One of the biggest draw towards digital for marketers is the ability to track and generate performance data. Everyone needs data, and today even the most amateur of digital marketers have access to a combination of databases, software interfaces and analytic tools to manage campaigns, study web analytics, track media partner conversions and create reports about social influence.
The trend towards data has however made data collection and reporting more complex: suddenly, we are all using a myriad of software interfaces, reporting tools and good old fashioned spreadsheets to manage, measure, track and optimize our online marketing campaigns.
The challenge becomes the ability to aggregate this data and extract it in meaningful ways for all stakeholders across the organization. After all, an executive’s data and reporting needs are much different than those of a business analyst or marketing manager. A common answer seems to lie in developing or integrating more flexible data warehousing and reporting technologies known as Business Intelligence tools.
Can you afford (not) to get into BI?
Business Intelligence (BI) tools are powerful data crunching machines that can help consolidate and surface external campaign data (Display, Search, Email, Affiliate, etc) in addition to internal data (CRM, ERP, eCommerce, etc) to provide meaningful reporting and analysis of your business processes across your organization. Marketing and sales are two key areas where BI tools can help aggregate and consolidate data from otherwise disparate digital marketing tools.
That said, most BI tools are extremely complex, costly and require a full IT team to integrate. And, this assumes you have access to the data to begin with and it’s not locked away in a proprietary or third party system.
But the complexities of BI are well worth it if you can execute correctly based on your marketing needs and reporting criteria. According to Forrester’s recent survey “Trends 2011 and Beyond: Business Intelligence” more than 49% of the companies have concrete plans to implement or expand their use of BI software within the next 24 months.
With this upward use and wave of next generation BI technologies in the pipeline, we at Impact Radius have identified some of the major challenges in the coming year as marketers seek to consolidate their marketing toolsets.
BI Dashboards – Helpful, But Not a Complete Answer
BI Dashboards are one answer to consolidating the digital marketing toolset however, the evolution of these tools and the solutions to the challenge of consolidating data still has some complex barriers to overcome.
Large digital advertising campaigns will span many different marketing channels, each with its own unique data set. And digital marketers are expected to manage a multitude of tools when planning, executing and measuring online campaigns. These include campaign management dashboard, ad network interfaces, web analytics, social media monitoring, eCommerce reporting, media partner tracking systems, remarketing platforms, email analytics, mobile analytics, attribution reporting and CRM systems.
The problem is many of these tools overlap, creating an additional layer of complexity in isolating, prioritizing and normalizing data collected from third party tools. If you’ve ever tried to reconcile your analytics click data with your ad server click data you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. BI solutions that gather your data into a single interface do not fix the underlying complexity and reporting problems that can arise from overlapping data sources. Marketers are challenged with finding a way to “normalize” all the data to create a single clear and comprehensive view. As Polaris Industries’ marketing team puts it, “There is not one true source of truth—different areas report the same information from different sources.”
Finally, BI dashboards may help aggregate reporting and analytics derived from campaign data but they do nothing to help with campaign management. Even the prettiest and most accurate dashboards have never made a sale! Marketers must continue to return to third party interfaces, ad networks and bid management tools to create, manage and optimize their campaigns.
Different Abilities and Real-Time Realities
“Agile” is not only a buzzword. It’s a major feat to achieve when reporting has to respond to unexpected requests, real-time competitive challenges, and the need to provide pragmatic, flexible functions for a range of different users.
The challenge is that different positions in every company have different requirements, visions, and expertise that require different views of consolidated data and reporting. Executives, for example, need quick views of channel performance and ROI without having to drill down or write custom database queries. Marketing managers need fast access, and often real-time insights, into sales and tracking metrics to enable real-time decisions on media buys and campaign optimization. Business analysts need to drill down into detailed transaction reports, slice data by multiple dimensions and run custom queries against your database to deliver custom reports and insights back to online marketing teams.
Needless to say the reporting and consolidation solution need to be flexible, and agile enough to fit the different needs for different user types and roles across marketing and sales. But flexibility isn’t just a need for more options, it needs to be responsive to the needs of the user and the data must be trusted.
As a Forrester study pointed out, “everyone wants to spend time applying their own unique genius to the information to create value for the company. But [with] the increased amount of time they spend looking for information … they are realizing there are valuable activities they could be doing with the information, if they only had the time.”
The challenge for presenting data that is relevant and trustworthy to the user is striking a balance between anticipating what the different users will need, and giving them flexibility to apply their own talents and requirements to analyze and report on the data. It’s a fine line between being customized and fully customizable which, from a development standpoint, is no easy task.
Different Business Models. Different Needs.
Different business models require different types of reporting and analytics. An eCommerce company will have different targets and KPIs as opposed to a SaaS company. As industries and companies evolve, they develop their own metrics for measuring performance. For example, a retailer requires data and reporting relevant to transactions, conversion paths and deep customer segmentation. In contrast, a travel aggregator site focused on generating leads for airlines and hotels is more concerned with conversion rates, time on the site and customer lifetime value. Without even discussing timing and historical dimensions, the point is that BI solutions need to reflect the needs specific to your business which will likely require additional effort to achieve.
In sum, the traditional lines between analyst and digital marketer have been blurred. It’s not just the CFO that needs detailed reporting and consolidated toolsets to make critical business decisions. We are all knowledge workers and often are left to sort through mountains of information to derive meaningful reports and metrics to effectively perform our jobs. For multi-channel marketers, tools often overlap and make the process of collecting data just as complex as it is to normalize and analyze.
As we move forward into 2012, the challenge will be to move beyond mere consolidation of data and to deliver data reporting that is both accurate and relevant to the individual. We want it right and we want it now!
Online Marketing Toolset Solutions Coming Soon.
Impact Radius closely monitors problems and challenges faced by digital marketers, including issues pertaining to consolidated campaign management, tracking and reporting. The Impact Radius product suite is designed to help marketers track online campaigns and provide greater clarity into the metrics that matter most to your online marketing programs.
If you’d like to learn more about how Impact Radius can help you better manage your campaign data, or if you just want some free advice, message us on Twitter or drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to all blogs