mon land, which in feu­dal times was land shared by the com­mu­nity for graz­ing herds and gath­er­ing fire­wood. In large orga­ni­za­tions, mul­ti­ple divi­sions or teams share parts of the company’s online pres­ence, but nobody over­sees the over­all online busi­ness. As a result, there is fre­quently no over­ar­ch­ing online strat­egy or shared busi­ness goals that unify each group’s focus.

In some cases, the online parts of a busi­ness can turn into a polit­i­cal bat­tle­ground with dif­fer­ent groups wrestling for con­trol. You don’t need 14 dif­fer­ent busi­ness divi­sions and world­wide oper­a­tions to expe­ri­ence pol­i­tics because even small com­pa­nies have run into the same con­flicts. With each team inter­pret­ing the orga­ni­za­tional goals inde­pen­dently, it becomes very dif­fi­cult to pri­or­i­tize and align a web ana­lyt­ics imple­men­ta­tion to vague or con­flict­ing busi­ness objec­tives. Whether or not your company’s deci­sion mak­ing is cen­tral­ized or decen­tral­ized, hav­ing a clear online strat­egy is always a best prac­tice and essen­tial for cre­at­ing a global view of a company’s online performance.

3. Inad­e­quate dis­cov­ery process

One of the most impor­tant steps is to involve all of the key stake­hold­ers in the dis­cov­ery of the organization’s busi­ness require­ments and clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the online strat­egy. Some­times a sin­gle per­son or group may feel they can rep­re­sent the needs of the entire com­pany to save time, and not all of the stake­hold­ers need to be both­ered with the dis­cov­ery process. Despite the best of inten­tions of these indi­vid­u­als, I’ve seen this approach fail on mul­ti­ple occasions.

In one exam­ple, an inter­nal, two-person task force at a travel com­pany bro­kered and con­trolled the entire dis­cov­ery process despite repeated requests from our con­sult­ing team to involve addi­tional stake­hold­ers within their orga­ni­za­tion. When the final web reports failed to meet the needs of sev­eral senior exec­u­tives and teams, access to other stake­holder groups sud­denly opened up but the com­pany was still forced to re-implement sig­nif­i­cant parts of its Site­Cat­a­lyst solution.

Dif­fer­ent parts of the busi­ness (e.g., mar­ket­ing vs. sup­port) may have dis­sim­i­lar goals, pri­or­i­ties, agen­das, require­ments, and KPIs. Each group may also have vary­ing degrees of ana­lyt­ics expe­ri­ence. Throw into the mix the fact that online busi­ness needs and pri­or­i­ties are not sta­tic, and the Inter­net seems to be con­stantly rein­vent­ing itself every 6–12 months. Hope­fully, you see why it’s impor­tant to be inclu­sive in the dis­cov­ery process in order to prop­erly gather, refine, and align the imple­men­ta­tion to the key busi­ness goals and require­ments. Two famil­iar proverbs come to mind: “Mea­sure twice, cut once” and “Haste makes waste”.

Lead­er­ship is the answer

The strat­egy part becomes much eas­ier when a some­times miss­ing ingre­di­ent is added — lead­er­ship. Michael Porter defined the role of lead­ers as “more than just stew­ard­ship of indi­vid­ual func­tions” and at “its core is strat­egy: defin­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing the company’s unique posi­tion, mak­ing trade-offs, and forg­ing fit among activ­i­ties.” I would also add hold­ing indi­vid­u­als and groups account­able for achiev­ing the busi­ness goals out­lined in the online strategy.

When lead­ers clearly artic­u­late the online strat­egy to employ­ees and teams, those indi­vid­u­als are empow­ered to be more strate­gic with their tac­ti­cal respon­si­bil­i­ties. I still recall the time when I was inter­view­ing a large group of prod­uct mar­ket­ing man­agers, and they asked me to let them know what the web strat­egy was when I got it from their senior man­age­ment team. Sun Tzu wouldn’t have been impressed.

Despite a company’s com­plex orga­ni­za­tional struc­ture, the right level of lead­er­ship can align dif­fer­ent indi­vid­u­als or groups around a uni­fied online strat­egy and min­i­mize the pol­i­tics. When I was help­ing a media com­pany to define its web mea­sure­ment strat­egy, I was notic­ing very diverse inter­pre­ta­tions of organization’s online strat­egy and KPIs from its dif­fer­ent teams. How­ever, as soon as a senior exec­u­tive clar­i­fied the online strat­egy and pri­or­i­ties, everyone’s busi­ness require­ments quickly fell into step with his direc­tion or vision.

Lead­er­ship can play a key role in ensur­ing that the right peo­ple are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the dis­cov­ery process. Typ­i­cally, you want to go “high and wide” in terms of the groups and indi­vid­u­als that are involved in the dis­cov­ery process. Lead­ers can make sure that all the right peo­ple are not only involved but also com­mit­ted to the require­ments gath­er­ing process, which can save time as sched­ul­ing and advance prepa­ra­tion can be chal­leng­ing. For exam­ple, a C-level exec­u­tive at a multi­na­tional retailer was able to involve EVPs from its offline adver­tis­ing and purchasing/merchandising groups, who wouldn’t nor­mally have par­tic­i­pated in online strat­egy dis­cus­sions. How­ever, he was able to con­vince them that the value of web data extended beyond just the online chan­nel in a mul­ti­chan­nel retail world.

As the famous busi­ness pro­fes­sor John P. Kot­ter stated, “Lead­ers estab­lish the vision for the future and set the strat­egy for get­ting there.” Effec­tive lead­er­ship plays an inte­gral role in not only estab­lish­ing the strat­egy but also ensur­ing that busi­ness per­for­mance can be mea­sured against the defined strat­egy. When the right mea­sure­ment is in place, indi­vid­u­als and teams can be held account­able by lead­ers for reach­ing the desired goals. Good lead­er­ship can help your orga­ni­za­tion over­come the three chal­lenges men­tioned above and is crit­i­cal to achiev­ing data-driven suc­cess.