Usually big trends in business follow on the footsteps of new research or data staking the claim of transformational ROI. Whether it’s a system (HRM, CRM, ERP/M), a process (six sigma) or a style (management rotations, profit sharing) just about all of these major business trends came about after extensive trial and error, piloting, testing, and researching. We live in a fundamentally changed world if you didn’t notice.
Everything that is now “social” went just about backwards – all of a sudden “social” was producing disruptive amounts of data that cut across organizational units and so a new business trend emerged… big data.
As we’re just beginning to see the way big data plays out across different functions and industries, it got its start in some way as a way to find ROI for everything “social”. In fact, as Dion Hinchcliffe pointed out last month, just about everyone is trying to buy their way into “social” (but more on that another time). Whether it’s because staff expect it (they use it in their personal lives) or it’s how their customers are spending their time (mobile, social, both), for- and not-for profit organizations have dramatically amped up their digital analytics teams to make the most of the change.
But there’s a bigger question that comes first: is Big Data for you?
When we stopped using hit-counters
Google Analytics, and how it evolved, is a perfect case study in big data – watching the market move from something very core and basic (conversion rate, KPIs, etc.) to something much more fuzzy (social events, multi-channel conversions).
It all started with the death of the hit counter. That lovable, somewhat customizable number that just kept going up. Like mileage on a car, it really only told you one thing – how “far” you’ve gone, or in a websites case “how many times.” As Avinash would probably put it, it could mean “how many times people came and puked” or it could mean “how much money you almost made.” In other words, a count of “how many” was useless by itself.
PS – if you want to know why Facebook “likes” (alone) don’t cut it, this is precisely the issue.
But then Google Analytics and other tools like it came in and saved us lowly web fiends. It provided the tools that were once only available to the Amazons of the world to basically anyone who was interested enough to learn the trade. Google somewhat single handedly moved the market from “how many” to “how good” (there were definitely others like Yahoo who jumped on and helped drive the free bandwagon). Sure, you need a combination of things to really get the “how good”, and an even better combination to get the “why”, but it was all possible because a series of metrics that we understood told us about how effective a website was at doing something.
As a side note, Google didn’t give away Analytics for nothing. It was one of the most intelligent business decisions they’ve made. By tying an entire industry and area of expertise to work seamlessly with their major revenue-generator (adwords), they created a deep ecosystem of business partners, clients, and resellers. Talk about effective freemium models.
When mobile and social ruined the party
That was all fine and dandy when people were primarily using their laptops and desktops to access the web from predictable sources like other links and search engines and email. You could trace where they came from, use campaigns to target different audiences and measure those, but you had a really hard time figuring out what mixture of things actually led to the final output – the buy, sign up, or whatever.
Someone’s web identity grew from about 3 potential platforms to just about infinity, and how they moved from mobile to laptop to TV back to laptop and then mobile gave you almost no insight into, once again, why. You just sort of had to spend money on everything because you figured it was a mixture of things… right?
Not surprisingly, Google adapted (yet another reason to avoid costly software licenses). Log into Google Analtyics (GA) today, and you’ll see multi-channel conversion funnels, social events, and much more. The truth is that we, as analysts, have a lot more learning and testing to do.
While we’re capturing more of the information, and even beginning to find ways to process it, we’re still a far way off from connecting customer behavior tightly to business and marketing strategy because of the sheer complexity and mixed-media environment that our constituents live in.
And the social business is built to capitalize on that increasingly networked (albeit complicated) world. So what to do?
Why data matters more now
Data always mattered, but the scale and reach of any given organization is at an entirely new level, and so our ability to analyze data inside and out often drives the difference between the companies that are able to change, improve, innovate, and evolve and those that are left watching others pass them by.
Perhaps more importantly, we can measure things previously unimagined.
Consider the survey. How many surveys have you had to complete for your own organization? For someone else’s? Up until now, they’ve been the standard bearer for gauging sentiment, brand identity, satisfaction, and many of the other “qualitative” measures that are critical to marketing, Human Resources and everyone in between.
Increasingly, however, “HR” is becoming “People Operations” with an increased emphasis on data because a) people are working more in the open, and b) we have better tools for gathering and churning the increasing flow of information into hypotheses and insight.
Why bother with a survey (and more importantly, why bother people with surveys) when you can glean the very same information from their actions and words out in the open?
The bottom line is that as our systems become more complex, our organizations less structured, data is the glue that will tie our strategies and inputs back to outcomes and impact.