Marketers have access to more data than ever before that enables them to offer better customer experiences—if they make use of that data. Don’t struggle to find and apply the right information.
Today’s guest is Michael Loban, Chief Growth Officer at InfoTrust. Also, Michael is the co-author of Crawl, Walk, Run, a new book on advancing marketing analytics maturity. He describes how to level up your analytics progress with consistent practice.
Ben: Hi, Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael: Hello, how are you?
Ben: I'm doing fantastic. How about yourself?
Michael: I’m doing very well. I’m excited to be here. Thank you for the invitation.
Ben: Absolutely. Before we get too far along, would you mind just introducing yourself to our audience and explaining what you do at InfoTrust?
Michael: Sure. Michael Loban. I’m a Chief Growth Officer InfoTrust. InfoTrust is one of the largest digital analytics consulting and technology companies.
Ben: Very cool. I understand you and your partner, I'm going to totally butcher his last name.
Michael: Let’s call him Alex.
Ben: Alex, yeah. Sure. You recently published a new book titled Crawl, Walk, Run. Would you mind giving me a brief synopsis of what the book is all about and why you felt that now was the time to publish it?
Michael: Absolutely. The idea of Crawl, Walk, Run is to demonstrate how organizations came to progress through a certain subject matter. The topic of this book is around digital analytics maturity because that's what we know. That's what the company has been doing for almost a decade now, maybe a little bit more.
The idea of the book is everyone does digital analytics. We all know that organizations are trying to collect our data. Organizations are trying to use our data. Some of them are successful at delivering an excellent experience and some of them are just not very successful. Hence, their marketing campaigns end up failing or becoming way too expensive. They're not able to sustain their digital business or simply they piss off their customers.
We wrote this book to outline what the typical journey looks like for the organization and then give organizations tools for how to advance their usage of data in a compliant methodology, compliant way. Obviously, there are a lot of changes that are happening right now in the industry, whether it's GDPR [...]. It's a very much privacy-centric world. Even with this new world, there is a lot of data that we can be using to make a better digital customer experience. This is what the book is about.
Ben: Do you have a specific target audience for this book you think it's most appropriate for? Would you say that marketers of all experience levels with analytics could get something from it?
Michael: We wrote the book for a wide audience. I certainly hope that every marketer can get something out of it. Just like this data, if you know what you are looking for, you will find some help in this book.
Generally speaking, the book is written for digital marketing managers, digital executives, and large organizations. In the book, we actually have three industries that we selected that we specifically talk to. One is direct-to-consumer and ecommerce, one is consumer-packaged goods, and one is news and media.
Typically, a website that you might have would fall into one of those three or it might be a combination of those three. It might be a brand website with some ecommerce capabilities. It might also have a lot of content around that. Between those three verticals, we tend to cover a wide range of website use cases.
Ben: Absolutely. Something that you say in the book is that “change is inevitable, but progress is optional.” What do you mean by that phrase and why do you feel it's important for marketers to take that to heart?
Michael: It’s something that everyone should consider. The reason I talk to marketers about this is because when we are busy every single day promoting our products, promoting the services, they tend to think in this bubble where it's all about how can we get people to pay more attention to our products, how can we get people to pay attention to our services.
In the end, the question becomes it's not just about us servicing our customers. We have to realize that there are a lot of other changes that are happening in the industry. Our competitors are going after our customers as well. There are regulations that might be impacting what we are doing. There might be market dynamics that are impacting what we are doing.
The point of the saying (if you will) is if we simply continue doing what has worked for us before, it does not mean that we will continue to be successful. If we are not paying attention to the changes that are happening in the marketplace, whether they are the result of our competitors, whether they're the result of government regulations, or simply customers like different things now, then, yes, change is going to happen, but that change is going to wipe us out of business. Where progress is more about, let's take into account what is taking place right now and how can we advance our organization to be better at ultimately serving our best customer types. That's what I mean about progress.
In 2020, you’ll see in the headlines. How many companies went out of business? How many retailers are closing their stores? How many companies are firing people because they cannot sell products anymore and because people are not interested? It's a prime example that they've been doing something for a while. It worked and we decided not to make any changes as an organization. Change has happened to us and left us behind. That's what we absolutely want to avoid or help organizations to avoid.
Ben: That's a great, great explanation. I just really love that quote. That really sums up a lot of very important things for us all to be thinking about very succinctly.
Michael: To think about this podcast, that five years ago, would you think that the podcast would be a medium that you were on? Probably. I mean, I don't remember when podcasts really became popular. Five or six years ago, it was all about blogging. There is a lot about blogging but podcast is, in many ways, the right medium to be on.
If you did not recognize those, most likely you would not have your own podcast, would not have all the listeners that you have. But you recognized what was happening in the marketplace and you went there. Probably, you went there before many of your competitors ended up going there.
Ben: Yeah. The show has been going for close to at least four years now. Yes, that would be an accurate perception that we were fortunate to get into the game at the time that we did, just given how saturated the space has gotten. I think that it's true for so many things in the digital space right now.
Michael: Absolutely. Well done.
Ben: Marketers today know that they need to be (what we call) data-driven, or at the very least, I think everybody has got used to being told that they need to be data-driven. Yet, many marketers often struggle to gather the data that they need and then use that data effectively. In your view, what do you think prevents marketers from leveraging their data properly? What are the consequences? What are the consequences in this day and age of not getting up to speed and really excelling with your analytics practice?
Michael: I think the same thing that prevents me from being a good chef. Let me elaborate on what I mean by that. Talking about data, I have a recipe book somewhere right around here that talks about how to bake bread, how to make cookies, whatever that might be. When it comes to data, the book specifies very clearly how many grams of sugar in it, how many grams of baking soda in it, and for how long they need to put it on the stove. Hopefully, the result will be what the picture shows, but you and I know that's not the case.
More often than not, I fail when I cook. When clearly it does not look and actually does not really taste as well as what I think it should have if somebody else prepared it. Now, why is that the case? I have the data in front of me. I have the instructions to follow. Well, what's usually missing is knowing that some [...] should work does not necessarily mean it will. I need to have more practice. I need to start using this data on a daily basis. I need to start making products, making decisions with that information, and put it to good use. At that point, I will become better at applying that information.
Going back to your question, yes, companies have been told that they need to be data-driven and intuitively understand what that means, but very few have the right people. Or if they have the people, maybe the people are not skilled enough or they haven't done this for enough time where they understand how they need to be doing this. A lot of times they also don't have the right processes in place; organizational processes for how to gather organization to become better data-driven.
Finally, I cannot bake cookies if I don't have an oven. Some organizations do not have the right tools. What we often see as large corporations are actually the reverse of a problem. They overspend on different tools, on their [...] equipment, but they still don't have the right skillset and the right processes to use them.
Ben: I want to go back for a moment to the quote, "Change is inevitable but progress is optional." I think at the core of this quote is the idea that is up to you as an individual to choose to excel and to choose to consciously get better at your craft, rather than simply floating along and just hoping to get by. It’s reflective of a simple mindset shift that any of us can make if we so choose to take control of our career development and the results of our work. It's worth taking a time to think about how it honestly applies to our own attitudes and our own approach at all times. Now, back to Michael.
In which unique ways does the Google marketing platform (specifically) help marketing teams keep pace with the rate of change we're all facing today?
Michael: I think the area where Google marketing platform really helps is being very clear on what is actually happening right now. Yes, in an ideal world, I would want to say don't just tell me what is happening right now, but help me forecast what's going to happen tomorrow. It's clearly telling me where things are and helps me understand that they are not necessarily worse than they are. I am able to get very clear visibility optics into what is taking place. I wear glasses and when I take off my glasses, the world looks very distorted.
That's, in some ways, the use of analytics. It’s to have a very clear view and understanding of what is happening to your customers across your website, across your mobile applications, this your blog, so you can make the right decision.
The other thing that the Google marketing platform gives you another solution is Google Optimizer, which is a testing platform that now allows me to test my hypothesis. Instead of going through a very expensive website redesign because I have a feeling that the new design is going to look better, I can look at my analytics, understand why certain people are not converting and why people are not going to other pages on my website, and I can test different variations, different hypotheses on how to improve customer experience.
Ben: That makes a lot of sense. If I'm a marketer listening to this conversation and I decide I want to improve my analytics practice, whether it's because I'm inexperienced in this area or maybe I'm someone who's more advanced—I know that I'm not doing all that I should or I know that I've got room to improve—how would you recommend that individual start the process of identifying where their biggest opportunities for improvement might be?
Michael: There are a couple of places to start. One is in the book and then on the companion website. We actually have an assessment where organizations can take an assessment, if you will, on behalf of that company, and understand where the company is. That will help you determine what are some of the things that might be missing within their organization. Maybe you don't have the right tools. If that's the case [...] choose to do that, not just the industry is going out.
I often ask this question of people that I work with: What type of daily practices do you need to change or adapt in your work to be more effective? That's something that marketers need to ask themselves. It’s not just good data to help me, but what should be my daily practices is with that data? How should I go about analyzing the information? How should I go about interpreting that information? How should I go about making decisions based on that information?
We need to develop how to have data-driven habits. When there is a question that somebody is asking me, hey, Michael, how can we improve our website, the mobile application? I don't look at it and say, well, my gut feel tells me that red is going to work better than orange. I tell them, well, you know what, I actually know exactly the right set of metrics that we need to examine. I know and I have access to the right type of dashboard that we need to examine. Based on that, these are hypotheses that we are going to form and this is how we are going to test those hypotheses.
Leveraging data to create these types of new data-driven habits is what separates organizations that are fuel market leaders versus the ones that are simply saying, hey, data is important, but we are just not quite there to figure out how to use it.
Ben: Speaking to more advanced marketers, specifically, what types of things do you think they should be mindful of when they're optimizing their own digital analytics practice to really make sure they're getting the most out of their efforts right now? I ask this because I feel like with the global pandemic that's going on right now, the way that that's impacting business, and the downstream effects that have on budgets and resource constraints, a lot of us are really under some amount of pressure to really get the most out of everything we've got right now.
For a marketer who's got some experience in this area, how would you recommend they do that? How do they make sure that they're maximizing the tools and the utility of the data that they have at their disposal?
Michael: Great question. Let's home in on one of the words that you said: maximize. Now, what's interesting to me about that word is if I want to maximize something, I need to understand what maximizing that will actually allow me to create or to do.
Here's what I mean by that. Let's have a marketing campaign that I'm running. I’m running it on Facebook, Instagram, and (let's say) YouTube. Looking at the data, I'm saying, well, I have an additional $10,000 that I want to spend and I want to spend that on the right channel. My question is, well, how do I maximize the right channel? How can I model the additional investment of $10,000 across those channels?
Based on the data that's available to me, maybe I can say, it seems like that if I put that amount into (say) one of those and I fully maximize it, Facebook is going to deliver it through the roof. I know that looking at my historical data and the information that is available to me. From the maximizing standpoint, that's what I need to home in on because I know that it has the biggest opportunity to generate the best value for my business.
Everyone has a slew of marketing ideas, marketing things that you want to do. Let's prioritize them based on what the possible ROI can be. That will be much easier for us to make a marketing decision. If I obsess about something that even if I get it perfectly, can only increase my revenue by .001%, maybe I should stop obsessing about that. Even if it doesn't work or even if it just continues to be at a plateau, it's not going to matter all that much. Let's figure out what is the magic or what are the things that can really maximize it. That's what we need to be focused on.
One of the things a lot of times companies ask where to focus—it’s always an area that I believe is underutilized—is your audience’s understanding of customer lifetime value. Not just how much people have spent is your business up to this point, but what can we expect to generate in terms of revenue from different customer types. If you and I, based on our customer lifetime value, you're going to spend in this business $1 and I will spend in this business $50, then where should the company invest? Well, probably they should invest targets in me because there is a higher chance for them to generate more revenue.
Ben: That makes a ton of sense. I think that's a really sharp insight for our listeners. With that said, that does it for all the questions I had prepared for you. Before I let you go, is there anything else that you'd like to add or any parting thoughts you'd like to leave our listeners with?
Michael: My only parting thought is practice. Again, we tend to think about data as a type of asset. That's what we have access to and the more data we have the better we will be. But unless you get in the habit of using data to make marketing decisions, to build marketing tasks, to form your hypothesis, is not going to serve you any good. Think about how you can practice the use of data on a regular basis, and that's how really successful organizations become successful.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.