At the Digital Analytics Association DC Symposium yesterday, we experienced the past, present and future of digital analytics. In just a few hours, we worked passed the basics of what makes a great digital analyst, explored the art of analysis, learned how to tell a story across channels and media, and hypothesized about the future of digital analytics.

It's a Multi-Device, Multi-Channel World

First, think about your day. Upon waking up, what’s the first thing you’re inclined to do? Why, reach for your smartphone to see what text messages, emails or updates you may have missed during your slumber, of course. From there, maybe you read from your iPad over your morning coffee or on the train. At work, you’re at your laptop. Back at home, you’re snuggled up on your couch, tablet in hand, while watching TV streaming over the internet. From a consumer’s perspective, most of how you engage with digital content is pretty seamless. However, from a marketing perspective, it’s a fragmented, segmented experience that spans mobile devices, channels, platforms and media.

For the digital analyst, she must not only be able to understand the raw materials, but be able to learn the tools, solve problems, and master the art of analysis and communication. Or so says Jim Sterne, Founder of the eMetrics Summit & Digital Analytics Association. According to Sterne, the digital analyst is responsible for knowing what the data means, what it says and more importantly what it doesn’t say.

Slide from Jim Sterne's presentation at the Digital Analytics Association DC Symposium

But before you get excited about the plethora of advanced analytics software you’ll get to play around with, remember this: it’s not about the tools – it’s about the problem you’re trying to solve. Sterne says “analytics are worthless without goals.” In order to be an effective digital analylist you’ll need to think like a detective. Here are some top tips:

  • Segment – narrow down by categories like keywords, source, persona, location, frequency, spend, social media links, social media sentiment
  • Think backwards – what are your trying to achieve? Work backwards to see where bottlenecks are.
  • Look for micro-conversions – what are the little steps users need to take in order to achieve big goals?
  • Avoid the traps – don’t use analytics to prove your worth. Make “give me a report that shows the board we know what we’re doing…” a thing of the past. 

By employing a little knowledge, intelligence, and intuition, a digital analyst doesn’t give reports, they tell a story.

Your Story Starts Anywhere

But let’s get back to those multiple channels and devices. How do you tell a story effectively when it may start and stop across different devices and channels? It may sound tricky, but chances are you engage with stories all the time in a non-linear fashion. Perhaps you’re listening to NPR on the radio, find the podcast later to listen to on your smartphone, then share the link to the story on Facebook. As a consumer, you’ve just used three different types of media to listen to a story. Additionally, how many times have you gone online after watching a TV show to learn more or engage with behind the scenes activities?

Example of how Frontline incorporates different perspectives into the story.

Someone put that content there. Someone thought about how a story will unfold across devices. And for the story to be told well, you didn’t need a set of instructions about where to start and where to stop. It happened organically.

According to Robert Bole of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and Voice of America – that’s the point. You can start anywhere.

Of course how you tell a story depends on the medium. Online, you can have more text than you would on a tablet device. But you can use more video and touch-screen capabilities on a tablet or a smartphone than you can on TV. Even so, this is all still rather 1.0 technology. You must factor in more 2.0 and 3.0 functionality – how does the consumer impact the way a story is told? Can they lend their perspective to make it more holistic? Of course they can -- but how can you accomodate and fold their story into yours? 

If digital analysts are to tell stories rather than give reports, it's essential for them to understand how the story can begin and how it may continue long after it's been published. 

How The Real World Does It

Back to reality. Telling a story is great, but how can you make it so others in your office will want to hear it. After all, most people seem to check out the moment they the word hear "analytics". A panel of digital and content analysts from NPR, PBS and National Geographic provided some valuable insights, tips and tricks about how they have been able to transform not only the content that is seen, but how they report on it. 

Weaponize Your Metrics: Once you define your goals, you can begin to use analytics to track them. If your goal is to deliver a core web experience that works no mater where you are, as NPR's is, then you need to figure out what that core web experience looks like. They decided that web content was valuable if it made money, drove traffic back to NPR and deepened engagement. Then they looked at how their current content performed and set benchmarks. 

Standardize the Unit of Currency: At PBS, in order to remain consistent in their reporting and story telling, they develop a standardized language. Pageviews were always pageviews, even if you were on a mobile device, for example. Just because there were different devices, didn't mean you needed to call the metrics differently. Standardizing it helps everyone stay on the same page, even if their metrics aren't. 

Think Differently About Future Innovations: What devices we're using next year are going to be different than what we used in the past. How will you apply actionable analytics to understand how people are using them so you can improve the experience you provide? At National Geographic, they're celebrating their 125th year. Many different media have come and gone in the past century -- National Geographic didn't remain because it just stood there. They constantly challenge themselves to observe, question, experiment and network to better understand the problems and discover possible solutions. There will always be new technology -- how you choose to approach it and adopt it is up to you. 

Use Data to Do Better, Be Better

At the end of the day, the Digital Analytics Association DC Symposium wasn't just a bunch of data geeks gushing over the latest tool or data set. Instead it was a collection of people who want to make the online experience better for the end user. Whether we're marketers or analysts or somewhere in between, data is the path we've chosen to help us tell better stories, deliver better experiences, and increase revenue. 

What was most refreshing was to hear that the time spent creating reports is not the best use of anyone's time. No one reads them. No one consults them after they've been presented. Instead, spend time setting goals and solving problems. Use data, not to make everyone feel better about what they're doing. Use data, to challenge everyone to do it better. Digital analytics needs data. Lucky for us, big data is only getting bigger. The future of digital analytics isn't who has the most data, but rather who is doing the most with the data they have.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Jason Winter