Online decisions should start and end with data, says Google Analytics Advocate

Data and how you use it is something that everybody is talking about. But just how important is it, and are there any secrets to be gleaned from one of the world’s biggest companies. Pamela Whitby finds out

Nobody is in any doubt that Google is sitting on vast amounts of data. Nor is anybody in any doubt that the travel industry is watching the Google effect as closely as possible. In the latest EyeforTravel Social Media and Mobile in Travel Distribution, 2013 report, many of the 2,000 executives surveyed said they were particularly interested in Google’s involvement in the travel search space. Not surprising given that research from Search Engine Watch shows that 66.5% of users begin their search via Google.

In this exclusive interview with Google Analytics Advocate Daniel Waisberg we hear his thoughts on what he believes travel brands should be thinking about today.

EFT: One of the challenges facing brands today is ensuring they have the right marketing analytics and data gurus in place. Do you agree?

DW: Absolutely, I think the biggest challenge today is having the right people. Technologies are evolving pretty fast, but it is hard to find talent. I believe that a brand will know that it has the right people in the right place when data starts flowing into management in a way that helps to drive decision-making. Once this happens, it means that both the brand and its employees are mature enough for data and insights. In this moment the data gurus should get a big bonus and everything should be done to keep them happy, as other companies will look for them!

EFT: Are you aware of anywhere that this is happening?

DW: This is happening in different levels at different companies; some companies are doing very smart multi-channel campaigns while others are doing impressive mobile marketing. It is hard to find one company doing everything right. We have gathered a list of successful analytics stories from our customers, you can filter by travel industry and read some interesting techniques to track and optimise travel websites in there.

EFT: What qualities should you be looking for in your people? 

DW: Earlier this year I wrote an article about building analytics confidence, which I think is a critical element to foster a data-driven culture in any company. The three main qualities people should have also relate to helping other people understand and use data in the organisation. Of course analysts also need to be creative, smart and data savvy; while the qualities below are less obvious, they are not less important:

1.   Be constructive: never mock people for not understanding a chart or a statistic.

2.   Encourage people to overcome their fear: baby-steps are a great way for people to get used to Analytics.

3.   Make Analytics more fun: invent games and competitions to make other people love analytics too.

EFT: Who should be driving analytics within the organisation?

DW: There is an old debate around whether analytics should be part of IT, Marketing or Finance. There is no definitive answer, although each has its advantages. It depends on the type of company and the importance of the online channel to the overall business. ‘Pure online’ businesses might link it to finance, as all revenue comes from the web; hybrid online-offline businesses might make it part of marketing, as it would be one of many initiatives controlled by it; offline businesses might make it part of IT, as it would serve only as a support channel. But this is a rough description and it would really depend on the business nature.

EFT: Should all marketing decisions be driven by data? And if so, how do you ensure the right decisions are made?

DW: Yes, I believe no online decision should be made without data. With current technologies it is easy to develop A/B tests and other solutions to test the market and reach a data driven decision. This is not to say that all the effects are predictable, but I believe decisions should start and end with data.

EFT: When it comes to gathering data in the multi-channel environment, attribution becomes increasingly important. How do you go about achieving this?

DW: Attribution is fundamental. Experienced marketers have already discovered that no single channel can function alone, each has its role in the ‘customer journey to online purchase’. Google Analytics provides a tool that enables marketers to analyse attribution using several different models. Ideally, all functions in a company should be able to exchange information in order to have a clearer picture of the customer.

EFT: In your view what role do you think social media can play in inspiring a person to book at a later date on your site?

DW: It is hard to know how branding influences work, but it is possible to understand quite well which sources led people to the website in different stages of the acquisition process. In my view, a great framework that can be used for such is Avinash Kaushik's See-Think-Do.

EFT: The holy-grail right now seems to be how to track the customer experience of your brand, cross-platform and use the data to target them with the right message at the right time on the right device?

DW: That is certainly the most precious of all secrets, but unfortunately there is no formula for it. Even if I told you my secret, it wouldn't help another company. This is something that has to be built from ground up by each company. But having an accurate analytics solution in place, with the right people in your company, and the support of high management is the right mix. 

EFT: Should you use internal or external tools - what's the right balance?

DW: Of course I am biased... but I will try to give an objective answer. I believe that for most tracking and analysis efforts companies should use external tools, but they should keep all Personal Identifiable Information inside their walls (Google Analytics forbids its customers to log PII in the tool). So I think tracking using an external tool and extracting data using the API is a good balance.

EFT: Finally what do you see as the big trends in data and analytics, particularly in mobile, that could potentially impact the travel industry?

DW: I think the most important trend is building a comprehensive tracking that allows us to understand the journey of customers better. So, for example, if we understand that visitors from tablets are often in a ‘research mood’ while visitors from laptops are often in a ‘purchase mood’ we will be able to provide a much better experience. We have been working hard at Google to build this capability into the tool: we call it Universal Analytics

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