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Web Analytics Strategies: An Interview with Performable CEO David Cancel

May 23, 2011
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Analytics
Interview Series

David CancelDavid Cancel is a serial entrepreneur with a twelve-year record of building businesses in online marketing technology, social media, and scaling large data systems. Prior to becoming the CEO of Performable, David was the co-founder and CTO of Lookery, and before that, he was a founder and CTO at Compete, which was acquired by WPP(LON:WPP). Prior to his seven years at Compete, he was the CTO of BuyerZone, which was acquired by Reed Elsevier (NYSE: RUK). In the late 90s, David was part of the founding team of Bolt.com and part of Lycos. He sits on the advisory boards of Visible Measures, Sonian Networks, Yottaa and Shareaholic. David is originally from New York City and now lives in the Boston area with his wife and five-year-old daughter. He likes to grow vegetables, make pizza from scratch, visit Austin, TX, and play tennis (not well). He does not like winter in New England, or being away from his family for long.

Web analytics can quickly turn into information overload. What are the most important aspects of analytics that a busy marketer should focus on first?

You’ve hit upon one of the main challenges marketers face when planning and assessing their work: a sea of data and still no clear direction. Analytics should answer one critical question: Is my marketing strategy effective? To get at that, I’d say a few pieces of information are important:

  • How do people find you? Often this is called “first-touch” analytics, and it can be hard to find particularly since some customer relationships span years.
  • What were the important touch-points along that customer journey? Often this takes shape in an “assists report.” It is important that your assists reports include every interaction with your company regardless of where it happened. You may find that some of your most influential pieces of content actually live outside of your site.
  • What eventually lead them to convert? Also, how long that sales cycle took.

Those are the basics. I’d argue that marketing needs to be about more than conversions though and analytics should incorporate customers’ satisfaction and activity throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

What exactly is “lifecycle marketing”?

Lifecycle marketing is an approach to marketing that focuses on the entire customer experience from first click to latest interaction and beyond. It is a necessary evolution of the classic marketing funnel, which only focused on a linear path to conversion. Today’s customers build relationships over time and navigate their interactions with your company through a number of different platforms and channels. Lifecycle marketing attempts to get a better holistic understanding of that customer experience and places the customers’ evolving needs at the center of marketing strategy. In practice, it means getting away from blast messages and anonymous analytics. It means having analytics that give you a more unified view of your customers across channels and sending messages that are relevant to each stage in the relationship.

Lots of SMBs rely on Google Analytics because it’s free. Do you think this meets most marketers’ needs? What kind of functionality should an SMB marketer or business owner be looking for in an analytics application?

Google Analytics is a great tool for people who are just getting started tracking their sites. It helps you see overall trends in traffic sources and volume. What Google Analytics doesn’t give you is a better understanding of your customers. In other words, because the data found in Google Analytics is stripped of its original ties to the customer you don’t get any insight into what is motivating particular customer segments. You can’t, for example, learn what influenced your best customers and how you can better invest your marketing budget to improve those experiences.  

How can analytics be more actionable? What should marketers be doing with the insights they get from analytics data?

It goes back to that key point. Analytics need to answer questions. Marketers should start with the questions they need answered, then find the data and analytics platforms that will do the most to fulfill them. Data for data’s sake won’t work. The set of questions will vary by company and industry, but each analytics report that you monitor should clarify what’s working in your marketing and provide you with clear next steps.

Where do more marketers fail – getting the right prospects (or enough prospects) at the top of the lead funnel, or converting them at the end? What are some of the things marketers can do to do better nurture leads through the funnel and how can analytics guide that process?

I think the biggest missed opportunity is in focusing too much on the traditional marketing funnel. The customer experience becomes fragmented when marketers just focus on acquisition or conversion.

Marketing is about meeting people where they are. The best way to nurture leads is to understand each lead's motivations and address their needs. That understanding has to evolve over time. Otherwise, marketing becomes a clumsy science of get-clicks-quick schemes and untargeted messages.

How can analytics better inform email marketing campaigns? What about social media?

Analytics can make email marketing campaigns more relevant and reflective of the recipient’s interests, which is better for everyone involved. Part of the Performable platform is a marketing automation tool that leverages our analytics to trigger communications based on the actions customers take, or transversely, the actions they do not take. For example, a company could prevent customer churn by automatically reaching out to anyone who submitted a helpdesk ticket and failed to return to use the site.  

The right analytics can also quantify the true value of your social media efforts and show you which social media channels are most effective at engaging your best customers.

What are some of the challenges involved with attributing sales to particular marketing channels, and how can marketers overcome them?

The biggest issue with most attribution methods today is that they don’t take into account the way customers navigate the web or grow a relationship with a brand. They assume that customer behavior is linear, rational and orderly. Real customer behavior is much more complex. Customers may be influenced by a number of different things prior to making the decision to purchase. And yet, when it comes to that purchase, most analytics only attribute revenue back to the most recent activity. To properly attribute revenue, you have to string together all of the interactions a customer has with your company prior to purchasing. It’s a major marketing challenge and a big part of what we’re trying to address at Performable.  

What are some examples of big surprises or wake-up calls that you’ve seen businesses get by digging deeper into analytics?

A number of companies we’ve worked with discovered that they had been putting their focus and budget towards the wrong content and channels. It’s not difficult to do, particularly when you’re dealing with point-in-time anonymous data. Marketers define what they think their conversion funnels are, but it requires information on real customer behavior to validate it. Often, after they get set-up on Performable, they start seeing customer activity that is very different than they first assumed.

The same can be said for the effectiveness of channels and platforms. For example, we have a keyword ROI report that attributes revenue to keywords over time. Companies using the report are often surprised that keywords which initially drove minimal revenue, over time become more and more valuable. Google AdWords only tracks the effectiveness of keywords for a short period of time. We are able to show the lifetime value of keywords.

Want to learn more?

Check out our new white paper, co-authored with Performable: Measuring the Long-Term Value of PPC.

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