Browsing posts in: Analytics

The User Experience Revolution (or why the quarterly release is dead)

Everywhere you turn today, we hear more and more about user experience (UX). User-focused design, design thinking, usability, user-centric interfaces, and so on, and so on – increasingly, one of the most important areas of focus in product design (and management) is not only what problem your product solves for its user, but how that user accesses, interacts with and, yes, even feels about that product too.

uxIn the past, particularly in the more traditional world of B2B software, the focus on UX was seen as a somewhat frivolous exercise, or an afterthought to be dealt with after the “real” product development was finished. As someone who came of age using DOS and wrote my first code in BASIC, I certainly remember when this was true – software was built to be strictly functional, to accomplish a task and nothing more. But that paradigm of human-computer interaction is over now, and thankfully so.

The mutually reinforcing trends of widespread mobile technology and SaaS now require software to be far more responsive, easier to use and appealing – not just aesthetically (fonts & colors), but in terms of ease of adoption. I want to talk about some best UX practices for SaaS tools in this post, but also about why they’re important, which requires a little bit of history.

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Why Digital Analytics Matter

It is literally impossible to overstate the centrality of analytics in the modern business today.

keystone

If you’re reading this blog, then you probably need no explanation of how advances in technology and the resulting sea changes in consumer behavior have made analytics more important than ever. Just as the web has leveled many legacy competitive advantages like direct access to consumers and product discovery, analytics now acts as a force multiplier to those effects, and advantages whoever uses it most effectively. Firms who are best able to productively capture, analyze and act on the data generated by customers’ digital interactions in effect become more responsive and effective organizations – which are, in the long run, are the ones who win.

Digital analytics has become a foundational system, in the same vein as email, storage or telephony. More and more companies recognize this – some because they were forward-looking, and others because business challenges forced them to adapt or die. Digital analytics provides the basis of first-party data that underpins virtually all other marketing action and insight, making strength in that core function strategically vital. This has two effects that I want to talk about: first, why organizations with the greatest core strength in analytics will increasingly gain disproportionate operational advantages over their competitors, no matter their share of the market; and second, why marketing vendors who recognize the strategic value of strong analytics solutions as the foundation of their platforms will ultimately win in this market.

Ready for some strategy? Then let’s do it!

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Land and expand – what is the future of tag management?

binocs

There is a traditional sales strategy in ERP software known as “land and expand” that has seen a resurgence of interest in our brave new SaaS world today. Basically, how “land and expand” works is a vendor fights very hard to sell a client its basic product, and then hopes it can up-sell that client to other add-on products (ex. additional modules or services) in the future. Client adoption of and success with the basic product tends to lead to demand for add-on products, which generally have much greater incremental revenue for the vendor, so the competition to “land” new clients of the base product is exceptionally fierce. The rise of SaaS software has also made “expanding” dramatically easier than ever before (since you just turn it on), as this post from the a16z blog explains much better than I could. This is also one of the major drivers behind the demise of on-premises web analytics solutions.

In the marketing technology space today, that potential for “expansion” of the product footprint is very broad. Display ads, email, mobile, social, attribution, automation, you name it – there are a lot of new competitive “must haves” in the modern marketing technology stack. There are also big, clear advantages for marketers to go with high-quality, pre-integrated solutions, too, instead of relying on standalone point products for each discrete function. IBM, Adobe, Oracle and others understand this, which is why the future of enterprise marketing increasingly looks like a Game of Thrones between the marketing suite vendors. (Hmm… idea for my next blog post?) They have certainly landed, and they have shown an ability to “expand” very successfully by offering deep portfolios of high-quality solutions – with levels of integration which, let’s just say, vary widely.

This is the framework I keep returning to when I think about the future of tag management. Up until relatively recently, the TMS vendors only had to worry about one another – Ensighten, Tealium, Signal (F.K.A. BrightTag), etcetera battled it out in their own (quite heated) arena. But their competitive landscape has completely changed in the last few years, and I’ve come to believe that we’re in the twilight of tag management’s existence as a market niche. In short, TMS vendors have “landed,” but where do they now have to expand?

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Stick to the fundamentals – of testing

 

testingI’ve been playing soccer most of my life, and coaching for almost half of it too. If you ever get an opportunity to coach a team sport, particularly with kids, do it – not only is it an incredibly rewarding experience personally, but you can learn a lot too. Coaching is all about understanding what motivates your players psychologically and how to make them operate as a team – a simple concept that is actually incredibly difficult in real life.* It’s also about helping your players become more effective – as individuals, and as a unit.

It’s telling that every coach I’ve met, from nearly every sport, will say the same thing about how to improve players’ skills: “it’s all about the fundamentals.” This phrase has achieved near-cliché status mostly because it’s true. What really separates the outstanding players from mediocre ones (like me!) is often their total mastery of the fundamentals of their sport: Dribbling. Passing. Controlling the ball. The bicycle kicks and fancy headers are cool, of course, but they do not win games. The fundamentals do.

As it is with soccer, so it is with your digital analytics program. Many people have heard by now that basic A/B testing can be an incredibly effective tool for improving user experiences and website performance, but the reality is that too few teams are actually trying it today. I’ve found that even those organizations making use of testing today are often tripped up by – you guessed it – the fundamentals. So today I’m going to talk about some of those basic best practices that can separate a kick-ass testing approach from an ineffective one. (Just remember to stretch first.)

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The future of brick-and-mortar retail is… online

Like a lot of guys I know, there are two things I will avoid doing unless absolutely necessary: going to the doctor and buying new clothes. I’m just not a big shopper. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve tended to wear out a favorite pair of jeans, shorts or shirts until they’re threadbare, and prefer to spend my disposable income on other things.

jeans

Not my actual jeans. Promise.

That said, it was pointed out to me recently that my favorite pair of shorts was basically falling apart, and needed replacing. That was how I wound up at a big chain retail store at the mall recently, poking around an international brand’s spring/summer collection with the requisite hip, lively music piped in from the ceiling… and not enjoying myself. Around the third or fourth time I had to go look for something in a different size or color, only to wonder if they just didn’t have it, or if it was in stock in the back, or in a pile in some other dressing room, it struck me: the retail shopping experience has not changed in twenty years. I was literally doing the same thing I did in 1994 at our little local mall where I grew up. It sucked then, and it sucked now.

In case you haven’t heard, there is a crisis happening today in brick-and-mortar retail. It’s the product of structural, irreversible shifts in consumer behavior, largely driven by technological change. And most retailers today are just not moving fast enough to adapt. What they don’t understand is that it’s just not a question of how to prop up in-store sales and bring their old customers back. It’s really about how to revise their business model for those new customers who don’t see a compelling reason why they should step foot in a mall in the first place.

The answer? Smarter customer analytics and adaptation to a new kind of customer.

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