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FutureNow Article
Friday, Feb. 27, 2009

Building An Optimization Culture

By Bryan Eisenberg
February 27th, 2009

There has been plenty of hot air blown into the bubble that’s getting ready to burst on Internet marketers again. I watched it happen the first time. With all the financial chaos crashing around us now, the last we need is the blind ignorance of the “new economy” happening again.

Earlier last month some hot air came from Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO Randall Rothenberg, who wants to prevent the Internet advertising economy from becoming “performance based.” This week provided another more disheartening statistic. Helen Leggatt, of BizReport, writes:

    With the number of channels a marketer has to manage and monitor increasing, you’d think technology would be employed to make their job easier. Not so. It seems marketers are foregoing analytics to measure their online marketing campaigns…When asked about their use of measurement applications, less than half (47%) of the 1,545 American and British marketing professionals polled by Alterian said they currently use analytics to measure their online campaigns.

Sure, the shear number of those ignoring analytics in today’s marketplace is alarming, but it’s not all that surprising.

At first blush, one could conclude that site owners suffer from either arrogance or ignorance. Marketers either believe they don’t need analytics because they are smart enough to trust their gut (arrogance), or they don’t know what to do with them (ignorance). The Web analytics community has been split on this issue. Eric T. Peterson, Web analytics consultant, argues Web analytics is hard, while Google’s analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik argues Web analytics isn’t hard. This still doesn’t sufficiently explain why more than 50 percent of marketing professionals fail to integrate analytics into their marketing efforts. (No doubt, getting value out of Web analytics is complex, something I’ll address in a future column.)

Mitch Joel, author of “Six Pixels of Separation,” offers some valuable insight:

    It’s hard to measure the success and efficacy of your Digital Marketing initiatives if we’re feeling like our own home base could use a little renovating and extreme makeover. The problem is that many people built their online presence with a one-time budget. While they may have factored in ongoing budget for Web hosting and occasional updates, this strategy has left them paralyzed.

The bigger problem I’ve encountered in company after company is that most have failed to make Web site optimization a part of ongoing business operations. And who can blame them? For many, analytics have failed to live up to the promise that analytics vendors have been selling. Many companies have “been there, done that,” honestly attempting to use analytics to improve and have seen very little result in comparison to their effort.

As I commented on Mitch’s blog:

    I blame it on our ADD mentality. Campaigns are exciting and change frequently, providing us with our next, new, shiny object fascination. Most people’s websites are static and lack the ongoing imagination and efforts required to reap the benefits of continuous improvements.Most campaigns would perform better if people only realized how many times a visitor engages with your campaign and then abandons only to search or reach for your “home base” later. This recession will weed out many of those who don’t pay attention to this.

If only they had stuck with their effort to make Web analytics work.

Still, commitment alone could put you on a hamster wheel. How does one know when to stop a particular test, stop improving a particular element, or drop a complete design in favor of something new? You must also commit to learning. Learn about your visitors, why they do what they do, and how you can better give them what they need and want.

The companies that benefit most from analytics have a culture of optimization. Whether it is explicit effort or part of a company’s DNA, each of these has some sort of process or system for analyzing the data, generating recommendations, and most important executing improvements, learning, and starting the process all over again. This improves the ROI (define) of efforts and ends up paying for itself and much, much more.

Optimization using analytics causes an interesting dichotomy. It is a rather simple concept, and there are many valuable and impactful “simple” lessons to be learned. But it is also complex; you can go very deep in analysis. To get the most out of your analytics — or just your optimization efforts — develop a cost-effective, smart system for improving continuously.

Not Using Analytics?

You are running out of excuses. Let’s deal with some of the smaller ones.

  • If arrogance is your problem, do nothing. Your competitors will soon overtake you.
  • If ignorance is your problem, learn. A good start is to get good at using a free product, eventually you can pay for more.
  • If budget is a problem, it doesn’t have to be. You can do all kinds of things for much less money than you would imagine. Some of them are even free.
  • If resources are the problem, that’s OK. Just move forward at a slower pace. Optimize what you can as often as you can with the resources you have now. Soon you’ll catch up and surpass the arrogant company mentioned above.

Optimizing the Organization

Want to have a culture with a constant eye toward getting smarter and better? Here are a few things that your organization can do:

  • Adopt an attitude that every action measured in analytics has an actual human being behind it. Don’t allow your optimization team or analyst treat your visitors like stats. Try starting by looking at them as personas.
  • Don’t get overly addicted to shiny new tools and technologies, or even to marketing platforms. New isn’t always better. Here are a few wise words from the lovable venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki:
      Follow through on an issue until it is done or irrelevant. Many organizations set goals and even measure progress toward them. However, after a short time, some goals are no longer on the radar because people start focusing on the coolest and most interesting stuff. For example, fixing bugs in the current version of a software application is not as interesting as designing a new, breakthrough product — but your current customers think it is. Legend has it that Pat Riley, the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, measured stats of his players and posted each player’s progress on his locker.
  • Commit to a culture of execution. “Execution is not an event — a onetime push toward achieving goals. Rather, it is a way of life,” says Kawasaki.

One of the most important things about improving is making it a way of life, so that it happens over and over.

What’s keeping you from using analytics to optimize your marketing?

Add Your Comments

Comments (46)

  1. Ignoring analytics? How can that be?

  2. I’m really surprised by how many businesses do not use analytics. I think part of the problem is that it just doesn’t get enough attention. So many people haven’t heard about all of the different reports that come with analytics and, more importantly, the way these reports can be used to help your business. Sure, it involves some training, learning, and trial and error – but it is worth it in the end.

  3. Hi Bryan,

    Greatt post!

    I do think adoption is currently Web Analytics biggest challenge (if I may:,and I think it touches more deeply the problem of analytical/measurement cultures in corporations, not only the Web/Marketing one.

  4. I think part of the problem with analytics is delegation; not hiring a good analyzer. Those of us who have the natural gift of dissecting ‘all’ of the data and then explaining it in a way that makes sense are not being paid much attention to by arrogant and ignorant CEO’s of even some of the largest corporations because they themselves do not see or understand analytics. So I believe arrogance and ignorance are pretty much sides of the same coin here.

  5. The penny is starting to drop, only now, especially here in the UK. In this current market there has never been more of an important to be arrogant/ignorant-free. I believe this is a case of educating the masses and broadcasting what can be achieved for their business, with a clear ROI.

  6. Great post, can’t agree more! I’m looking forward to the day we will not only aim to optimize marketing, but optimize the whole business!

    That being said, businesses who are still not leveraging the value of analytics and are still making decisions solely based on their feelings and (economic) weather of the day will certainly be much more impacted than others.

  7. This topic fascinates me to no end. Online marketing activities today are so disparate and fragmented, shifting the culture from today’s task driven silos (email, analytics, UGC, SEM, social media,…) implies that we are looking for a more holistic, top down integrated approach to online marketing. Fortunately we are moving in that direction.

    It appears that the pursuit of Optimization might finally force unification and integration across all the fragmented functions of today’s digital marketer. …….Something that most digital marketers have been craving since the dawn of the genre.

  8. great article, the fact that google analytics is free and companies still arent using it because they think it costs them money in the long term, they are waiting for the golden goose that will solve their problems..

  9. Great summary & commentary Bryan – Very timely at a point where we need to shift from “metrics” to action i.e. Analytics fully realized

  10. Thank you all for the great comments. Keep them coming. @David, this is the biggest fallacy. Analytics is not free! The tools for data collection and reporting are. You need to do a lot more to get value out of them.

    You know the old line about you get what you pay for.

  11. Analytics for anything online are really required these days so that you can make necessary changes and tweaks.

  12. [...] are you going to do about it? Bryan Eisenberg opens up with a smackdown, challenging businesses to build an optimization culture, one that takes no prisoners and works to get better every day. That’s how the strong, the [...]

  13. “#

    Analytics for anything online are really required these days so that you can make necessary changes and tweaks.
    ” I couldn’t agree more. Being able to measure everything is the great advantage of online vs. offline.

  14. I think you hit it right on the nose with the ADD comment. New options come out seemingly every day, promising to be the magic wand that will start the hands-off money machine moving. If we want to succeed long term, we have to be willing to get our hands dirty.

  15. [...] Building an Optimization Culture [Future Now's GrokDotCom] [...]

  16. [...] GrokDotCom. This is a really excellent discussion about the possible reasons businesses rely on instinct [...]

  17. As you Eisenbergs know, different personality types have different preferences. The detail orientation and high follow-through required by good use of analytics is a more natural behavioral trait for people whose personality is so inclined. We are not all ADD – that is a huge overstatement. Neither are we all personality-inclined to analytics. So it is up to the natural analysts to evangelize, assist and inform those who are not born that way or learned that way.

  18. Part of the problem seems to be companies that don’t understand web, taking the “web marketing guru’s” word for the ROI figures or CTR. I’ve seen it many times, which can make online marketers slack on the analytics front. I’ve seen a lot of this actually occur in offline marketing, where results are perhaps not tracked as they should be but most companies can call this into question.

    I’m talking of non-web only companies here but as time moves on and board level Directors are educated on how web works and what it can do, we’ll see more accountability.

    Analytics is easy, even if you start with the most basic of stats and build from there to a dedicated analytics team or whatever. Get them, understand them and see your ROI improve based on facts!

  19. I recently experienced a moment where the CEO said “Let’s test it!” rather than “let’s do it!” It was quite rewarding. A culture of optimization needs to make it all the way to the top, otherwise you’ll be spinning your wheels.

  20. That’s a great well written article/post that’s hitting the proverbial nail on the head.

    Analytics is the lifeblood of your Direct Response Presence to achieve the highest possible conversions.

    Incidently your lead capture section is well done with an effective call to action. Of course I know that you’ve already tested it and the “Please provide a valid email and phone number so we can contact you as requested” was probably changed from black to red text as a result as part of analytics :)

  21. It’s amazing how many smart business people ignore their analytics and never focus in on conversion optimization. It isn’t uncommon for most websites to be leaving a ton of money on the table because of this.

  22. A very good post. If you treat your website as a shop, where you can learn why people came, what they checked out, what turned them off, and all this without intruding on them, why wouldn’t you. You actually owe it to the visitor to ensure that since they take the time and effort to enter your site that you don’t waste their time. To do this it has to be done from the bottom up, and that requires inspiration, training and coordination across the team.

  23. Wow. This is surprising and explains why I can’t anyone at my nonprofit to care about analytics until after-the-fact or when a consultant says we should. Without Google, they have no idea where our Web site would be and they have no idea how I use it to maximize visitors whenever I can.

  24. A great post. Building a culture of optimization not only within our agency but also within our client’s organizations is the most important initiative of 2009. Love the Guy Kawasaki quote about “execution” and the comment above about the CEO who exclaimed, “let’s test it!”

  25. We should never simply just trust our gut. Analytics are needed so that we can make necessary changes and tweaks. It’s a continual process.

  26. [...] optimization is not a project it’s a process of continuous improvement that never, yes never, ends. We write about client gains every month because documentation beats [...]

  27. [...] in revenues. But we only knew what worked and what didn’t because we tested. Companies that work towards an optimization culture get the best results from both their designers AND their engineers. Anything less is a [...]

  28. [...] So why am I providing you with parenting advice on GrokDotCom? Because the lesson applies equally to your online marketing efforts. You’ll screw up and just like we shared during the “Survival of the Fittest” session to succeed you need to learn to be nimble and make changes on the fly. The key is to plan on optimizing, you don’t succeed with a set it and leave it mentality. What’s your plan for continuous improvement? [...]

  29. For me, analytics is everything to my business. knowing what is working and not working, and why, is one of the most important pieces of data you can have. I’m not worried others aren’t using it properly, it just makes my competition easier to beat.

  30. [...] Improvement.  The shift out of project mentality needs to be addressed within your organization (culture), with your vendors, and especially with those who are going to “own” the [...]

  31. This part of the article is AWESOME!

    “If resources are the problem, that’s OK. Just move forward at a slower pace. Optimize what you can as often as you can with the resources you have now. Soon you’ll catch up and surpass the arrogant company mentioned above.”

  32. The one time view of website building is very prevalent and will be hard to shake off. Businesses with a strong direct marketing background will know how to use analytics instinctively and the rest is just evolution at work.

  33. Great post, I am looking forward to the day we will not only aim to optimize marketing, but optimize the whole business…

  34. I appreciate this very article.

  35. analytics are a godsend. I can’t imagine what I would do without them. I can see how my users engage, what pages they visit, where they leave my site and so on.

  36. I love analytics. Use it every day.

  37. Analytics is a good tool to build up on your authority by using the long tail searches to convert into an article to draw more traffic. Internet marketers need to learn how to use it or wait to get kick out of Google result

  38. Great summary & commentary Bryan – Very timely at a point where we need to shift from “metrics” to action i.e. Analytics fully realized

  39. I appreciate this very article.

  40. Have you ever read the teachings of Sun Tzu and the art of war?

    “If arrogance is your problem, do nothing. Your competitors will soon overtake you.”

    This statement sounds a great deal like it!

  41. Nice POst, Thanks for your stuff

  42. The ability to do data driven marketing really depends on the marketing organization structure. It starts from executive. If you have marketers executing ad-hoc/one off campaigns over and over, it’s generally difficult to measure long term success and the instrumentation cycle is too short to get good data and conduct optimization. The only way to make this work is for marketing execs to mandate analytic study first to set goal, and then ongoing measurement before disburse fund, and post-mortem study to show improvement of ROI and campaign efficiency along the course of campaign. Otherwise, there’s no incentive for marketers to do analytic.

  43. that come with generally difficult to measure haven’t heard about all of the different reports long term success and the and conduct optimization analytics and, more importantly, the way these reports can instrumentation cycle is too short to get good data be used

  44. The one time view of website building is very prevalent and will be hard to shake off. Businesses with a strong direct marketing background will know how to use analytics instinctively and the rest is just evolution at work.

  45. Those are excellent reasons for getting into Analytics. I especially liked how you spelled out each possible excuse and laid out a brief solution for each. Your tips on optimizing the organization were also very well written, especially the first point. It’s often that people just assume that once your analytics are set up that there’s nothing else to do. That is not the case at all and online marketers need to be aware of that.

  46. [...] excuses” and gives some helpful reasons to use analytics, as well as ways to get started, in Building an Optimization Culture by using [...]

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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