You think you are customer-centric and data-driven. But are you really?

An interview with Stéphane Hamel.

Earlier this year, I had a chance to interview one of the most distinguished thought leaders in the field of digital analytics: Stéphane Hamel. You know him from his many innovations such as his Digital Analytics Maturity Model (DAMM) (2009) and Web Analytics Solution Profiler (WASP) (2006). Stéphane was also recognized as Most Influential Industry Contributor by the Digital Analytics Association (2013) among many other awards.

“We did big data – and didn’t complain”

Q: Stéphane, you’ve been on the job since the Web first got started and even before. Tell our readers about your journey to the forefront of digital-analytics thought leadership

A: I have been in the digital analytics space fulltime for well over 10 years, but really have been working in data-driven business for a good 30 years now. Back in the day at companies such as the Montreal Stock Exchange and many others we essentially did big data working with huge amounts of real-time data – but I don’t remember that we ever complained. It was difficult, it was complex, but we didn’t complain. It’s just what you had to do.

Then in the early 90s when the first web servers came about I remember having to convince my employer that they needed a website. And then again during the years of the Internet bubble I had to convince companies that doing analytics made sense, i.e. that a website wasn’t enough. You have to constantly measure & improve.

“Digital analytics was hijacked by marketing”

Q: How have you seen digital analytics evolve over these years?

A: Coming from the IT background I saw the time when in the late 2000s analytics was eagerly taken over by marketing and ecommerce in order to measure and optimize campaigns. But I wrote an article back then already that “web analytics has been hijacked by marketing”. Marketers saw the web as mostly a marketing channel back then as opposed to a business channel. So analytics was used narrowly for measuring campaign and shopping cart conversion rates, yet ignoring so much of what analytics should be contributing to the business.

Today, the use of analytics is much broader than just marketing and ecommerce optimization. It’s also about CRM, sales, customer support and self-service, business processes, and ultimately it should be about the customer.

“You think you are customer-centric and data-driven. Are you really?”

Q: How far along are companies with putting the customer at the heart of their analytics and their business?

A: When I speak with companies, often the conversation starts because they may have a technical concern or specific optimization in mind that they want help with. I usually then say that I know a lot about analytics but I don’t know their business, so please help me understand: “Are you customer-centric? and “Are you data-driven?”. And invariably companies will say “yeah, yeah, yeah, we are very customer and data oriented.”

But when I then ask “what are your goals and KPIs?”, or “how do you do it in order to be customer centric and data driven?” … often they don’t know what it is that they are doing. Sometimes it’s more like they heard about the notion … but there is not much more behind it unfortunately.

“Beware of blanket statements “

Q: After decades of customer-centric thinking, what’s still holding companies back?

A: Beware of those blanket statements that the Internet is awash with. For example, the “Top X things you must do for mobile immediately or you will perish.” kind of statements. What should your company’s mobile experiences be optimized for? It very much depends on your customers and your business. Analyze what your users are trying to accomplish using mobile devices and take it into account in your design and optimization.

I also see a lot of marketers chasing the next big thing. They have heard about growth hacking and now they are for example gung ho to create a viral video. But they don’t even have the basics down of what it is that they are marketing and what their business goals are.

Then people have the expectation that they can just call in a consultant and they are going to come in and magically identify the problem and the solution. It doesn’t work that way.

“The tide of expectations in analytics is rising”

Q: And why are marketers still struggling with analytics?

A: Complexity has gone up dramatically. Today’s marketers and eCommerce pros have over 2,000 MarTech solutions to choose from, all bringing different ideas and pitching to help increase their business. So the expectation in analytics have risen as a result too. Not to mention that customers now interact with you across these different MarTech solutions and on top of that also via their multiple devices.

“You can’t improve one thing by 1000% but you can improve a 1000 things by 1% and ultimately the impact will be exponential”

Q: What are the customer-centric analytics components you recommend?

A: A lot goes into being customer centric. For example, most fundamentally can customers actually reach you e.g. by email and do you reply? On Facebook do you just broadcast and brag or do you actually listen and reply?

But part of that eco-system is also to include Clicktale and understand and solve issues one experience at a time. The saying goes, “You can’t improve a single thing by 1000% but you can improve a 1000 things by 1%”. and at the end of the day the impact will be exponential.

Something like Clicktale is interesting because you can find that little thing that interferes with a customer’s experience and fix it and the effort of fixing it might be very low and fast. You can uncover opportunities for enhancement bit by bit, find glitches and improve them. You find out what it is that drives conversions by learning one customer experience at a time. You can quantify the impact via aggregated heatmaps and conversion analytics across your customers and segments.
This makes much more sense vs. throwing dollars after every supposed next big marketing thing without optimizing the experiences you have.

Many  thanks to Stéphane for your continued contribution and leadership in the analytics industry.

About Stéphane’s work today:
Stéphane Hamel is a seasoned consultant and distinguished thought leader in the field of digital analytics. He works with companies to help them assess their digital analytics maturity and take it to the next level. Stéphane also coaches agencies to help them build their own analytics centers of excellence, i.e. to “train the trainer”. Stéphane is an experienced teacher and speaker who shares his passion for digital analytics – be it technical ‘how to’ or assessing organizations’ digital capabilities and maturity.


This interview first appeared on the Clicktale blog.

The Fourth Digital Analytic Revolution is On!

eCommerce and Marketing Pros all take for granted today that for your business to succeed online your digital intelligence eco-system has to include 

1. Digital (web) analytics
2. Voice of the Customer (VoC)
3. A/B testing

But the leaders in the space also know that these three analytics are not enough for conversion rate and customer experience optimization because they leave significant gaps of insight. Gaps that make site optimization slow and challenging.

Enter the fourth digital analytic: Customer Experience 

That is why leading enterprises today employ a fourth analytic, namely customer experience (CX) analytics that show the actual behavior of site visitors within pages including mouse movements, scrolling, attention to content,  interaction with dynamic content, etc.

While today I would estimate that maybe a quarter to a third of enterprises practitioners understand CX analytics as a mission critical component of their digital intelligence eco-system, the rest of practitioners are not there yet.

I predict this gap will close quickly.

Parallels to the rise of web analytics

I still remember the days when the first three digital analytic types mentioned above used to be talked about in terms of “Hey, we really should be using/doing …X, Y, Z .. instead of tapping around in the dark.”

Back then it took a few years from that state to the complete adoption of the analytic types.  It also took a few years to close the gap between having an analytics solution vs staffing the necessary people and establishing the processes to go along for success with the analytics .

But since the business case and competitive pressures are so strong, common sense prevailed.

The Fourth Digital Analytic Revolution is on!

I predict that the fourth digital analytic — CX — will reach that same level of near ubiquitous awareness, adoption, and staffing within the next two to three years.

Why?

Granted, yes I work at ClickTale who provide the leading cloud based customer experience management platform for enterprises.

But there is more. Namely …

It’s the customer, stupid!

If you can’t see your customer and their actual experience on your increasingly dynamic website, how can you help them succeed with your offering?

Or why would you want to compete with your eyes tied so that you can’t see your customer?

So I am calling it here. The fourth digital analytic revolution is on!

ClickTale Review 2015

If like me you were part of the birth generation of Web analytics for marketing and eCommcerce purposes in the 2000s then what you know about ClickTale is probably based on the startup years of the company.  Yet since those pioneer years when ClickTale first brought cloud based customer experience analytics to the market the company and its solution have come a long way. 

Today, ClickTale serves a very demanding enterprise customer base including  Wal-Mart Stores, Home Depot, Vodafone, Metlife, Adobe, and many more like them.

A lot goes into that.

When software companies cater to the needs of users such as these their solutions necessarily evolve to keep up with their enterprise-caliber requirements.  Customers demand it and exposure to their users both informs and pushes product, support, and consulting teams to scale to their needs.

The result is a level of solution maturity that wouldn’t be easy to create in a vacuum.

In my mind this explains why ClickTale’s solution is an order of magnitude further ahead today than in the past.

So, if your knowledge of ClickTale is a few years old, it’s time to get an update on how ClickTale works today.

How ClickTale works today

Here are many typical examples of enterprise level requirements.

Having joined ClickTale only earlier this summer I cannot take credit for any of these innovations.  But with my 15 years in the space I know to appreciate the work that has gone into these.

“We need to see what our customers are seeing including their full and actual marketing experience on our site. “

Yep,  that requires capturing and replaying not just HTML that the website’s own servers are sending to the Web browser but also third party marketing/eCommerce solutions that are used on the site, e.g. for product recommendations, testing, and targeting. After all, the whole point of those latter solutions is to influence the behavior of visitors. So, server-side data and technology that are blind to those details wouldn’t cut it today. ClickTale solves this by visualizing the full client-side experience.

“Our most important Web pages are secure (https) and have user specific HTML”

It’s a standard need today so ClickTale captures that content through its client-side data collection approach without need for ClickTale to go against the server for that content. As a result, no reauthentication to the server is needed. No need for any funny business with cookies for this to work either.

“We want to be 100% privacy compliant and we definitely don’t want to record sensitive details such as customers’ payment info etc.”

But of course!  By default no PII whatsoever is recorded. Such details are simply excluded and they don’t ever leave the visitor’s browser in the direction of ClickTale. That additionally eliminates any risk or questions.

“Even our anonymous data needs to be safe and secure in ClickTale’s cloud solution.”

Absolutely. Clicktale doesn’t just rely on certified data centers but Clicktale’s app itself is ISO27001 certified. Without the latter, any security that the data center provides would not be enough. Anyone who knows their salt on security will tell you that. ClİckTale is invested in a team of security professionals on staff to actively manage security. Few tech giants can match the everyday focus on securing customers’ data that ClickTale is focused on here.

“Our website HTML incorporates a lot of dynamic interactions and messages that visitors see driven by JavaScript, Ajax. etc. We need to make sure that both replays and heatmaps reflect these experiences.”

Very true for virtually all websites today. So ClickTale today has specialized technology under the hood to record customers’ interactions and exposure to all that dynamic content. It doesn’t stop at recording.  There is even more special functionality built into ClickTale’s heatmaps to make sense of today’s dynamic websites.

“We are already swimming in data. What we need is answers. “

Agreed. Many of the largest enterprises online are partnering with ClickTale for site optimization. It’s not just that seeing the actual customer experiences in ClickTale helps them turn web analytics,  VoC, and A/B testing data into intelligence by answering the why behind the what.  But ClickTale’s experienced CX consultants also work hand in glove with their customers to augment their staff with additional capacity for analyzing the customer experience.

“Sampling is not enough,  we want to capture 100% of the sessions that matter for analysis. “

Of course you do!  So ClickTale provides 100% recording for all sessions that are important to capture for analysis.

“We want to use ClickTale and our other digital intelligence solutions as one integrated platform.”

Almost all enterprises use ClickTale integrated with their Web analytics,  A/B testing,  and VoC solutions. No wonder. The synergy is huge.

  • Analyze & optimize your segments that you have defined in your Web analytics solution by adding ClickTale’s visual layer of insights that show the actual customer behavior behind the numbers.
  • Understand what to test and why certain experiences win vs fail.
  • Understand what happened on the site leading up to the feedback that customers submit.

While you hear software vendors talk about 1+1=3 value propositions all the time, I have rarely seen it to be as obviously true and clear as with the integration between ClickTale and the above type of solutions.

The sum of these and many other innovations are what make ClickTale an enterprise-class solution. 

And I know the best is yet to come.

As the web (especially mobile!) evolve further every day, there is so much more that the ClickTale team is working towards for our customers.

Final Spec for Digital Data Collection published by W3C CG — Plug & Play is here

As I was setting up holiday lights around my house this weekend I was plugging one string of lights into the next to go around the length of the roof. That made me think: how complicated would this be if every cable had a different kind of power plug, i.e. if there wasn’t a standard socket/plug for connecting cables from different vendors. You would have needed to run a separate power cable from the main socket to each set of lights instead of simply connecting the various cable strings with each other.

Bringing to digital data what standard power plugs/socket brought to electricity

Sounds crazy?

But that is exactly just as much unnecessary overhead and friction there has been in digital until today.  Namely, each digital marketing solution has had its own data collection JavaScript tag language and defines terms differently as to what constitutes a visitor, a page, an event, a conversion, shopping cart activity, or transactions. So, marketers and digital channel managers have had to implement a new set of tags on their site from scratch every single time they wanted to add another technology service. Plus they needed to translate events on their site into a new tag language every time.

Wouldn’t it be much more sensible if all of the digital marketing solutions could plug into a common set of data elements?

Final spec of Digital Data Layer now published at the W3C

IBM, in collaboration with 50+ other digital leaders such as Google, Adobe, tag management vendors, etc, has chaired an initiative to establish a new digital marketing industry standard for streamlined digital data management within a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) community group.  This community of industry leaders has now approved the final Customer Experience Digital Data Layer specification which rallies the industry around a single data model for tag data collection.

The value to marketers is accelerated on-boarding of new, relevant services, reduced IT burden in managing existing services, and superior and consistent site performance.

As vendors in the industry adopt this new standard, marketers will be able to take advantage of a single tag language used across all participating digital marketing services, saving time and money during implementation.

 

Voices in the industry commenting on the uniform data layer and its value

 

Sri Viswanath, IBM’s chair of the W3C Customer Experience Community Group

As the chair of the W3C Community Group, IBM’s Sri Viswanath had posted his perspective on this blog earlier in the year. Therefore, let me share below voices from other digital thought leaders and practitioners.

Eric Peterson, Web Analytics Demystified

Eric Peterson reviews the practical value of the W3C final specification on the Web Analytics Demystified blog in the light of a “coming of age” of tag management vendors. Meaning, in my opinion, that instead of competing on the commodity aspects of tag management data, vendors will now compete on the merits of what they enable businesses to do with that data. For example, how are the solutions helping their customers exchange digital data with a network of Digital Marketing solution providers in order to infuse these with real time intelligence on customer behavior?

“At Web Analytics Demystified we are excited to start leveraging this document in our client work and are looking forward to years of growth in the TMS sector.” and “those companies leveraging the W3C work will essentially enable a ‘plug and play’ environment”

 

Oliver Schiffers, Head of Marketing Strategy & Analysis for Continental Europe at SapientNitro

Let’s go across the pond next, literally, and hear from one of the captains of web analytics that has guided and shepherded use of intelligence towards better digital marketing decisions over the past decade.  Oliver Schiffers has been known for his web analytics leadership at SapientNitro for many years. Way back in 2001 he has been one of the NetGenesis crowd, so he has experienced the issues from both vendor and consulting perspectives.

“I see tremendous value in the data layer on top of the value Tag Management Systems (TMS) already provide. What was missing was still a consistent way of providing custom and dynamics values to the TMS.

Also, to be able to set a clear standard and orientation for agencies and site producers how to catch events is beneficial to both the developers as well as the analyst responsible for tagging.

When mentioning the standard, I was able to immediately gain trust within clients I am working for, because this is a W3C standard, the value is easily digestible, and it is still open for custom amendments. “

I love that endorsement that a common language helps each of the constituents in the process.

 

Todd Belcher, Digital Analytics Manager (Consultant) at Putnam Investments

Let’s ask a practitioner on the digital analytics side of things next. Todd Belcher is a veteran in the analytics industry with many years under his belt and working with many websites. Today, he is Digital Analytics Manager (Consultant) at Putnam Investments and shares his perspective:

“I believe organizations working with multiple digital marketing and analytics technologies, and the digital analytics community as a whole will benefit as a result of migrations toward this standard.  By adopting this standard, organizations’ web, application, and marketing/analytics teams are adopting a common language and process for surfacing data to digital marketing/analytics technologies. Ownership of creating this common language and process does not fall on the organization. It has already been done. “

Similar to Oliver maybe, Todd also stresses another benefit, namely helping organizations communicate unambiguously internally and with their digital marketing or analytics technology vendors:

“That internal communications efficiency must not be overlooked: when interfacing with digital marketing / analytics technology vendors, having a data layer in place promises potential ‘turn key’ implementations. It provides a common language and process… but not only for use by the organization, also for the organization to communicate with its vendors”.

Lee Isensee, Director Solutions Engineering and Product Strategy at Localytics

Let’s move to mobile next and ask Lee Isensee at Localytics. Lee has been a pillar of this industry for more than a decade and worked through countless implementations of digital data collection tags with customers. That direct hands-on experience informs the value he sees in removing spaghetti coding pains, i.e. not needing to translate multiple languages into each other!

“I would stress the ease of leveraging the data in a format that is universally understood without having to create extensive, and potentially convoluted, custom parsing solutions that have weighed the market down. The uniformity of the data also provides transparency to how each vendor works with the customer’s information.”

Aurelie Pols, Mind Your Privacy

Aurelie focused more on that last point. Specializing with her firm in the area of data and consumer privacy, Aurelie reviews the potentials of the new data collection specification from that specific angle.  Here, the potential of the new data layer specification is that a commonly agreed standard of what each data element means, can also lead to more precise opt-in or opt-out mechanisms.

“I hope it will gain traction. Yet it remains a technology perspective of the Privacy problem. .  As with anything in our industry, this is related to tools but certainly there is more to it, e.g. people and processes.

Therefore, when it comes to Privacy, this should clearly be part of a larger thought process, hopefully inducing Privacy by Design ways of thinking. Hopefully it will not be seen as the only solution to adopt when tackling this evolving issue.

My second stance is one related to adoption for privacy related goals, e.g. in the light of the earlier privacy project at the W3C: Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) that was suspended back in 2007. Through my career, I’ve had requests related to P3P but with no real drive to take into consideration these guidelines. Adoption remained low and was merely seen as a hassle, imposed by General Council if not just some enlightened Privacy defender(s).  The question of adoption of the new standard for privacy purposes remains therefore open.

From the angle of data privacy, the final specification is helpful but not enough by itself, as Aurelie points out. More remains to be done for that angle.

Next steps for the adoption of the W3C Digital Data Layer Final Specification

IBM and many of the participating vendors are eager to adopt the final specification into our digital marketing and analytics solutions and implementations have already begun in some cases.

For example, David Henderson at Triggered Messaging Ltd has been implementing against the final report at his firm and is sharing his experience on the W3C Wiki. Meanwhile, users of IBM Digital Data Exchange can already today map to the uniform Digital Data Layer in order to have it feed IBM’s solutions for digital Marketing, analytics, customer experience management, and omni channel marketing.

What’s your next step?

How are you going to adopt the standard for your site, products, or customers? Download and read the final specification for the Customer Experience Digital Data Layer today!

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This was cross posted from smartercommerceblog.com/digitalmarketing/

The central role of digital channels in the Omni-channel world

The original version of the chart below was created by Kevin Cavanaugh back in Unica days (Kevin’s now CTO at Allant Group). Still to date it’s one of the most popular pieces of thought leadership content I carry around with me on my USB drive everywhere I go. Folks in the audience often take pictures of this during presentations.

What it shows is that customers engage with our companies through so many channels and that some of these channels are more likely to be used during certain times in the customer lifecycle. For example, after learning about a brand via mass media commercials a prospect might grab their tablet to learn more about the product and then ultimately call the call center to ask further questions and sign up or purchase.

Channels of interaction over course of the Lifecycle

Channels of interaction over course of customer life cycle

Yet, over the years there has been a dramatic change. Kevin originally created this chart to visualize how critical it is to integrate online and offline channels for successful customer strategies. That is also how the chart was introduced in my book in 2008.

But today when you look at the chart you see an expanded number of digital channels at the heart of it. Digital is slowly taking over the chart. And the #1 take away from the chart today isn’t the online-offline integration anymore.

Rather, it’s that digital channels in themselves are an Omni-channel world ranging from website to tablet, phone, email, ad networks, social media networks, etc. Many of the most successful digital marketers today tie these digital channels together for continuous customer engagement. When a customer drops off from one channel, they continue the dialog with the customer on the next channel that he or she comes back on. That is assuming that the customer has at some point authenticated on each channel or device so he or she can be identified again.

Optimizing each of the channels and devices is bread & butter. But optimizing how they play together — that’s the Nutella on top.

One fun anecdote is that back when Kevin first created this chart we had question marks for the role of mobile in the customer lifecycle because the smartest phone around was still the Blackberry back then. It wasn’t clear at all back then how mobile would be used in the customer life cycle. Boy have we come a long way since then. Mobile is everywhere now.

Digital marketing lessons learned from IBM’s annual customer conference

IBM’s Smarter Commerce Global Summit Nashville just completed May 21-23. Hundreds of speakers shared their best practices and lessons learned.

What were some of the key takeaways for digital marketers and analysts? Surprise lessons? The hot trends of the times?

I asked a few of the digital marketing thought leaders that were in attendance. Here is what they observed.

Bryan Eisenberg – Author and “Use the Data” Expert

The biggest takeaway for me was how one of the large department store customers of IBM’s has expanded their use of data and integrated analytics across the physical and digital channels. It was great to see how stores can begin to leverage the insights that the online team has and vice versa to create better experiences cross-channel for their customers.

Sameer Khan, Rackspace Senior Digital Marketing Manager and Blogger at Keywebmetrics.com

My biggest takeaway was how IBM is making cross-channel marketing a reality with its marketing solutions. It also was interesting to learn about the cutting edge digital personalization campaigns possible using Tealeaf’s revolutionary behavioral analytics. Last but not least, the transformation of marketing attribution to statistically-significant outcomes leads us one step closer to real time budgeting by knowing which efforts truly deserve credit for downstream sales.

Mike Niemann, IBM Digital Marketing Optimization, Product Management

The predominance of omni-channel as not just a buzzword but a concept that many are really beginning to embrace and tackle was something I saw again and again. Moving from the concept of multi-channel, where the emphasis was more focused on simply getting a brand’s presence extended to various new and emerging channels, toward omni-channel, where a true understanding of customer experiences across mobile devices, interaction channels, and social networks, can really begin to allow marketers to offer a consistent and personalized experience. The business goal is to get to marketing that feels like a service, i.e. is a “youtility” as keynote speaker Jay Baer put it.

Chris Hogan’s quote from Margaret Getchell (one of, if not the, first women executives in retail) from back in the late 1800′s really stands out as being totally relevant in the digital age we live in today: “Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer”

Bill Bruno, CEO, Stratigent

My #1 take away from the event is that IBM is very focused on building a product suite that truly is integrated and that can provide incredible power to the marketers looking to build customized and unique experiences for their customers. If you think further about how the capabilities from IBM Watson can expand the possibilities, you’re talking about a game-changing ability to make sense of data to identify key personas/segments for optimization efforts.

Aubrey Rupp, IBM Digital Marketing Optimization, Product Management

Own the customer experience. We need to stop thinking about digital and physical as two separate things and capitalize on the magic that happens when we can combine them. We can use this knowledge to maximize the moments with customers, creating a personal experience for each customer and treat them as the unique individuals that they are.

“Sri” Viswanath Srikanth, IBM Standards and chair of the W3C Customer Experience Digital Data Community Group

My top takeaways were that enterprise marketers are continuing to look for ease of use for their solutions, best-of-breed technologies (as opposed to becoming a single vendor or single platform house), are intrigued by the possibilities around open technologies (open source/open standards), and continue to see a convergence of mobile, social, cloud and analytics worlds impacting their space.

Blair Reeves, IBM Digital Marketing Optimization, Product Marketing Management

The emphasis has shifted from channel-specific, or even context-specific, strategies to a broader view – the omni-channel view. Or, in other words, we are going “from digital marketing to customer intelligence.” I think the term “customer intelligence” really captures what we mean by both omni-channel and Smarter Commerce – connected customers engaging via channels they choose, and expecting a compelling experience.

Leah Paschall, IBM Digital Marketing Optimization, Product Marketing Management

I couldn’t say it any better than the journalists at Forbes who described the biggest challenges facing marketers in a recent article. The article is based on the recent IBM State of Marketing 2013 survey of which a sneak preview was shared with customers in Nashville.

Michelle Kiss and John Lovett, Web Analytics Demystified

And finally, this Blogger

What do all the brilliant digital marketers and analysts that I got a chance to learn about in Nashville have in common, for example Chris HoganEric HooverEwald HoppenInna DrutLisa LanganJennifer StinchcombMichael LaHueNancy FlintSameer KhanVenkata Duvvuri? When they speak, you hear the love for data in their voices. You hear the passion of turning data into better customer experiences. It reminds me of how the owner of a small corner store truly wants to take care of his or her customers and make them better off while looking out for business at the same time.

 

This article is cross posted from the Smarter Commerce blog.

Beyond Web Analytics Podcast Interview on the Coming Standards for Digital Data Collection

Tune in to the recent Beyond Web Analytics podcast on the topic of the coming Standards for digital data collection via tags. Listen as the BWA hosts Adam Greco, Rudi Shumpert explore the topic and coming standards with IBM’s Eliot Towb (product management for digital analytics and tag management), and Sri (Viswanath Srikanth) from IBM Standards.

Visit the W3C’s related standards group page to see the list of current members in the effort including the who is who in digital.

Announcing Speakers at IBM’s 2013 USA Customer Summit, May 21-23

The Coming New Standard for Digital Data Collection via Tags

Having served in the digital analytics and marketing industry for the past 12 years, I remember waaaay back in maybe 2006 there were passionate voices in the industry advocating that the page tagging layer should be interchangeable, i.e. standardized, between web analytics solutions vendors.

Customers should have it easier to switch out web analytics solutions. Vendors should be competing on the merits of the insights that they help customers derive, not on the mechanics of data collection.

Back then, those proposals went nowhere since all of us back then at Unica, Coremetrics, Omniture, Webtrends, etc. were busy growing business like crazy and getting acquired.

Standardization is poised to become a reality now

I shouldn’t jinx it by speaking too optimistically but all signs are that we are on a very promising path to standardization of data acquisition via page tags now.

And this will be not just  for web analytics solutions, but more generally for all digital marketing applications.

The goal is to save marketers from needing to learn and program a whole new tag data collection language with every vendor’s solution that they want to try.  The value is that marketers can then be more agile with trying and using new applications since these could all feed off of a common data collection layer.

Who is in the standardization effort?

Today, the standardization effort is being lead by a few dozen member companies including the ‘who-is-who’ in digital.  They are working in the W3C Customer Experience Digital Data Community and making rapid progress towards proposing a standard for data acquisition.

The participants represent:

  • Digital marketing and analytics vendors such as Adobe, Criteo, Localytics, Google, Marin Software, Reevoo, and of course IBM
  • Tag management pure play vendors such as BrightTag, Ensighten, Tag Man, Tealium
  • Web practitioners and managers from multiple businesses who will be among the prime consumers and beneficiaries of this specification
  • The Digital Analytics Association is also a participating member

IBM’s “Sri”, Viswanath Srikanth, from the IBM Software Standards team is chairing the group effort.  Sri is planning to be in Nashville at the Smarter Commerce conference to share details from the community’s work.

How will this work?

Aside from the impressive list of participants, the other great news to me is that this is really straight forward from a technical and practical perspective.

You could compare it to the way standardized electrical power plugs and sockets make it possible to plug in any electrical device no matter where or which power company is serving the region. They all rely on there being a standard interface in between them, namely standardized power sockets and plugs.

In digital, data is the fuel that powers marketing and analytics applications. Yet all websites and digital marketing applications have developed their own data language, i.e. JavaScript key-value pairs for things such as page titles, categories, URLs, retail shopping cart details, visitor data, behavior events, etc. etc.

  • So one application may expect page category in a variable named “pageCat = ABC” while the next app may expect it to be named “CategoryPage = ABC”.
  • Similarly one website may place a shopping cart item into a variable such as cart[] while the next might place it in something like basket[].
  • etc

Welcome the uniform JavaScript Object Data Layer

But … if there is a common translation layer in between sites and apps that everybody can rely on … that would solve the problem.

That translation layer will be a uniform JavaScript Object Data Layer, i.e. a set of key-value pairs under pre-agreed key names and definitions. Websites can populate these with their data. All digital marketing and analytics solutions that need access to this data can get it from the standard data layer regardless of the website’s details.

In other words, vendors and websites do not need to understand each other directly anymore, e.g. how a page is designed, or how shopping carts work – since the basic contract would be that the standard JavaScript Object gets populated and all solutions can get data from that layer.

How do you apply the uniform JavaScript Layer to Your site?

When the coming new standard is first established, the plan is for website managers to populate the uniform JavaScript Object Data Layer manually, just like you are used to adding any data collection tag to your site today.

But after doing this just once, all standards compliant third party solutions can plug and play.

When solutions require additional key-value pairs of data beyond those specified in the standard, no problem, those can be deployed through additional tagging.

In the future, once the standard is well on its way the plan is for content management and eCommerce systems to facilitate the uniform JavaScript Layer out of box as much as possible, cutting out even the initial manual effort where possible.

When can you expect to see the benefits of this?

The next milestones in the W3C Standards discussion group are for the data layer spec to be readied in May/June 2013 and finalized and published by July/August 2013.

From there, it is only a matter of time before the member organizations adopt the standard into their product road maps.

I have no doubt that the tag management solutions and major digital marketing suite vendors will be first to race and implement the standards. Once that has happened, point solutions will follow.

How can you contribute and influence?

Simply go to the W3C’s web page for the Customer Experience Digital Data Community Group and follow the links on information about how to join.

Why are vendors driving the standardization? Why now?

What is it you might wonder that is driving vendors such as IBM to invest in this standards effort now given that for so many years most vendors weren’t prioritizing standardization at all.

The first major change has been the advent of tag management solutions. With those available widely, no vendor can hope to lock in their customers by making it cumbersome to retag.

Secondly, many of the participating vendors offer a wide and ever growing portfolio of solutions. We need to make it easy for our customers to plug and play with our native solutions plus with point solutions of their choice.

This is a core strategy that customers should expect from their vendors. At least that is why IBM is in it.

After all,  … could you imagine undoing the standardization of electrical power plugs?

Learn more at the upcoming IBM customer conferences

To learn more, join IBM customers and prospective customers in Nashville (May 21-23) and Monaco (June 18-20). Sri and our IBM colleague Eliot Towb are presenting on the topic and available for discussion and your feedback.


 

Prefer SaaS or On-Premises for your digital analytics and marketing technology solutions?

What deployment model should marketers prefer for their digital analytics and other marketing software technology solutions that support their efforts? Should they pick:

  • Cloud based solutions i.e. Software as a Service (SaaS)?
  • Ground based solutions for on-premises deployment?
  • or hybrid models that combine the two options?,

Of course, the answer is “it depends”.

So the guest blog post on  the Smarter Commerce blog has my two most important pieces of advice on how to explore SaaS vs. On Premises when you choose between them for your company. This was posted on the occasion of the recent IBM Marketing Center product release. That one is a cloud based product which prompted this question on deployment models.

Link to the post