The Down Side of Analytics in Marketing

On my flight to State of Search 2016 (great conference I highly recommend), I had a chance to catch up on some articles in my Instapaper. One piece, How Google Analytics Ruined Marketing by Samuel Scott, reminded me of a concept I’ve argued. In his piece as I saw it, he felt “ too many tech marketers now ignore the difference between strategies and channels.”

I think the takeaway was really promoting thinking in strategic terms instead of being channel-centric. Since Google Analytics does segment out-of-the-box via channels, I can see the habits of GA’s easy use leading users to think more in terms of channels.

My thoughts, though, are around defined data itself. I’m old enough to remember less powerful Analytics platforms, like GA’s predecessor Urchin, or freebies like StatCounter. As the more powerful Omniture and Webtrends type paid Analytics packages started to become prevalent and preferred by businesses, we saw the influx of all kinds of website and customer data, with equally new correlation options. We could get whatever we needed out of a data warehouse, no matter how deep the data.

It was probably around 2009 or so that I remember working in the “big agency” world, when we were trying to figure out how a social channel could be packaged and sold. The social boom was still just happening, with Twitter only being a couple years old at this point. Our room was trying to figure out how get an ROI out of the channel so they could sell it through a performance model, instead of selling larger online marketing campaigns. I argued against social being packaged that way, as I felt it was short sighted, but was mostly dismissed because the others didn’t see my assertion of cross-channel value and influence.

Sure, some shops still just sell PPC social services and report on metrics. But better social marketing companies aren’t just thinking about the impact of social marketing by a click, and thus basing all their success on the capture of numbers in an analytics platforms. Mindshare isn’t a metric, but it does drive growth.

I think for many, the numbers in analytics are the be-all, end-all. But I’m more inclined to think these specific numbers, and only building against those as KPIs, is what dilutes strategies. The C-suite wants numbers because digital analytics tools allows those numbers to be exported. It’s “insight” they didn’t have nearly as much of before digital marketing’s inception, but I argue it’s occasionally this insight that creates tunnel vision. For many in my experience, I think it impairs creativity. I don’t think many digital marketers get to say they truly feel like they’re hitting their creative stride when all they target are numbers in a spreadsheet. When you’re focused on sessions, versus focused on mindshare, you’re potentially being more tactical. Thus, more digital marketers are becoming tacticians, not strategists.

Attribution in analytics is naturally limited but at least gets us thinking there’s more out there, and I like that. But attribution is still a concentration that many companies don’t tackle. Why? Maybe because they’ve become addicted to the capturable numbers.

Let’s use this very blog post as a micro example. I’ll hit publish, and I can see how many views and shares it had. I can see if the bio link drives referral traffic to my site. I could use a social listening or alerts app to show me a share or mention quantity. It won’t show me how many people heard about me or my company because this topic was cited in a conference. It won’t tell me how many businesses might have called me for work because they were reinforced with Greenlane’s brand through the article. It won’t tell me if I’ve changed the way a single marketer thinks, and who that marketer might inspire in the future.

In digital, we have this concept of only calling the visible hits a win, but for centuries, not all marketing was quantifiable — even though it clearly worked in the end.

Read more from me on the Greenlane blog.