If there is a marketing hell, and if there is a road that leads to it, that road is paved with the best intentions of startups.
It’s an all-too-common story: a new CEO, whether a young entrepreneur or an industry veteran setting out on his/her own, gathers a ragtag group of specialists around a catchy product and admirable vision. There’s always a plan to go along with this vision, but with the exception of some rare cases, it’s unlikely that this plan includes specifics about marketing analytics, garnering audience relationships, or even KPIs of interest. After all, that’s what our charismatic leader has hired you, the marketer, to do.
The problem that arises, however, is just how quick startups feel they have to be. Venture capital is limited, and your CEO’s new team of idealists is costing quite a bit more in overhead and operational expenses than the plan originally called for—so the urgency to develop a product of any kind mounts. Your developers scrum and sprint, your engineers flood the space with prototypes, and marketing is left to build out a wide variety of channels, emails lists, and tracking infrastructure on a tight schedule and budget. No matter the team, tasks are prioritized, corners are cut, and something is pushed to market as quickly as possible. But what is lost in this shuffle?
For the marketing team, it’s often anything that doesn’t seem to offer up-front ROI in the eyes of team leadership. Your blog slows to a trickle of content produced exclusively in house. Your social presence consists more of ad management then community nurturance. Your analytics system only tracks the most direct of sales interactions.
But down the line, all the cut corners begin to stack up. Particularly with marketing analytics, teams start asking questions about nuanced behaviors that your limited system isn’t built to support—and the time for simple upgrades and integrations has long passed. Now, every new element of tracking requires long updates to legacy models, changes to infrastructure across numerous platforms, or might even call for entirely new software solutions.
But this is, after all, just the expected operation of startup marketing, right?
These aren’t problems specific only to new brands. Massive corporations that have gone through long periods of diversification and reiteration also find themselves with lacking tracking structures and expensive refits. Brands that never thought they would need marketing find themselves reorganizing around marketing mind-sets to keep up in an ever-crowded digital space. Every day, companies are spending valuable time and resources patching mistakes that could have been avoided on the front end.
So what can marketers (regardless of whether you’re responsible for tracking) do to ensure a smoothly growing and functioning analytics structure for their brands?
One of the primary struggles that marketers face when it comes to analytical infrastructure isn’t actually technical—it’s institutional. Getting leadership onboard with spending budget to expand existing tracking can be a difficult task.
In a survey about how analytics improve the bottom line, Forrester Research defined some useful language and research that marketers can use in these conversations. In the survey, Forrester delineated between companies with basic versus built-out analytics using the language of “sophisticated marketers” as opposed to the rest of industry. Sophisticated marketers are those who are planning for the future and keeping up with current best practices, while other marketers inevitably lag behind.
Suggest to your leadership that your team is capable of sophistication—if only with a little more institutional support—and you may find some of the internal resources you need.
As for outcomes, data can help speak for itself. Through its survey, Forrester found that sophisticated marketers perform at least 20 percent more effectively than their traditional counterparts across the board for business outcomes: from improving marketing program efficacy to demonstrating relevancy within the organization.
With some buy-in from leadership, the rest of good marketing analytical practice comes down less to technical knowledge, and more to knowing what questions to ask as you approach your analytical platforms. Keep these four key questions in mind at all times, and you’ll find it much easier to keep your analytics healthy, growing, and most importantly, sophisticated.
Anytime you have to track something new or in a different way than you’ve done in the past, pause and take a moment to consider whether the method you’ve settled on only fits for one specific situation, or if it could scale into future endeavors. One-off tracking models are one of a few primary things that stack up and require repair down the line.
Every company operates around a calendar. Whether it comprises simple fiscal quarters, or more complex seasonal impacts on customer behavior, your analytical structure should naturally incorporate some understanding of time. If you can’t easily look at a set of data and understand how it relates to your yearly cycle, then your platform isn’t telling you the whole story. This is often easily fixed with campaign naming conventions however.
Every day, companies are burying themselves beneath the ever-increasing number of analytical software solutions. These platforms may each share interesting information, but often this growing mountain of tools causes unnecessary overlap, conflicting information, and redundancies that just cost money. Try to find a regular time of year to audit your software suites, and ask yourself whether this is the smallest possible number of platforms you could be using to achieve your goals. As Skyword president Robert Murray suggested at this year’s Content Marketing World, “Understand the software you own, and leverage that. Every vendor has a customer success team.”
This may be the most important question to ask for two reasons. The first is obvious—if you’re seeking to demonstrate effective ROI or gather useful insights, your analytics need to tightly relate to the actual activity of your business. But the second is even more basic and human: storing mountains of data without a discernible purpose or understanding can easily lead to wrongful interpretation, human error, or just plain cost for your business. You don’t need to simplify your data, but you should make every effort to ensure each metric tracked is an important one.
Marketers can often be their own worst enemies. In businesses where we are constantly being asked to define our worth, explain methodologies, and return consistent results, it’s easy to lose sight of thoughtful work in place of providing an immediate answer for a pressing business concern. But by asking the right internal questions alongside the regular audience-oriented questions we’re constantly asking, marketers can set themselves up to better meet the needs and curiosities of their businesses well into the future.