Google on Launching an Analytics MOOC and Taking Data-Driven Actions
October 2, 2013 Editor 0
Analytics. It could be the deepest, darkest mystery in your organization, served up by a few select tech wizards, or it might be the solitary master by which all company decisions begin and end. In all likelihood, it’s somewhere in between.
No matter where you fit on the spectrum of analytics know-how, data-driven decision-making is here to stay. With millions of users, Google Analytics is among the tools well entrenched in paving the road to actionable data. And a business’ choices when it comes to analytics services are many, with one tool rarely being a one-stop solution (for full disclosure, GA is one of several analytics tools HBR uses to parse its online data). So not only do we have to learn how to use analytics technology, we need to become more data fluent and confident in how to go from a collection of insights to action. And we have to do all of this while maintaining an empathetic connection to our users and customers.
For some perspective on this challenge, we talked to Paul Muret, Engineering Vice President for Google, and Babak Pahlavan, Product Management Director for Google Analytics. Muret is known as the “father” of GA, having founded Urchin, which was acquired by Google in 2005 and helped build the analytics tool we know today. Pahlavan is the founder of Clever Sense, a marketing data tool also acquired by Google.
When we talked, Muret and Pahlavan were prepping for the Google Analytics summit happening on Oct. 1, where they are announcing a type of massive online course, or MOOC, that will allow anyone to learn the fundamentals of analytics, among other new initiatives. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
Everyone wants to talk big data right now. How do you define the difference between big data and analytics?
MURET: I think it’s easy to have this “big data” term mean a lot of different things. Some people think about just trying to collect so much information from all kinds of different places. The key difference is making sure the data is useful and accessible by the people in your organization.
We have all these analytics tools — and Google Analytics is a tool that a lot of people are using and they’re getting a lot of data points out of it — but how do you really move to action or to making decisions?
MURET: I think that it’s easy to just go directly into the tools and technology and lose sight of the big picture. The reality is that companies all over the world are using data to make smarter business decisions and drive creativity and innovation and it’s having a huge impact on their bottom line.
In the last few years, with the amazing advances in technology, especially the growth in communication networks and mobile devices, consumers are in this state of being constantly connected. And this is having a huge impact on every market and creating an opportunity in every vertical where consumer decision making and purchasing decisions are happening, which is not just in your brick and mortars stores anymore.
A decade or less ago, it would be very easy to see our customers and understand them. We could actually see them physically walking into our stores and doing their research, making their decisions, and you could see what they look like and what they’re looking at. There’s so much information you can gain by seeing your customers. It gives you this intuitive understanding of who they are and how to engage with them.
One of the announcements that we’ll make at the Google Analytics Summit is that we’re launching a new analytics academy. This is a rich media, interactive, massive online course that everyone can access to learn more about digital marketing, digital analytics, Google Analytics, and how to put these tools into practice. We’re educating everybody about these techniques and helping answer their questions so they can move forward with making decisions.
So is it a MOOC? Or is it more of a resource tool that people will dip in and out of?
MURET: It is a MOOC, but there are two modes of it. You can use it in a self-service way as well. There will be a combination of videos and Google Plus Hangouts and online community resources all together with actual certification steps along the way.
The first classes will be taught by our key digital marketing thought leaders and evangelists. In your organization, you might have one or two analysts that are kind of experts on Google Analytics but very quickly, their job becomes trying to sort of quarterback and educate the rest of your organization. There will be some areas that will require that kind of level of sophistication. But a lot of these techniques are incredibly accessible. The data can be used by basically the whole organization.
It sounds like almost everyone working for a company today is going to have to be a data analyst of sorts.
PAHLAVAN: In this new world, you will have a much better business if your decisions are data driven. In order for it to be data driven, you have to be empowered with tools that are easy to use but also powerful enough that it can actually lead you to proper decisions. With regards to the MOOC side of the story, I would say this is a bit of a radical investment in our side. We’re leveraging a lot of technology and we’ll have our best education leaders and Google experts to teach this course. There’s going to be a lot of collaboration, a lot of discussions. We are expecting thousands of people to sign up.
I don’t think there are many other products out there that they’re putting this much investment insuring that technology can be accessible to other organizations so they can learn how to use them properly.
MURET: I do think that it’s going to be important for organizations to have a certain level of data fluency. If you think about Excel and spreadsheet technology, when it first started, spreadsheets seemed like a really scary thing and people weren’t sure what to do with it. Now today, people can write macros and have 15 spreadsheets doing all these crazy things. But for most cases, you don’t need that. You just need some basic math background and some basic things in order to sort of use spreadsheets in a way that’s really useful.
There are some basic concepts that people need to be able to understand so that they’re not misinterpreting things. There will be some areas certainly when it comes to analyzing data that are subtle, that will require experts; but for the most part, we think this data can be made incredibly accessible to a very broad set of people in an organization.
PAHLAVAN: It used to be that it was all about the website that you had. But now the consumers are on phones 24/7 and their tablets. So if we don’t get in there right now and help companies to have access to great tools, but also know how to use them properly, people are not going to go to tap into these data-driven opportunities.
We feel like it’s our responsibility to A, make simple but powerful products; and B, try to support and educate people to have data fluency. On top of it, people want to use these things. They’re saying: “Teach us the best way of using this.”
There’s still this question of taking action. What types of decisions should you be looking for?
MURET: There are two types of ways to take action here. The first type I like to call aggregate actions and the second one I think about as automation.
The first one, aggregate actions, are sets of data over time. So a simple example would be if you have two landing pages. Let’s say you’ve got or two offers. I have offer A and offer B and you test them both and say, “Hey, offer A is working better than offer B.” Then you make a decision and you go with offer A and you remove offer B from your content. That’s a process that’s very straightforward and it’s basically an aggregate decision.
But there’s another way of using the data and that’s to take the data itself and put it back into these systems in a real-time way. That’s because the reality isn’t inside these aggregate numbers. You’ll have pockets of users that respond to different kinds of messages. There’s often an opportunity inside one of these areas to be more specific and provide more tailored information directly to specific users. And that needs to be done in a more automated way.
It’s not something that you as the analyst — I’m sure you’d love to be able to make those decisions one by one — but that’s too hard to do. Maybe it turns out that people coming from the southern United States love offer B and that seems to work better there. We need to be able to make that decision in milliseconds. There’s often a way of putting data back into action in an automated fashion to drive a more automated marketing platform.
OK, but if our customers are becoming bits and bytes, how are leaders and decision makers still going to build empathy for those customers?
MURET: I think it’s a challenge for all organizations going forward to figure this out. But one of the key ways is going to be through the data that we’re talking about. It’s interesting when people say, “OK, I’ve got a bunch of data. Give me insights.” That’s not really building that empathy you’re talking about. But once you’re trying to optimize and analyze a specific part of your business, then it’s through that process that you gain insights into what is working under the hood. I’ve just learned, wow, the way people are actually doing this is much different than what we thought. And that starts to build that empathy back together.
PAHLAVAN: It’s a very good question, the notion of empathy. Are we creating a situation in which the business leaders and business as a whole, are they going to be more empathetic to their customers and focus on their needs versus going to just look at them as more like aggregate formats and say, group them into high level buckets? We look at it from a perspective of can we provide you with tools with a more granular set of users and figure out what is it that they need? What is it that they’re interested in? What are their demographics? Can you put the right set of products or content in front of the right set of users or not?
MURET: We want to give a very practical approach so that it drives returns almost immediately. But then as part of that process, when you’re going through those steps, we are effectively helping your organization put back together that picture of the customer. And that’s where the empathy hopefully is going to start to build back together so that your organization can make creative jumps in thinking.
Editor’s Note: The headline on this post was updated after it was published.
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