The Digital Analytics Growth Model

By December 17, 2015Analytics, Tips and Tricks

Over the past few years I have seen a few different blogs in our industry that talk about how to grow your digital analytics practice in your organization.  As our industry matures, I think this topic is relevant to revisit from time to time, and since I haven’t seen one in quite a while, I will give you what I see as the current Digital Analytics Growth Model.  This model isn’t just something that I have thrown together in theory, it is how we, here at MaassMedia, work with our clients to achieve their digital analytics goals.


The growth model is broken into two phases, Phase 1, infrastructure setup and metrics gathering, and Phase 2, advanced analytics and integrated marketing/personalization.  I sometimes like to use metaphors, and I am a sports fanatic, so you can think of Phase 1 as preseason activities, scouting players, drafting players, coming up with game plans and training camp.  All of these items are necessary to have a successful team to compete for a championship, which is your ultimate goal, and without them you won’t have much success.  Phase 2 is going to be similar to the regular season and playoffs for a sports team.  Here you are executing your game plan, making changes on the fly, adjusting rosters and lineups based upon metrics, and hopefully making it to the playoffs and winning a championship.


The reason I use this metaphor is because it works perfectly for my digital analytics maturity growth model.  If you don’t start out by understanding your ultimate goals, putting plans in place for data collection, and collecting and disseminating the necessary data, then you will not be ready for the regular season and you have no hopes of making the playoffs.  Can you still play in the regular season without having all of these necessary steps in place?  Sure, but you might end up looking like the 2015 Philadelphia 76ers and only have one win through a quarter of the first season.  I say this to emphasize the importance of not skipping steps in the process just to get to the “cool stuff” because, to be honest, you will fail.


PHASE 1 – Infrastructure Setup and Metrics Gathering


Being a sports fan, you won’t believe the number of times I have heard that team championships are won in the offseason.  As an organization that wants to become data driven, especially in the digital realm, the offseason is phase 1 of the digital analytics growth model.  There are specific steps that you need to follow in a specific order to make sure you set your company up for larger success down the road.  There are five main steps in Phase 1: gathering business requirements, creating a measurement plan, putting in place a data collection infrastructure, creating basic reporting, and finally, creating customized reporting.  I cannot stress enough that you will not be successful in the next step without perfecting the previous step.  It would be akin to trying to come up with a game plan in football without knowing who the players on your team are going to be.


Step One – Gathering Business Requirements


At the very beginning of the digital analytics maturity growth model, every organization should gather business requirements to prepare for data collection.  Is this a one-time step that should never be revisited after it’s complete?  Of course not; organizations change, goals change, sites are redesigned and the definition of success will change over time.  However, this is the place you must start if you want to build a successful data-driven team in your organization.


At MaassMedia, whenever we start a new project with our clients, we always have a kickoff meeting.  This meeting allows us to introduce ourselves to the client, and at the same time, learn more about the client’s needs.  The preparation for this meeting actually begins well in advance.  We send a client questionnaire to the stakeholders who will be attending in order to get them thinking about digital analytics and the goals of their digital initiatives.  This questionnaire asks them to think about their overall organizational goals and how it relates to their digital ecosystem.  During the meeting we will discuss their responses to these questions and flush out the all of the business requirements related to digital analytics, which could be as simple as, “what are the goals of your website?”  You would be surprised at how many organizations don’t have a coherent picture of their website goals.  This process should take place inside of your organization immediately if there are any questions about the goals of your digital properties.


Step Two – Create a Measurement Plan


The next step in our digital analytics maturity growth plan is directly tied to the previous step.  Once you define the business requirements, which include the goals of your organization around your digital initiatives, it’s time to create a measurement plan to document and understand how the necessary data is going to be collected.  Every website, mobile app, digital marketing channel and other various data source needs to have a clear and concise plan on how the data will be collected.


For example, if you have a website and you know which metrics you are going to use to measure success of that site, you need to understand which data points you will need to capture and how you will capture those data points.  Perhaps sharing of content on your site via social media is going to be a measure of success.  If that is the case, you are going to want to make sure you are capturing what content is being shared, where is it being shared, when is it being shared and how is it being shared.  Depending on which digital analytics tool your organization uses, you need to have a plan in place for how you are going to go about doing exactly that.  If you use Adobe, you need to plan out what custom variables you will use; for Google Analytics, define which custom dimensions and metrics will be used.  All of this needs to be documented for every action or use case you want to track across your site.


This may seem like overkill, or perhaps a lot of work, and I am not going to sugar coat the situation, it is a lot of work.  But this work is necessary.  Your digital analytics implementation and data collection is a living, breathing animal.  Just as your site will change, your implementation should change with it and should always be audited to make sure the data being collected is correct.  Going back to my sports metaphor, you can come up with the perfect game plan that you think will win every single game you play, but things come up, such as players getting injured or weather conditions changing, so you have to adjust on the fly.  The same thing happens with your implementation plan.  The site will change, and perhaps the overall organizational goals will change, so you need to be flexible and be able to adjust the plan on the fly.  This will be a whole lot easier if everything is documented correctly, believe me, I know from experience.


Step 3 – Basic Infrastructure


Congrats, you have defined your business requirements and put together a great measurement plan that meets all of your needs.  So what is next?  Well, now is the time to do the actual data collection.  This step can be compared to a training camp for a sports team.  Your team has been assembled (business requirements), your measurement plan has been created (game plan), but until you actually begin to practice your game plan (data collection), you will never be able to succeed.  Just like teams need to begin a season getting the rust off in training camp, they still practice throughout the entire season.  The same goes for data collection; it is an ongoing process that you need to do constantly.  However, we need to put the basic infrastructure in place.


This step shouldn’t be difficult if you completed the previous two steps, as you know what your goals are, how you want to measure those goals, and which data you want to collect.  Here you will be providing your measurement plan to your developers in order to implement the actual tracking code and collect the data.  One thing that makes this process more streamlined is the availability of tag management systems.  A tag management system can make dealing with your IT department less of a hassle.  Instead of the IT team having to place different lines of code on different pages of your site, they only need to place the same code (the tag management code) on every page.  However, do not think that if you don’t have JavaScript experience you can collect all the data necessary to fulfill your measurement plan.  You will still need the help of an experienced developer in order to complete your data collection requirements.


Also, you should be involved in the QA process.  No one understands what data you want to collect for every use case better than the person that put the measurement plan together.  You will want to step through every use case on the site to ensure that the data collection is being done correctly in all cases.  Again, this may seem like a tedious process but it is 100% necessary if you want to ensure data integrity and guarantee that your stakeholders trust the data.


Step 4 – Basic Reporting


You are starting to really rock now!  You know exactly what defines success on your site, you created a plan to measure that success and now you are correctly collecting that data on your website, job done, right?  Not quite.  You need to begin to disseminate that data to your stakeholders so they can see what an awesome job you have done to this point.


Basic reporting is going to be completed either in your digital analytics tool itself or possibly in Excel.  Either way, you are going to be providing some top level reports to stakeholders that show how your site is doing at meeting its objectives.  These reports will be delivered to your teams on a set schedule (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) and will be able to give your stakeholders some direction as to how your site is performing.


A lot of people ask me why this step is important and why they can’t just move directly to the custom reporting stage.  There are a few reasons, first of which is instilling confidence in your data by your stakeholders.  If they can see some basic reporting that gives them top-level metrics and they are coming back to you and asking further questions, than you are doing your job correctly.  You want to give them data at a slow trickle to start because you aren’t going to turn your company into Amazon overnight.  It takes time, and by doing the basic reporting, you can begin to impart confidence in your data.


Step 5 – Custom Reporting with Insights


Now we start to get to the fun part of digital analytics.  If you completed all of the steps prior to this, then you are ready to begin giving your stakeholders custom reports with your insights into the data that will allow them to make actionable recommendations on how to improve your site over time.  These reports are either going to be done in Excel using advanced features or, preferably, in a data visualization tool such as Tableau.


These reports should be specific to your stakeholders and their roles within the organization.  For example, one of your stakeholders might be a project manager who is in charge of one specific product, let’s say video.  Your custom report should specifically meet their individual needs.  It should include the metrics and dimensions that were defined in the business requirements meetings and the measurement plan for what constitutes success.  User and behavioral segments should be placed in these reports in order to make insights bubble to the top.  And last, but not least, these reports should include your own insights into what the data is telling you.  This will give your stakeholder the necessary ammo to make the data-driven decisions.


Hopefully I made it perfectly clear that in order to be successful and to move up the digital analytics growth model, you need to perfect the previous step.  You can try and jump steps, you can try and not complete steps and only do some of the requirements, but one thing I can guarantee is you will not be successful and you will not be ready for the regular season, and that is where the magic happens.


In my next post we will go through the second phase of the digital analytics growth model and you will learn what you will need to do to make your organization a world champion.


Have other questions about digital analytics strategy?  Contact us here or on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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