Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Becoming a Data Driven Marketer

Today, the job of managing a web site can be overwhelming. There is so much data and a host of variables that affect site’s behavior. It can seem impossible to keep up on its demands.

Successful data managers can learn a lot from successful corn farmers.  A farmer can have thousands of acres, with endless rows of corn. There is no way he can optimize each stalk or ear of corn. Similarly, a data manager cannot possibly be aware of every piece of data or try optimizing every single action on the site.  In both cases- success depends on a scalable strategy.

Becoming a data-driven marketer is a process. It is all in how you approach the job - as at data strategist rather than a data manager - that makes the difference in having success and feeling in control of the process. There are five keys to make this transformation from manager to strategist:

1. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

You cannot see if every keyword is working well or look that closely at any one piece of data - there isn’t time. You have to be able to look at the signs and indicators on your site that tell you how your site is performing. These signs are your KPIs. A farmer’s KPI might be to see whether water is reaching the end of the row.

Once established, you watch your KPIs as your means of making and justifying changes to your site. When KPIs are not performing to standards or expectations, changes need to be made. The changes you make fall into two categories: changes to your site and changes to your marketing. It is possible, and not uncommon, that you will decide to do both.

2. Focus on Economies of Scale

To be successful, data strategists should be thinking in terms of yield. Automating helps increase your yield. Think about how to increase the scale of the operation without increasing your involvement. Effective strategists do not manage every detail. For example, a strategic farmer does not examine every kernel of corn.

Create a site that encourages conversion. Experience dictates that site visitors will follow the path of least resistance. Too often, web site managers try to force the behavior of their visitors without acknowledging what the visitors want. Watch what your visitors tend to do, then make the navigation plain and easy based on that. Once visitors are going where you want them to go, you have a better chance of influencing their behavior.

How to create a clear conversion path on your site?

  • Fewer branches and an obvious flow: Try to make it easy, and make sure all options guide visitors to what you want them to do
  • Include calls to action: When you get them where we want them to be, remember to tell them what to do: “buy now” or “sign up here”
  • Group your content by relevance: Make sure your page flow is natural and similar content is grouped together
Do not just serve what is best for a web page, but what is best for the person visiting that page. You will serve the content “George” wants because you KNOW “George”.

3. Automate

When it comes to scaling up your yield and incorporating more automation you have to look at the big picture. Are you using the right tool for the job? Is the cost of a new, more efficient tool outweighed by the increased yield? Does a new solution allow you to manage more information? The answers to those questions will be different in each scenario, just like they are for a farmer deciding whether to move irrigation lines by hand or to invest in an automated pivot irrigation system.

Automation Tools:

  • Alerts: Instead of manually reviewing extensive reports, alerts notify you when your key metrics are outside your allowable ranges 
  • Bookmarks: Bookmarks save time by remembering your important reports. You can also better democratize your data with specialized distribution lists and schedules 
  • Dashboards: Quickly see your KPIs in context of each other

4. Classify

One of a data-driven marketer’s most powerful and versatile strategies is to classify data with tags. Classification allows you to take information that was captured when a page was viewed and then group it together in any number of ways. You can enable or turn on a classification for standard or custom variables.

If you were a clothing retailer, for example, you could choose to label a page view or purchase with a product name, categories, material, fashion season, color, promotional group, vendor, size, etc. Classifications are free; they are unlimited. You can classify any variable, including your custom variables. Classifications are not coded, so you do not have to touch or adjust your site page code. It is retroactive so you can go back, and look at information from two weeks, months or years ago; however far back your data goes.

5. Review

Because your conversion rate will never reach 100%, it is wise to take a moment and review your strategy. Review your main business goals. Are they still relevant or accurate? Have you scaled this process for the highest yield? How can you adjust your site or your marketing? These are good questions to ask; aim for once a month, minimum.

Lastly, being an actionable strategist means holding people accountable. Know what your baselines are. For everyone’s sake, hold your associates accountable. Make sure everyone involved knows going into a campaign what you are trying to accomplish - what defines or marks success. To do that, you have to know the conversions on your site; know the behaviors, which brings you back to knowing and watching your KPIs.