Web Analytics Associates Symposium Recap

I recently attended the Web Analytics Associates Symposium in Boston with the ambitious title of “The Evolution of Analytics.”  The symposium was a crisp affair (one afternoon) with opening and closing remarks by industry notables such as Suresh Vittal of Forrester and Tom Davenport, Babson College distinguished professor and author of “Competing on Analytics:  The New Science of Winning,” which can be found in the library of every analyst.  Two moderated panels on “Mobile Analytics” and “Social Media” rounded out the symposium, effectively creating an “evolutionary” path from Customer Intelligence to Mobile to Social with a keynote focusing on the role of truly predictive analytics in any organization.

Customer Intelligence and Dancing with Social CRM

Opening remarks focused on the role of “Customer Intelligence” – referring of course to knowledge about customers and not their IQs – and the extreme difficulty with which any “holistic” understanding about customers can be achieved.  To paraphrase Suresh, the infamous marketing funnel has been shattered by what he termed The Splinternet, which can be roughly defined for the purposes of analysis as the proliferation of data points about customers and their behavior.  Despite the “near universal” adoption of web analytics, the gathering of comprehensive web intelligence is still hampered by siloed analysts, the challenge of purchase attribution or intent, and organizing customer data.  Additionally, much of the data on the web, particularly valuable social data, exists behind propriety “walled gardens” such as Facebook, the supreme example of a social CRM database.  So while Suresh stressed “moving beyond smashing together log files” to organizing social, mobile, and traditional CRM data, the fact remains that social CRM remains a distant future state.

“Mobile is Everything”

The Mobile Analytics panel was expertly moderated and included a range of opinionated experts speaking on a range of issues concerning the measurement of mobile behavior.  A mobile analytics distinction was made between customer interaction with mobile apps and with mobile websites.  All agreed that mobile analytics centers on engagement more than revenue.  Engagement metrics going “beyond downloads” centered on session information including traditional web-sounding metrics such as activity and time spent engaging with the app or website.  Other topics ranged from the promise of location-based marketing to the challenges associated with the growing awareness of privacy issues such as the recent Apple/iPhone flare-up.  What is obvious is that mobile users represent a small but exploding set of customers that are desirable (i.e., have money) and loyal (if they download your app or navigate your website with a mobile device, it’s usually with intent).  As such, and assuming privacy issues are addressed (they always are, unless you live in Canada), mobile analytics provides an easier road to customer intelligence than social analytics does.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Social Media

The title for the “Social Media” panel was conspicuously missing the “Analytics” appendage, and with good reason.  As somebody who spent a couple of years focusing on social media analytics and data, I understand the challenge.  The panel spent much of the time discussing the need (or not) for social media metric standards (a primary focus of both WAA and IAB, coming at it from different perspectives).  Tellingly, the panel couldn’t agree on the need for standards – or much of anything else.  Social media analytics is challenged to move beyond sentiment and “buzz” analyses.  And the vision of marrying social data with traditional CRM data received a serious blow when Facebook decided to shut down the information flow to database marketers at the end of 2010.  The panel discussion accurately (and appropriately) mirrored the current Wild West context any social media discussion entails, particularly if the focus is the attempt to tie social media analytics to customer behavior.

In Sum, It’s All Part of the Fun

I left the symposium resigned to the fact that there are still huge challenges to “putting it all together,” from traditional and direct to mobile and social.  However, the “glass is half full” interpretation is that much work needs to be done and what drives analytic professionals is the chasing of truth through data. What could be better than to continue to stay abreast of it all while we continue to try and tell fact-based stories to our client partners in the best way that we can?