Make Smarter Business Decisions Using a Single Source of Truth (Analytics)
Back in the old days -- before mobile devices, social media and search engines became integral parts of our lives -- business leaders made marketing decisions based on intuition, best practices and trends in their overall sales data. While many of these principles hold true today, strictly staying the course will lead to businesses falling behind. Thanks to the advances of marketing tracking capabilities, the game has changed -- forever.
These days, the business world moves at a lightning pace, and executives must adapt to changing consumer behavior faster than ever. In this environment, making decisions based on a hunch won’t cut it. Instead, effective leaders analyze real-time data by constantly optimizing to stay ahead of trends. This is made possible by a host of analytic tools that tap into the endless data points consumers trigger every time they’re online.
Why a Single Source of Truth Matters
That’s not to say that this wealth of information has made those business decisions any easier or clearer. In the hands of less familiar users, this influx of instant data often adds to the fog of war -- obscuring the business battlefield. Confusion can magnify when different business sectors within the same organization use varying tools to analyze performance. For example, what happens when the information produced by one of these tools contradicts another? If both tools are given equal weight, the information essentially becomes meaningless.
Because there are so many available tools, business and marketing leaders need to agree upon a shared analytics tool they’ll use to measure KPI’s and inform important decisions. This is what I call a single source of truth. Ideally, it’s a flexible platform measuring all digital channels to provide an organization with a holistic view of its online activities. That way, executives can make smart decisions by viewing their data through a wide lens -- measuring apples against apples.
Stakeholders have several options when defining their single source of truth. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, but there’s one clear winner that meets the needs of most business out there.
Common Analytics Sources
Even if it hasn’t been officially defined, most companies already use something that tells them how the business is faring. Those tools usually fall into three broad categories.
Isolated Sales Data
In these instances, a company uses a proprietary system that gives credit for sales and leads to a certain channel. This could be a report from an e-commerce platform like BigCommerce or Shopify, or it could be something an internal team designed a long time ago. Many companies also use non-marketing sales trackers like Quickbooks that have limited functionality beyond their intended scope.
Executives and number crunchers typically place a high value on sales data, so they’re naturally drawn to these measurement tools. They do come with several limitations, however. In an isolated form, sales data doesn’t include attribution or show campaigns. It also doesn’t allow for segmentation or any granularity in the marketing analysis.
As a result, stakeholders only see broad business trends and are robbed of deeper insights that might allow them to spot new opportunities or double-down on a strategy that’s really paying off.
Free Analytics Platforms
To compensate for these blind spots, many businesses rely on more advanced analytics solutions that track a host of marketing activities. Free platforms like Matomo, Clickly, or Google Analytics track in-going and out-going marketing traffic, presenting it all for analysis on a handy dashboard.
Through these platforms, stakeholders can compare marketing efforts, monitor campaigns and gain real-time insight on how these activities drive sales. When used correctly, this data serves as a powerful tool to drive growth, but it comes with a couple of downsides to keep in mind.
To begin with, the numbers produced by these analytics platforms don’t always line up exactly with sales data, which is why some higher-ups are reluctant to use third-party platforms as their single source of truth. That doesn’t mean the information is incorrect or unreliable, however. Most often, this discrepancy is due to elements that can’t be tracked digitally like phone calls, returns, taxes, and fraud.
Another downside of free analytics platforms is that they often draw data from a sample of digital activity when the data volume increases over a high amount. While this doesn’t impact the accuracy of the analytics results in higher level reports, it can lead to discrepancies in more granular reports.
Paid Analytics Platforms
Larger businesses often tap into a third analytics tier by using paid platforms like Adobe Analytics, IBM Digital Analytics, or Google Analytics 360. These solutions are excellent for analyzing a very high volume of data and offer more advanced attribution capabilities and user tracking options. Most paid platforms also derive their data from a true representation of traffic, rather than extrapolating it from traffic samples like free platforms do. This provides users an additional layer of accuracy.
Because these platforms are intended primarily for use in the enterprise sector, they are very costly -- some running tens of thousands of dollars each month -- which puts this option out-of-reach for many businesses.
My Recommended Single Source of Truth
Fortunately, most businesses don’t need to spend that much money to see value from their analytics platform. In fact, the free version of Google Analytics will meet the needs of almost every business out there. Google is keenly interested in showing how marketing can justify itself, which is why it offers users this suite of flexible, powerful and free tools.
The platform plugs directly into Google products, which are already huge drivers of many corporate marketing activities. Google Analytics also offers easy integration to many other widely used marketing products, along with free advanced attribution, which most other platforms struggle to provide or charge a hefty fee for. That’s why I recommend businesses use this tool as their single source of truth.
Tips for Making the Switch
The first step in establishing your go-to analytics source is to obtain buy-in from stakeholders. There might be some resistance from executives who have been using other platforms for a long time, so it’s important to prove the platform’s reliability from the outset.
Before running to leadership with your new-found insights, do your research to construct a well-thought-out plan. Set yourself up for success with these four steps:
Evaluate your current data and analytics platform.
- What platform(s) are your currently using?
- What metrics are you tracking?
- Who’s tracking these metrics?
Understand your marketing channels.
- Who are you engaging with?
- What is each marketing channel trying to achieve?
- How does search intent differ among each channel?
Align your business goals.
- What are your business goals?
- What are key stakeholders shooting for?
- How do key stakeholders perceive each marketing channel?
- What are your profit margins and customer lifetime value?
Be patient and persistent.
- Did you provide enough data and clear examples?
- How else can you help key stakeholders understand the value of a source of truth?
- Are key stakeholders on the same page regarding the purposes of each marketing channel?
By implementing a single source of truth, your stakeholders will be able to monitor website engagements, digital marketing campaigns, individual channel performance, and a host of other customizable data points. With this fresh, holistic view, the leadership team will have the real-time information they’ll need to make profitable decisions at the new speed of business.