The Devil

Last week I attended a CMO panel discussion sponsored by the AMA Triangle. It included CMOs from SAS, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and a couple of other independent medium to small-business CMOs. One of the panelists stood out to me.

Not only was he about a foot and a half taller than everybody else on the stage, but he seemed to communicate with less marketing jargon and more of a down-to-earth approach. He certainly resonated with me because he had a more educational and common-sense approach to some of the questions asked.

His name is Frank Pollock. He's currently the CMO of a couple of start-ups, but he also teaches business at Duke University. One particular line that he said is, “The devil is in the data.” Now, I've heard the phrase the devil is in the details. So, does that mean that the details in the data are the devil?

Things that make you go, “Hmmm”?

The Details

You may or may not be aware of the fact that Google is changing the way it does analytics. UA is going away on July 1, and GA4 is replacing it.

The problem is not just that you have to learn the new interface and how it gathers and reports data, but all your historical data of hits, engagement, and more are going away and will be inaccessible as of July 1st, 2023. In my case, and with many of my clients, this means that years of data have now been rendered useless and unreadable in the way that we've learned to embrace and measure it.

There are ways to export the data that range from free to hundreds of dollars per month. So getting the data out of Universal Google Analytics is not impossible, but viewing it the way we've been used to creates a whole new challenge.

The simple way to preserve it is to export the data and create reports and then export them as a CSV or PDF.  Those are static snapshots like taking a picture. Currently, it's a more dynamic system that you can manipulate over time to watch and learn from trends.

Luckily, I heard about this over a year ago so we created GA4 accounts to preserve some historical data for myself and some of my clients. So whether you find a way to export the data, print out reports along the way, or simply just don't care about your past, the way that you will look at analytics will be forever different.

The Purpose

Google acquired its analytics platform in 2005 and it has continued to evolve since. The main purpose was to provide website owners and marketers with tools to track traffic and behavior. One of the major underlying benefits was the fact that you could compare apples to apples across multiple websites, industries, and platforms to benchmark your performance against similar-style websites.

Google's underlying purpose was to help them facilitate the sale of ads. Obviously, if you saw your traffic going down, you want to increase it, and Google made sure to tell you that by purchasing ads, you could increase website traffic in general but also traffic to specific pages where you're selling something.

The whole system is based on search engine optimization, which is still a factor in today's market, but universal analytics relied on tracking code and cookies to gather data whereas GA4 uses a global site tag that allows you to collect more granular event data which can help better track conversions or sales.

Another major difference is Universal Analytics is based on sessions and the number of times people came back to your website. GA4 uses each interaction as an individual event which does allow for a more detailed analysis of individual users' behavior.

So, even though the old way offered everybody consistent information that could be benchmarked against other websites, the new GA4 system allows you to customize what you see, and how you look at it in the form of micro reports or widgets.

The Data

The reviews are still coming in from various users and experts across the internet. They are certainly mixed with a love-hate relationship with the new format. Some of that you can equate to people who don't like change, while others simply don't feel like the new format fits their needs. The ones who love it are totally digging the way you can customize the reports that you get to the specific needs of you and your business model.

This is both a blessing and a curse.

The Blessing

After spending some time playing around with the new interface and reporting, I found a few things that I really love. If you have a really big website, it's hard to track data to hundreds of pages and get anything but a list of what gets the most (insert desired result here). Although it's handy to see traffic, hits, and time on site, it's even more beneficial to see trends.

So let's say there is a specific set of pages that deal with a technology, or media type. You can actually create reports that segment that out, and let you see trends that you could not see in the old format.

The other major benefit is the fact that if you create those reports, you can save them and get back to them fairly easily. You could almost achieve a similar result in the universal form of analytics, by taking standardized reports and filtering, and then saving those. That made it harder to have that readily accessible and discover trends over time.

The Curse

The real curse is this, with power comes responsibility. You have to make decisions about what you want to see, and why. Then learn how to pull that data and format it in a way that makes sense for the average user. This is not only a challenge, but it's a major task.

Luckily, for myself and my clients, I have an expert who works with both versions of Google Analytics. This expert helps us decipher what's possible and then implement it and change it over time. But I do feel sorry for the person that does not want to spend hours, days, or months, learning the ins and outs of working a system that used to be as easy as signing in and looking at predefined reports.

The key thing that you have to remember is, that it is just data. As long as it's being collected, you can learn and grow with it.

Also, if you wanted to, you could basically just start out by replicating what you're used to. Then get more sophisticated over time. But sooner or later, you're gonna have to have a discussion about what data is important to you and your business, how you want to format it, and what you can do with those results.

Final Thoughts

So I believe Frank was right, “The devil is in the data.” The devil is also in the details that you choose to analyze from the data. But he also had a couple of other points that I thought were very interesting.

Frank said, (a little loosely translated) that nothing is quite as new as we think it is in marketing. Podcasting is just 1950s radio on demand. Contact marketing was known as cooking classes in the 1940s for the wives of servicemen overseas. As fast as things change, the principles remain the same. Marketing, and the tools we use to measure it, are just like a tape measure in the tool belt of strategic marketing that is used to generate sales.

Some people may get excited about vanity metrics like hits and website traffic trends. Others spend the time to dig deep into the data, and how it can be turned into a buried treasure map that leads prospects to our business's path of becoming great customers.

“I busted a mirror and got seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five.”
– Steven Wright

Comment below and share your thoughts, ideas, or questions about your love-hate relationship with data! Do you feel your data is solid? Are you tracking your connections and not just customers? What is your definition of success when it comes to building business relationships?

To learn more about this and other topics on B2b Sales & Marketing, visit our podcast website at The Bacon Podcast.