How to build your digital analytics strategy

Starting a digital analytics journey can be exciting and intimidating for businesses of all sizes. With literally thousands of apps available to crunch numbers and seemingly endless spreadsheets of data to analyse, it can be difficult to know where to even start.

But few know better than analytics guru Stéphane Hamel how to set up a data roadmap. As one of the most influential thought leaders in the industry, we recently asked him how anyone can take the first step toward data-driven success.

Be realistic

Stéphane has helped many businesses begin their analytics journey but stresses the importance of being realistic with expectations and planning.

“Of course, when we envision a new project, we dream of the best, idealistic scenario where we will achieve a 360-degree view of our customers, merge all data sources, have supper fancy dashboards, sprinkle some machine learning and artificial intelligence on it and achieve new heights.

“Sounds unreal? It is, of course. I have seen and witnessed my fair share of managers and analysts who were sold a dream that didn’t materialize – leading to wasted time, money, and high churn amongst highly sought for data-savvy people.”

Know your starting point

Perhaps the most important jumping off point with a new digital analytics strategy is understanding your current position. This not only lets you understand your internal capabilities but also identify areas for improvement.

Conducting an assessment – like Stéphane’s own Digital Analytics Maturity Model – is the perfect jumping-off point before developing your strategy.

It means you can set the foundations right and have a lot of opportunities ahead.

“Think of it as a SWOT assessment for your own digital analytics capabilities,” explained Stéphane. “At the end of the exercise, what’s most important isn’t the score you will get, but the inclusion of the team right from the start to build a course of action that everyone will be able to embark on, and at the same time, avoid costly mistakes of going in the wrong direction.”

However, it’s important to remember not to get hung-up on any score you receive.

“Finding out you are at a lower maturity level isn’t a problem at all,” stressed Stéphane, “it means you can set the foundations right and have a lot of opportunities ahead.”

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Even the briefest of research into digital analytics will make anyone excited at the prospect of using any number of fancy new tools to track and measure data. But before signing up for a single account, Stéphane recommends putting in the groundwork to establish your strategy and measures of success.

“Tools are great and powerful and can give a sense of quick accomplishment,” said Stéphane, “but, have you thought about your audiences, segments, and personas?”

To begin your strategy, Stéphane recommends:

  1. Mapping your customer life-cycle, including key online activities at each step
  2. Defining your business objectives
  3. Identifying which online activities are the strongest signals of contributing to business objectives

“Then comes the instrumentation – aka tagging,” explained Stéphane. “But even then, don’t try to do it all at once – embrace an agile approach where you will gradually refine and improve the quality and amount of tracking.”

Speaking of tools

The latest Chiefmartec Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (2017) includes over 5,000 tools and service providers for digital marketers, with a healthy number devoted entirely to analytics. “I’m very confident your business needs aren’t so exceptional that none of those 5,000+ solutions can answer them,” laughed Stéphane.

“The key is this: start small, be agile, don’t be afraid of experimenting. And don’t forget, errors are part of the learning process too!”

Three free tools Stéphane’s recommended for your analytics:

  1. Google Analytics – to analyze your website traffic. It’s free, easy to use, enjoys a very strong user community and tons of learning resources, and a rich ecosystem of 3rd party tools.
  2. MailChimp – to manage email campaigns and marketing automation. Includes integration with e-commerce platforms to help with reporting and automation.
  3. Google Data Studio – to bring your data together and create all-in-one dashboards.

Reporting and measurement

With a strategy in place, measurements to report against, and the tools to do the job, it’s time to begin analyzing and reporting on your data.

For Stéphane, how often this should happen depends on two elements; your customer lifecycle and your organizational agility.

“If you can’t act on daily data, it might be wiser to think in terms of weeks, or even months,” explained Stéphane. “Rest assured there is no correlation between digital analytics maturity and the size of the organization. A small business is often more agile and isn’t engulfed in internal politics.”

You need to have ownership of the data, at all time, no excuse, never, ever!

The responsibility of reporting and analysis should also be carefully considered. Stéphane recommends ensuring that this job is given to a staff member with knowledge of, and training in analytics, and also encourages engaging external data agencies while building internal capabilities.

“I’m a strong advocate of outsourcing the ramp-up process to an agency or independent consultant who will be willing to share their knowledge with your internal team member whom you would like to become your expert.”

But he also has a word of warning for those outsourcing their analytics.

“Work collaboratively and with open books. And super important – you need to have ownership of the data, at all time, no excuse, never, ever!”

Your digital analytics steps to success

  1. Be realistic with your expectations
  2. Map your customer life-cycle, including key online activities at each step
  3. Define your business objectives
  4. Identify which online activities are the strongest signals of contributing to business objectives
  5. Find the best tools for the job, and don’t be afraid to start small
  6. Identify realistic measurement and reporting periods based on your customer journey and organizational capabilities
  7. Identify individuals responsible for measurement and reporting, and upskill or outsource if necessary

Understand the fundamentals of digital analytics in this free sample lesson

Join Stéphane for an 8-minute sample lesson, Fundamentals of Digital Analytics. Learn about the different aspects and types of analytics, and how they can be used within your business to measure and improve your success. Simply enter your details to immediately begin the obligation-free lesson.

Quick links for more information and resources

  1. The Digital Analytics Maturity Model – to assess your current strengths and capabilities
  2. Radical Analytics Manifesto – a series of articles written by Stéphane around digital analytics
  3. Advanced Web Analytics Training – learn how to create your own digital analytics strategy with Stéphane
  4. DaVinci Tools – Google Analytics browser extension created by Stéphane