Aaron Gray // Greater Returns


Musings on Web Analytics, product strategy + other stuff.

Why the Omniture Adobe Deal May be Brilliant

Like many in the industry, I’ve been mulling over the reasons behind the deal announced by Adobe and Omniture for the former to acquire the latter.  My initial reaction was that of many observers — it makes no sense.

If finally dawned on me, though, that this deal isn’t about advancing how analytics is used in the enterprise.  Much more simply, it’s a business development dream come true.  For Omniture, it is simply about gaining access to more page views.  The more Adobe assets that can be tagged automatically upon creation (or delivery), the more revenue can be generated through the Omniture business.

Adobe benefits from this too, as any incremental revenue to Omniture benefits Adobe overall.  But, for Adobe, the deal is not about owning an analytics solution provider.  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Industry Observation, Web Analytics

Maybe You Need a Web Analytics Turnaround, Not a New Vendor

The Problem

Many companies have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in web analytics tools and talent, and still find themselves frustrated by a lack of demonstrable value — a lack of real, calculable return on that investment.

It’s not a good situation to be in.  It’s bad personally for the managers and executives who have overseen the investment.  It’s bad for the vendors who take the blame for providing no value.  And it’s bad for the business which, unless corrective action is taken, will continue to throw good money after bad.

What to Do?

Typically, the response to this situation is to blame the vendor and put out an RFP.  It’s a natural response.  But is it the right response?  Most of the time, it isn’t.  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: People, Process, Tools, Web Analytics

5 Things You Can Do to Reduce eCommerce Friction

Friction is the enemy of conversion and, ultimately, the enemy of your success online.  Friction is cognitive dissonance.  Friction is interactions that produce results that are counter-intuitive or, worse yet, useless.  Friction is site features that stumble to keep up with the pace at which people want to interact — whose responsiveness doesn’t allow the speed of interaction necessary to match the expectation set by the very presence of the feature.  Friction is anything that gets in the way of an effortless and enjoyable shopping experience.

In my experience, friction is often introduced by the very features that were intended to reduce friction and drive conversion and revenue performance improvements.  The result?  As friction goes up, return on investment tanks, and so, too, does revenue.  That’s why, to maximize success, it’s critical to isolate and understand the bottom-line impact of any new site feature and to eliminate (or modify and retest) any features that drag down performance of the site.

Here are 5 things you can do to reduce friction on your site. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: eCommerce, Process, Web Analytics

JanRain – Great Products (that Need New Names)

I’m a huge fan of JanRain and what they’re doing with their products, especially the RPX product (more on the products below).  I think there’s going to be a huge business here, and they’re poised to capture it.

That said, I’m not a huge fan of the product names themselves, and I wonder if they’re holding JanRain back a bit.  Meaningless letter names are a common, but less than ideal solution to the challenge of naming products.  They provide no clue for understanding the differences between the products and they’re not memorable.  A good product name should do both.  By contrast, the Company name, JanRain, is great…it is completely memorable.  Once you know about JanRain, you’ll never forget the name.  It does what a good company/brand name should do – stick in the mind.

Back to the products.  JanRain’s other product is OPX.  RPX and OPX.  One of the products allows site operators to accept logins via 3rd party credentials / OpenID (i.e. I can use my Facebook login to log onto your site), and receive authenticated profile data in the process.  The other product allows site operators to become a 3rd party credentials provider.   Any idea which does which?  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Marketing

Why Sentiment Matters in Social Media Measurement

I originally posted this piece more than a year ago, but it remains relevant given all the attention on social media, social media marketing, and social media measurement.

Sentiment marketing, the practice of engaging consumers directly with the express purpose of influencing consumer opinion about a brand, is coming fast. Sentiment marketing is being enabled (or, maybe more accurately, made necessary) by the proliferation of social media and the inherent trackability of the conversations that occur between consumers online.

The goal of sentiment marketing is to drive continuous improvements to consumer sentiment about your brand. You could argue, of course, that sentiment marketing is just PR; same practice, new channel. It’s related, for sure. But this is different. A radical change has occurred Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Marketing, Social Measurement, Social Media

Launched: Web Analytics Strategy Consulting at Greater Returns

I’m very excited to announce that I have begun offering Web Analytics consulting services under the name Greater Returns, and that I have launched Greater Returns first service: Analytics Strategy Consulting.

I’m happy to be back on the ground as an analytics practitioner and strategist again as I love working directly with clients and seeing the positive business results that come from a well conceived, well executed, and well run web analytics strategy.  Prior to my last role as head of Open Exchange partnerships and programs at Webtrends, I was in various services management and consulting positions for Webtrends, Coremetrics, and a smaller niche player (WebCriteria) that was acquired by Coremetrics, so this is really a return to roots for me.  I’ve been in this space for ten years.  You can read more about the work I’ve done on my credentials page.

I’m launching the strategy offering first because it’s really the foundation for everything else, and yet, so often, it is overlooked as a part of the web analytics process.  The good news is, though, that it’s never too late to go back and develop a strategy. Even if you’ve already deployed analytics in your organization in the absence of a cohesive strategy, it is better to go back and develop a strategy and a roadmap for coming into compliance with your strategy than it is to simply let it languish.  There’s always time to start heading in the right direction – I can help you crystallize a vision of what the right direction with analytics is, and I can help you get there.

Read the full offering description, and please contact me if you have any questions or want to talk about your particular situation.

Filed under: Web Analytics, , , ,

The Registration Page Will Disappear – Where Will Your Leads Come From?

At the Internet Strategy Forum Summit 2009, happening today in Portland, Jeremiah Owyang posited in passing that registration pages will go away as a result of the advent and growth of identity management and single sign-on solutions.

Identity management solutions allow people to log-in to sites using credentials and social network profiles they’ve already created elsewhere. Key providers of identity management solutions (and holders of users social network profiles) include Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, myspace, AOL, Windows Live ID, as well as various OpenID providers.  From an end-user perspective, the value is obvious, and the experience is simple:  I already have a log-in and profile at Facebook, let me use that log-in (and my profile info) to log-in to your site; I don’t want to fill out your registration form.

Jeremiah’s point was that, because of the adoption of these solutions, the way site operators collect leads from the site will change as a result.  Without a  registration form, you won’t be collecting email addresses and other lead data and passing to your CRM, at least not in the same way. This piqued my curiosity, as lead capture is a key part of digital markeitng operations and analytics.  As it happened, I was sitting next to Tore C. Steen, VP of Business Development at JanRain.  JanRain, a Portland company, is creator of the open source libraries that power most implementations of OpenID.  JanRain also offers a product called RPX, a SaaS offering that makes it easy for site operators to integrate any or all of the OpenID, OAuth, or proprietary identity management systems into their site.

My big question to Tore was “what data is made available to the site operators who adopt an identity management solution on thier site?”.  Jeremiah was right…how site operators collect leads is going to change, but wow, what a postive change it will be.  The data available to site operators, from the big players especially, is almost stunning.   Think about the about the information about me stored in my Facebook or Plaxo profile – name, age, sex, email address, interests, etc.   Most or all of that data (depending on the specific player) is made available to site operators when I log in using my Facebook (Plaxo, etc.) credentials.  And, everytime I log back in to your site you get updated profile information from the identity provider I used to log-in.  Most surprisingly, site operators can also access the list of user IDs of my friends and connections.  What marketer doesn’t want that?

As a site operator and a marketer, letting customers log in to your site using an identity management solution has significant benefits:

  • Customer experience: End-users like it because it eliminates registration friction on your site
  • Registration volume: registration rates will go up due to eliminated friction
  • Data Accuracy: Data is kept up-to-date as users update their social network profiles
  • Data Richness:  There’s no way I’d give you all the data in a registration form that you’ll get from my Facebook profile

The value prop to site operators and marketers is clear.  This is certainly the way of the future – the registration page will disappear.  Marketers will need to form new data strategies around the types of data that are going to be available from the identity providers.   It may not be quite as easy as pasting a form on your site, and using a Salesforce.com plug-in to collect it, but the robustness of the data should more than make up for the little additional effort and planning required.

I really like the JanRain RPX solution, too.  There are too many identity management providers to try to integrate them directly on your site.  With RPX, you simply deploy the RPX solution, select which identity providers you want to support, and JanRain brokers all the data transactions and registrations for you.  I think they’ll have a nice buisiness.

Filed under: Marketing, Social Media, web 2.0

What’s Next?

My previous post, Here’s to the Future, generated a lot of backchannel questions about what’s next for me.  First of all, thanks to those who expressed interest and congratulations.  A lot of people asked me “what company are you starting?”  So, I thought I’d quell those rumors while they’re still fresh.

I’m not out to start a whole new company at the moment.  I do have a concept I’ve been noodling for years that I’m going to elevate to the status of “side project,” but it will remain a side project until and if it moves beyond proof of concept phase.  I’m sure there will be more on that later.

At the present time, I’m looking for a new product or partner role inside an entrepreneurial company that can benefit from my drive, passion, and vision.  Until such a role materializes, I’ll be open for consulting projects working with companies to define and implement web measurement strategies.

Hope this clears things up.  Thanks again for your interest and support.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Here’s to the Future

I recently moved on from Webtrends, where I’ve been for the last four and a half years, the last year as Director of Business Development.  In the spirit of change, I’m moving my Blogger blog to WordPress, and starting over.

In the mean time, here’s my story (you’ll also find this content on the About Me page)…

I’m an entrepreneur and web analytics guru, a product strategy & partner guy. I’m visionary – I see things others don’t and I start things.  Sometimes I start things inside other people’s companies, sometimes I start companies.

I’ve been in interactive product development, internet marketing and analytics for 15 years.  My first business, in college, though, was a lawn and odd job service launched with just a used lawn mower and a motorcycle + tiny trailer to haul us around.  The other key piece of equipment was a Mac Plus with HP Deskwriter – key for keeping customer records and printing invoices and business forms on the fly. I spent evenings dialed up to discussion forums on one of the University of Michigan’s machines.

I did lawns for two years before moving across country for my last two years of college, and set up shop changing oil for other college students.  It was grimy, but it paid for my mocha habit.  By the end of college, I was making websites for people.  I coded up a mean HTML table.

In 2000, after a starting a digital media design and production group inside another film/video production company, I started Tweak Interactive.  We were a small UCD-oriented (User Centered Design) strategy/design/production shop and we landed several big projects.  The timing was off, though – in 2001 the bottom fell out of the economy, our projects stopped dead in their tracks, and I went to work for WebCriteria.

Thus began a multi-year focus on web analytics.  WebCriteria was eventually acquired by Coremetrics and I eventually left Coremetrics for Webtrends – a company that needed my help more than Coremetrics did at that time.  At both WebCriteria and Coremetrics, I was a consultant in the services organization helping customers to optimize site conversion performance using analytics data to focus design analysis, which was based on my user-centered design expertise.  This was before the days when optimization algorithms were commercially viable.  At both companies, I had significant input into product functional design and the prioritization of features.

I started at Webtrends similarly as a consultant, but quickly shifted to the management track, helping the company to solve some of the problems that occur when you’re an “old” company in young market.   Most of my time at Webtrends was spent building new processes, new teams and new ways of doing things, shaking off the old ways along the way.  Some of these changes were successful, others less so, but all were required.

Some of the things I changed or started along the way:

  • Created the solution design group, changing the focus of the consulting arm of the company from “configuration” to “solution delivery”
  • Created the services engineering team whose role is to harvest knowledge, practices, and solutions from the field and turn them into repeatable offerings and best practices
  • Established a cross-functional process and support team for the implementation of a new product with particularly complex consulting requirements
  • Established a cross-departmental process and core team for monitoring and responding to social media discussions about the company during a period of intense change and instability
  • Launched the company’s blog and Twitter presence and organized authors and an editorial calendar
  • Changed the focus of the company’s Open Exchange integration partner program from offering “integration capability” to offering discrete, partner-enabled solutions and applications to customers
  • Spearheaded the creation of a cross-departmental partner product integration design, development and 0n-boarding process

My last role at Webtrends was Director of Business Development.  I had a long-term focus on building value for the company, and for Webtrends customers, by growing the ecosystem of partners and developers creating solutions for the Webtrends platform.  The last project I spearheaded at Webtrends before my departure will have a significant impact both on the company’s ability to attract partners and developers, and on the company’s ability to capture the value of that ecosystem and deliver it to the customer.  I’m eagerly awaiting its launch.

I’m on the outside again, looking backward to see what I’ve accomplished, which is a lot, and looking forward to see what I might do.   If I can find the right role, at the right kind of company, I’ll gladly jump in, head long, in support of, and adding my voice to, the vision taking shape there.  But I’m also feeling the entrepreneurial tug…so I’m pushing forward on a concept that has been sitting on the sidelines for several years.  Along the way I’m sure I’ll take on a few consulting gigs, just to keep my chops sharp.

Here’s to the future…and everything it holds.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , ,

Sentiment Marketing is Coming – and it Looks More Like Direct Marketing than You Think

Sentiment marketing, the practice of engaging consumers directly with the express purpose of influencing consumer opinion about a brand, is coming fast. Sentiment marketing is being enabled (or, maybe more accurately, made necessary) by the proliferation of social media and the inherent trackability of the conversations that occur between consumers online.

The goal of sentiment marketing is to drive continuous improvements to consumer sentiment about your brand. You could argue, of course, that sentiment marketing is just PR; same practice, new channel. It’s related, for sure. But this is different. A radical change has occurred: consumer conversations and the dynamics of consumer influence (word of mouth) are happening on the network. Word of mouth, influence, and shifting consumer opinions now happen at lightening speed across intertwined networks of connected people. This is fantastic if you are the purveyor of a darling brand, and can be hell if your brand has some tarnish. There are multiple upsides, though: sentiment and influence can now be measured directly and in real time; you have the opportunity to engage directly with consumers and influencers to impact sentiment.

If You Can Track it, You Can be Accountable for It

Practically speaking, this means that marketers can now directly attribute to their work both positive and negative changes in consumer sentiment. With measurability and attributability will come accountability. Marketers and advertisers will increasingly be held to account for their impact on consumer sentiment. The days of being able to defend lack of measurability and hide behind “it’s a brand effort” are numbered.

This brings brand marketing and PR a whole lot closer to direct marketing. Direct marketers have been able to easily track and measure the performance of their work, in real time, allowing them to make midstream adjustments to programs that under perform. Direct mail, infomercials, call centers, and e-commerce are all deeply measurable, and the people who do marketing in those areas are held accountable for their performance. Brand marketers, on the other hand, if doing any measurement at all, have relied on dubious backward-looking analysis of past programs and consumer attitudes that provides little actionable insight that can be put to use in tweaking today’s efforts.

More than Buzz

Many people are talking about measuring buzz. Companies have been built around the concept. Buzz isn’t new, however. The PR folks have always been able to measure buzz; it’s nothing more than media mentions. It’s equally simple to measure buzz online by counting mentions in the blogosphere. But buzz isn’t a particularly useful metric. What is useful is being able to measure against your goal. Remember what it is? It’s all about sentiment, and changes in sentiment over time. The goal of sentiment marketing is to drive or maintain positive consumer sentiment in the same way that a direct marketer drives for a continuously increasing conversion rate. (Or, in the case of a crisis, your goal is to slow and reverse the potential onslaught of negative consumer sentiment.)

Buzz doesn’t help you quantify performance against this goal. Think about it. If you’re Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol cyanide crisis in 1982, your buzz numbers for Tylenol are through the roof. But that’s probably not a good thing. You’re getting attention for all the wrong reasons. Or, are you? Maybe the sentiment of the buzz is positive because everyone is impressed that Johnson & Johnson is doing a great job getting the word out, pulling Tylenol off the shelves and has generally behaved like a great corporate citizen should. The only way to know is to measure sentiment.

A Slow Trickle

That’s an extreme example, for sure, but it illustrates the importance of sentiment over buzz. In truth, a crisis isn’t what brings down most brands. It’s like the slow drip drip drip of water onto concrete. Hard though the concrete may be, the dripping water will slowly erode it away until it’s worn a hole right through. Similarly, the slow trickle of un-noticed, un-engaged negative consumer sentiment can wear a hole in your brand that can be difficult or impossible to repair.

And that’s where the real value of sentiment marketing is: understanding current consumer sentiment and trends; and finding and engaging in the right consumer conversations to keep sentiment needle moving in the right direction and, if you can’t prevent the unforeseen crisis, building up enough positive sentiment to cushion the impact of one so that you might survive.

Filed under: Marketing, Social Measurement, Social Media