Analytics Today is a Tower of Babel

Call it a flood, a tsunami, or a perfect storm, but the amount of big data available today is reaching biblical proportions. One story in particular comes to mind: Just as Old Testament wanderers set out to build the Tower of Babel as a symbol of their unity, marketing and communications pros have aspirations of reaching heavenly enlightenment about what all the data means and what we can learn from it.

But just as Babel’s builders were condemned to speak different languages, communications experts are often speaking in different tongues when it comes to data.

With the vast number of tools and resources available for understanding data today, it seems we’re far from the mutual understanding required in order to define consistent measures of success.

A recent “supergraphic” by Scott Brinker from mapping the landscape of marketing technology today, puts the confusion into perspective, and gives an at-a-glance visual sense of the vast, siloed, and ultimately confusing range of resources out there:


Brinker says that as of January 2015, there were 1,876 vendors represented across 43 categories, an increase from 947 in January 2014. As for this past year, “In scale, the market is approximately the same, while the momentum behind multi-vendor marketing technology seems to be growing,” Brinker said when we checked in with him in early January 2016.

“There are a wide variety of metrics out there, and while some are meaningful, others are more for vanity,” said Allyson Keane, Director of Analytics at Group SJR. “The most popular vanity metric—impressions—tells you almost nothing about whether or not someone took the time to read or view your content.” Other metrics, Keane explained, such as time on site and bounce rate, are informative but their definition varies from platform to platform. Other metrics, such as scroll depth and click-through rate, “deliver highly important information but need to be paired with additional data to provide context.”

The most popular vanity metric—impressions—tells you almost nothing about whether or not someone took the time to read or view your content.

Beyond all of this, Keane noted, some terms are poorly defined or outright misnomers and create additional confusion instead of providing clarity. Lastly, and to make things more complex, the same metrics may have different meanings across platforms. Engagement on a Facebook post is not the same thing as engagement with an infographic.

“Data can be incredibly overwhelming, and unless you can focus in on the right things to track, you’ll get twisted in knots,” said Vikki Chowney, Director of Content and Publishing Strategies, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, London.

Focusing on the right thing to track – ah, now there’s the rub. Leaders in the field know that this is how the conversation around analytics must evolve.

“The answer to better analysis is not ‘get more data’ – it’s ‘make better use of what you already have,’” said Chowney. Throughout 2015, the H+K London team has been working with social media and online listening experts Brandwatch to create a proprietary approach for mapping influencers called Sherlock. This combines years of communications experience with smart use of technology.

“Influencer marketing has grown up over the past year,” said Chowney. “Influence simply cannot mean the people with the highest reach or most followers any more. It must be a smarter calculation to include both relevancy and response.”

In addition to divining what to track, another challenge is that each communications and marketing discipline has its own set of metrics, yet they are never laddered up to account for a firm or brand’s overall performance. Consider this example:

CPC is up on Facebook, but down on Twitter. Website traffic is at an all time high, but the time on site has plummeted. We had 1M impressions with our latest ad campaign.

How do all or any of these relate? “It’s counterintuitive but more data doesn’t mean more insights,” said Keane. “But less data doesn’t mean more insights, either. Organized data is what positions brands to see the big picture and make informed decisions.”

A tool called Singlescore seeks to address this issue. Singlescore is a customizable tool from Group SJR that allows you to weight the metrics that are most relevant to a campaign’s objectives (for example: page views, audience, retweets, etc.), and combine them into one “single score.” The consolidation allows for a more bird’s-eye-view sense of tracking change over time and comparing a particular site or piece of content to other industry competitors. Importantly, the tool doesn’t “lose” the individual metrics. Instead, it starts with a performance index, followed by tiered factors, and then finally, individual variables. The dashboard answers both “how did we do?” and the follow up question “why?”

The answer to better analysis is not ‘get more data’ – it’s ‘make better use of what you already have.’

Tools like Singlescore and Sherlock present two possible futures for understanding data, but until marketers start aligning on processes and models, we’ll still be living through challenging technological language barriers.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all answer,” said Chowney. “Whereas once upon a time, a brand only had three ways to talk to people – ads, broadcast and print – now the mix is increasingly complex. We’re too busy looking for a simple answer that doesn’t exist, and should be focusing more on sharing models, processes and approaches.”

Mitch Stoller, President of Group SJR, agrees. “Language has not yet emerged on metrics or how to track them in a way that is relevant to everyone. We’re getting further apart when in fact we need to be coming together,” said Stoller.

Only time will tell whether we’ll be able to learn a common language when it comes to marketing technology, or if we’ll be doomed to the same fate as the workers at Babel.

by Magnify Team | February 29, 2016 | posted @

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