Measure for Measure

OK, I’ll admit it, I love interactive marketing, watching the results of a campaign or project while it’s running. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right. Let’s face it, no other marketing or media channel has the same immediate reinforcement that, for instant gratification junkies, makes interactive marketing the best route to “immediate impact” Nirvana.
Today’s challenging economic environment is creating an even greater need to realize results immediately, if not sooner. Regardless of whether it’s an agency review or new client pitch, robust metrics are a crucially important tool. Clients ultimately want to know how — and how soon — online interactive campaigns are going to impact their respective bottom lines.
And, while I understand and appreciate the need for good, solid data around marketing programs, I must be the bearer of bad news. There are a lot of companies that aren’t even close to asking the $64,000 measurement question about the effectiveness of their interactive campaigns, much less answering it.

The problem is a lot of companies are still in the infancy stage when it comes to analytics. And, even though you may understand the importance of measuring marketing programs, making the leap from no baseline information to an extremely sophisticated data analytics platform is challenging for most companies and downright unrealistic for others. When selecting a suite of tools for data analysis, the key is to remember the tool simply provides the data. It is up to us, as humans, to interpret the information, come to a conclusion and make a decision. Therefore, I recommend taking an incremental approach to analytics. Start with the basics and look at more detailed and comprehensive data only when necessary.

So, are you still looking at a Web counter or log files? If so, you may need to take a step back and reevaluate the purpose of your Web site. Google provided the great equalizer with its analytics package at the very attractive price of free. And truthfully, it does a pretty good job of providing the core basic data to help marketers understand what’s happening on their sites.
However, for more sophisticated sites or granular decision making, advanced tools like WebTrends or Omniture are required. Both provide an almost limitless number of ways to crunch the stats and review customized data. Now, you are taking analytics to the next level, i.e., moving past what customers are doing on the site to trying to understand why they are doing it. Again, I cannot stress the importance of having a real person (sorry, outsourcing to avatars won’t cut it) interpret the data at this point. No tool will tell you the specific changes you need to make to the site; it will simply provide data designed to help you make an informed, educated decision.

Another important part of effective analysis is using competitive data. The aforementioned tools are focused on your site and your efforts. That’s a great starting point, but it’s equally important to understand those data points in context. Comparing your efforts with competitors is a critical step in data analytics and Hitwise and Nielsen are solid tools to help you with that process.
For example, if your traffic is flat, you might be concerned. But in context, you’d see that everyone else in your category has lost traffic over the same time period. Suddenly, flat doesn’t seem so bad. Competitive data also can help you identify opportunities for your own site, such as what keywords or sites are driving traffic to competitors? Or how can I improve my company’s search or media efforts to grab extra market share?
Having clearly defined objectives and a shared understanding of success removes a lot of the mystery of analytics. You won’t hear this often in the marketing world and it may seem counterintuitive, but the “Keep It Simple Stupid” principle works.
By focusing on the core performance indicators, analytics can help ensure your interactive campaigns are delivering for clients. And never forget that having piles and piles of data profiling  your current site customer never compares to having a human resource that can turn all that information into action.

The most important factor is to have clearly defined goals from the beginning.

Bottom line: what are you hoping to achieve? The world of analytics has a lot of noise and it’s easy to get buried under reams of reports. Although the data may be interesting, sometimes it’s simply not relevant. Focus on five or six key metrics that serve as your guiding measurement. Only go deeper to diagnose problems that are impeding success.
Be prepared to fail and don’t continuously try to find more data just to make the project look like a success. If you miss, adjust and readjust. The primary benefit of the analytics is providing you the information to do just that.

Chris Thornton is chief marketing officer for Definition 6, an Atlanta-based full-service interactive marketing agency.