After exper­i­ment­ing with my own per­sonal blog over the past year, I fig­ured it was about time that I ven­tured into the world of cor­po­rate blog­ging. Some of you may have had the oppor­tu­nity of attend­ing my Omni­ture Sum­mit 2009 pre­sen­ta­tion on the “7 Keys to Cre­at­ing a Data-Driven Orga­ni­za­tion”. Oth­ers of you may have seen the same pre­sen­ta­tion as a free web­cast pro­vided by our mar­ket­ing team.

Through an upcom­ing series of arti­cles, I will exam­ine each of the seven key suc­cess fac­tors of data-driven orga­ni­za­tions in more detail. But before I do this, I want to dis­cuss why being data-driven is more impor­tant than ever for orga­ni­za­tions and why so many com­pa­nies still strug­gle with it.

Why Be “Data-Driven”?

In times of eco­nomic growth like we expe­ri­enced from 2005–2007, too many mar­ket­ing deci­sions were made based on intu­ition and gut instinct. Too fre­quently mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives were not tied to suc­cess met­rics or even mea­sured at all. Hold­ing peo­ple account­able would have inter­fered with work­ing on the next big project or cam­paign. Between the abun­dance of “low-hanging fruit” and the sheer vol­ume of work to be done, mis­takes could be masked or con­ve­niently over­looked.

Now with the recent eco­nomic down­turn, com­pa­nies are being forced to scru­ti­nize their mar­ket­ing spend­ing more closely. Many CMOs have had to sig­nif­i­cantly cut their adver­tis­ing bud­gets, and they have to do more with less. They want to under­stand which cam­paigns, mar­ket­ing chan­nels, and online con­tent are the most effec­tive so they can get the most “bang” for their mar­ket­ing dol­lars. In addi­tion, more and more adver­tis­ers are shift­ing bud­get away from tra­di­tional chan­nels to more mea­sur­able dig­i­tal chan­nels such as paid search, email, social media, etc. In a down econ­omy, data is prov­ing to be a marketer’s new friend.

Why Is It So Dif­fi­cult to Be Data-Driven?

In my five years as an Omni­ture con­sul­tant work­ing with sev­eral For­tune 500 com­pa­nies, I’ve repeat­edly seen how orga­ni­za­tional issues — not nec­es­sar­ily tech­ni­cal ones — have impeded the suc­cess of many well-meaning com­pa­nies in the area of web ana­lyt­ics. Becom­ing data-driven requires more than just tools or tech­nol­ogy — it requires sup­port­ing processes and peo­ple. Too often com­pa­nies obtain the nec­es­sary tech­nol­ogy but don’t add suf­fi­cient resources or make changes to their exist­ing inter­nal processes or culture.

Web Ana­lyt­ics / Gar­den Analogy

When dis­cussing the chal­lenges that orga­ni­za­tions face in becom­ing data-driven, I like to com­pare web ana­lyt­ics to gar­den­ing. Just like in gar­den­ing, peo­ple, processes, and tools are equally impor­tant in web ana­lyt­ics. By con­sid­er­ing all three areas, com­pa­nies are more inclined to become data-driven and suc­cess­ful in even a down economy.

Peo­ple

Look­ing at the “peo­ple” aspects of gar­den­ing, you have the own­ers of the gar­den (senior exec­u­tives) who deter­mine what the pri­or­i­ties are for the upcom­ing “har­vest” (report­ing and analy­sis). They deter­mine what “crops” (data or reports) are needed to sus­tain the orga­ni­za­tion. Sec­ond, you have the actual gar­den­ers (tech­ni­cal staff) who grow the desired fruit or veg­etable plants (imple­ment the tag­ging strat­egy). Third, you have the har­vesters (busi­ness ana­lysts) who col­lect and dis­trib­ute the “pro­duce” to the orga­ni­za­tion when they’re ripe.

I have seen com­pa­nies run into prob­lems when exec­u­tives do not par­tic­i­pate in defin­ing busi­ness require­ments or decid­ing what data is needed. After the “har­vest­ing” has occurred, it’s painful to find out from exec­u­tives that key reports or met­rics are miss­ing. I’ve also seen cases where com­pa­nies don’t have suf­fi­cient or effec­tive har­vesters — leav­ing valu­able data to “rot on the vine”.

Processes

Sim­i­lar to gar­den­ing, processes are equally impor­tant to web ana­lyt­ics. Besides plant­ing (imple­men­ta­tion) and har­vest­ing (data analy­sis), there are sev­eral other processes that impact the suc­cess of web ana­lyt­ics at an orga­ni­za­tion. Your web ana­lyt­ics may need to be “weeded” (data val­i­da­tion) on a reg­u­lar basis to ensure that the data is accu­rate. A con­sis­tent “water­ing” (train­ing) sched­ule may be impor­tant to data adop­tion within your com­pany. Just like in gar­den­ing if you skip a key step in web ana­lyt­ics, it can under­mine a lot of hard work in other areas. What’s the point of plant­ing an exten­sive gar­den if you’re not will­ing water or weed it?

From an over­ar­ch­ing process per­spec­tive, it may also be impor­tant to think of your web ana­lyt­ics as an ongo­ing pro­gram rather than just a one-time ini­tia­tive. Some com­pa­nies may feel as though they have insti­tuted a web ana­lyt­ics “pro­gram” but have really just launched their web ana­lyt­ics as a “project” (e.g., no train­ing or require­ments gath­er­ing after the ini­tial launch).

Tools

When I refer to “tools” of a data-driven orga­ni­za­tion, I am refer­ring to more than just enabling tech­nolo­gies such as Site­Cat­a­lyst or Dis­cover. These prod­ucts may be the shovel or hoe of web ana­lyt­ics, but I con­sider other uten­sils to be equally impor­tant to estab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing a suc­cess­ful web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram. For exam­ple, a web mea­sure­ment strat­egy is a valu­able doc­u­ment in ensur­ing a company’s online ini­tia­tives are aligned with its over­all objec­tives and appro­pri­ate KPIs are pre­de­fined for mea­sur­ing per­for­mance. In addi­tion, larger orga­ni­za­tions may ben­e­fit from a cor­po­rate stan­dards doc­u­ment that defines how vari­ables are allo­cated and how page tags are to be instru­mented. Indeed, there are many com­ple­men­tary tools — out­side of the actual ana­lyt­i­cal tools them­selves — which con­tribute to the suc­cess of peo­ple and processes at data-driven companies.

Author Rud­yard Kipling once stated, “Gar­dens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beau­ti­ful,’ and sit­ting in the shade.” Get­ting your web ana­lyt­ics pro­gram in order and cre­at­ing a data-driven com­pany is going to require some work. In my next blog post, I will exam­ine the first key to cre­at­ing a data-driven com­pany — secur­ing an exec­u­tive spon­sor.

8 comments
Reuben Poon
Reuben Poon

Great article. I'm excited to see what you'll be bringing to the Omniture side of your blogs. Has anyone read Patrick Lencioni's Death by Meeting? I see similarities between why people are "bored" by meetings and analytics. Lencioni's take of the issue is very interesting and might lend itself to making analytics more interesting and compelling across an organization. Thoughts?

Dave
Dave

You could use endless analogy's and I kinda agree that management team is afraid of seeing a project that appears not to be doing well in the limelight. Its much easier just to say we did this as compared to we did this and this is what happened or even what we will change to see if we get better results.

Jonny Longden
Jonny Longden

For me, its more basic than that. The main reason that companies find it hard to become data driven is that their analysts (and in turn their analysis service providers) talk to them too much about data, tools and reports and not enough about performance improvement. Most business leaders and marketing people are either secretly or openly bored by analytics, but if you leave the data behind the scenes and talk to them about making money and selling stuff then you have their attention. We have to remember that the output of analytics is NOT analysis, its business performance improvement.

Adam Greco
Adam Greco

Great blog post Brent! I love the analogy. I look forward to reading more...

Michael
Michael

Thanks for the post Brent. I like the analogy. It reminds me of some of the projects that I do at work. We'll get the project done but sometimes resources are limited to support the new feature or improve upon it.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

I think you make a good point, Jonny. Tying your thoughts into the garden analogy, do companies always care about the "produce" (reporting or analysis) or the actual "meals" (performance improvements, sales/marketing/support actions, etc.) that come out of setting up a solid web analytics program. Although everyone may enjoy a raw carrot or apple from time to time, it may not be enough to simply bring the vegetables or fruit to the organization to consume. As you propose, it's more about "what's for dinner?" with executives or what "actions" can be cooked up with these ingredients that will drive change. I can buy that.

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

Thanks Adam. I'm looking forward to this blogging adventure!

Brent Dykes
Brent Dykes

I think this is a common problem across various business/IT projects -- and not just particular to web analytics. If a project is to "live on" after it is complete, it's frequently going to need ongoing support and additional resources.