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The What, Why and Meaning of Online Marketing Analytics.

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In the world of online marketing, analytics have often been referred to as a double-edged sword. On one side there is a certain beauty in the fact that everything can be tracked, but on the flipside this level of insight has created a completely new level of accountability when it comes to performance and expectations.

No matter how you look at it, when it comes to online marketing, analytics are as much a part of the marketing supply chain as messaging, creative and media. While messaging, creative and media help you communicate and reach your target; analytics ultimately tell us if it’s working and more specifically, what’s working. But beyond these elements, analytics also serve as guide for optimizing and evolving campaign performance and for driving overall channel strategy.

While no online marketer will dispute the importance of analytics, how they are communicated and interpreted is another story. While any online marketing endeavor will yield a ton of data that is often packaged in a beautiful report with lots of charts and graphs, how that data is then analyzed and turned into actionable insights is another challenge.

Yet, it’s my belief this does not have to be a major challenge. Rather, by taking what I like to refer to as a “three dimensional” approach that focuses on the “what”, “why” and “meaning” of marketing analytics, I believe that we as online marketers can improve truly improve upon how this data is interpreted, communicated and ultimately acted upon. However, the key it is to take the time to understand each step and also how they work together.

What
The “What” of online marketing analytics is the most basic element of when it comes to data analysis and interpretation, as this step is simply aimed at synthesizing the collected data and telling the user “what” happened. This component is pretty black and white as you are just calling out key campaign and/or channel KPIs and referencing the associated campaign data sets that speak to them. In communicating the “what”, you typically speak to what went up or down and then look to provide some sort of context by speaking to a set of comparative metrics such as campaign benchmarks.

While this level of analysis is very important, it’s all too often where it stops. What I mean here is that the analysis fails go to beyond the surface in terms of the data that is being presented. While you may feel you have provided value in showcasing and documenting key performance elements of the channel or campaign, is this really something that someone who knows how to read and analyze numbers could not have garnered on their own? Yes, while you may be helping guide the conversation by showcasing what metrics the user should focus on, the reality here is that by stopping with the “what”, in many ways you’re just reiterating insights around data that is already prevalent in what you are reporting.

Why
Therefore, when analyzing your online marketing analytics if you want to start yielding insight from your data, it’s key that you look beyond the “what” and to the “why”. Simply stated, if data sets show that something happened within your campaign or channel, you need to ask yourself “why” it happened. Were there external categorical factors? Did you launch a new product or new campaign component? Did your company receive some negative publicity?

The importance in understanding “why” something happened with your campaign and associated analytics, is that it provides context for your associated results on both a strategic and tactical level. This is ultimately the key to yielding the type actionable data and insight that will enable you to either correct a downward trend or ideally maximize upward performance. The challenge in uncovering the “why” is that it’s not always clear and it often requires some digging and research. However by taking this step, you not only provide data that showcases what happened, but actionable insight as to why it happened. This insight will ultimately enable you leverage your analytics to formulate a well thought out tactical and strategic optimization plan.

Meaning
The last step in this process has to do with applying “meaning” to the data you have collected. By this point, you know “what” has happened and “why”, but one of the most, if not the most, critical steps is determining what it all “means”. This is really about turning quantitative metrics into qualitative insights, which is no easy task. However, it’s here where analytics morph into strategy, because rather than speaking in strictly quantitative terms, you are putting forth qualitative insights that are rooted in quantitative metrics. In short, you are now able to put forth strategically sound ideas because you have showcased the meaning within the context of your analytics.

The key reason why applying “meaning” to your online marketing analytics is so important is that this is what enables you to drive strategy and identify opportunity, as you now speaking to why these numbers matter and are strategically important. Simply stated, the application of “meaning” to your analytics is where you cross the chasm and your analytics become more than just numbers or results, but instead insights into human behavior and user activity. This factor enables you to apply a whole new level value to your analytics, as they now become the factual elements that support the meaning of the ideas, tactics and strategies you put forth.

Ultimately, when it comes to marketing analytics, taking a three dimensional approach is about making sure that we as marketers look at analytics for all they are worth. On the surface, analytics provide great insight into how are doing and “what” is and is not, working. But the truth of the matter is that there is a lot more to be had below the surface, but we just need to know where to look and how to look for it. We need to also be asking “Why” and what does it “Mean”. It’s these steps that enable analytics to move beyond the realm of tactical, surface level, insight. As a result when you are able to effectively connect the “what”, “why” and “meaning” of marketing analytics you are left with much more than numbers, but rather an analytical platform and process that drives strategy, identifies opportunity and ultimately grows business and relationships.

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