How Web Analytics Helps Small Businesses – Where to Start with Measurement

Many small businesses think of web analytics as search engine optimization, but that perspective is a partial view. Analytics encourages the organization of a digital presence for a business or an organization. These days such planning is important. It means providing speedy management of marketing content, be it online or off, such that a business can ultimately manage costs.

Some small businesses analyze results from a campaign effort – after a website is launched, a video is uploaded in YouTube, or a Facebook page is launched. This is an understandable step – many businesses see analytics in an application and treat the analysis as an audit. But the real work happens during the preliminary planning of a digital presence. This can consume some time, particularly now with so many options for a small business to choose. A business should review two aspects  first before tweet or a site visit is measured.

1. What is the purpose of the website in the business model? Does it serve as an augment for offline marketing?  Is it for sales through e-Commerce? Is it a way to deliver customer support through online chats and community hosting? Answering these questions will set the tone for what content should be on the site – images, downloads, and which pages should retain visitors for longer than a moment. Even trust badges can be influential (see my Business Agility post Building Trust Through Transparency).  It will also lead to how a site and its subdomains are set. The end result is the arrangement of how a site should be tagged.

2. What marketing is planned? Thanks to QR codes and URL tagging, for example, small businesses can create marketing plans to anticipate how customers discover the company site, and ultimately the business itself.  Experian, eMarketer, and other research firms have indicators that people tend to review products and services online prior to making a purchase.  The ideas is establishing an reasonable assumption of how your business is exposed to leads and customers.  An assumption may change overtime, but that is reasonable given that marketing materials can become outdated over time.

Once these two steps are addressed, a small business can begin to make reasonable adjustments to a marketing plan with few headaches and reduced expense.  There are still some technical verifications needed, depending on the complexity of the site and tagging required – many large enterprises have a team on analytic experts to manage the effort. But for small businesses developing a plan and monitoring as it moves ahead makes any analytics information valuable.


Ferrari shows small businesses how to introduce marketing buzz for a radical new product (sort of)

Ferrari FF

Have you seen it?  The new Ferrari FF. No? Well if not, then you have not been paying much attention in YouTube and auto magazines because it has garnered almost all the global automotive attention in 2011, save for the newly introduced Lamborghini Aventador.  Now a FF is out of my price range, as well many small businesses, but there are a lot of things I think a small business can learn from Ferrari’s effort to introduce this revolutionary car.

If it’s radical, give hints leading up to the introduction

Like many car manufacturers Ferrari tested their vehicle under spy photographer scrutiny.   A few spy shots revealed tidbits that were expected. The FF replaces the 612 Scaglietti, a 4 seat grand tourer with a V-12 engine, so speculators wrote about what they expected – 4 seats and a 12 cylinder engine.  They found both when the FF was officially introduced.  But the rear of the car was heavily masked during the development, distorting its shape enough to be a surprise when released.  Small businesses may not have an engineering team racing prototypes at the Nürburgring track, but they can think and learn how to tease out details rather make grand silly pitches about a million dollar idea that has not generated a lick of revenue.  This is where many wannabe small businesses fail.  Sometimes business owners, particular service providers, give too much pitch, instead providing simple ideas that set the right expectation for what someone will get from doing business with you.

Be new, but give a frame of reference

Many car magazines referenced the shape as a shoot brake, which if you’re not form Europe, is essentially a 2-door wagon. There’s hasn’t been any in the US — Chevrolet Vega, Ford Pinto, and AMC Pacer by technicality had 2 doors wagon but far from shooting brake.  But a BMW Z3 coupe has that similar shape. And there are blended cars on the market now, like the 4 door coupe Mercedes CLS.  These vehicles do not compare to  $300,000 sports car, but they do give buyers a frame of reference of what’s comparable.

For your product or service, a frame of reference should be emphasized with a light mention rather than a dramatic buzz that raises expectation but does not deliver. Many small business owners overstate how new something is to the point where customers do not know what the product or service is. A frame of reference removes used-car-salesman clutter in descriptions and lets people focus more on the benefits outlined in your message, be it by blog, video, or tweet.

Pay attention to competition but make a clear spin

2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S
2012 Porsche Panamera Turbo S

Still on the reference theme, practicality has been seeping into other brands long well known for sports cars.  Porsche introduced Panamera, its first 4 door sports car, but this was previewed by the Cayenne, its first SUV.  This was risky because Porsche buyers can be resistant to product that aren’t “true” Porsche.  Today the Cayenne represents half of Porsche’s US sales volume, making it easy for it to decide to build the Panamera.   This clued Ferrari that a blend of traditional Ferrari features (powerful engine, sports car ride) and new-to-Ferrari features (all wheel drive, wagon-like body style) would create potentially negative response from a few, but also create an opportunity for overall positive buyer support and sales with a well-exexcuted effort to explain the FF.

For small businesses, the similar idea of paying attention to competition for clues and integrating those clues leads to creative videos, tweets, and blog posts.   There may be a vocal few who are negative, and they may be longtime customers, but a careful explanation to blend old and new will have to be used over and over again in advertising and in social media.  This is what it takes to let people know what is possible with a radically new product or service.


Stage your product so that images and video reflect the benefits

Ferrari built the FF with all wheel drive, a first for the company. The first official drives were in the snow, and I have seen a few rainy weather videos online.  All of these appear in car magazines and online blogs. These images reinforces the benefit of what the FF brings to new customers.

If possible, make your first images show what your product or service can do.  For ideas how to measure the response to a video, see this post on video tips.

Educate your followers on the details to continue engagement

Now it may seem funny that a brand as premium and well-known as Ferrari would have to justify anything.  But they did make points about why the FF was developed. Customers wanted a vehicle that had traction for inclement weather.  Moreover, Ferrari has made sales inroads into China, and the FF was meant to appeal to prosperous families there and in other parts of the world.

Sharing these kind of details with reporters gave more interest to the car.  Small businesses can learn to do the same with Twitter, Facebook, and other community sites. Doing so helps keep the story centered on what you want.  Apple is another brand that benefits from this, when it uses conferences  to make announcements, and further its reach with sites such as AppleInsider.  This tactic also helps galvanize followers who unconsciously need confirmation of why it was wonderful to follow your product or service.

Some brands inform with associated information about its product or service.  Toyota did a similar approach with its Lexus LF-A, the first limited production sports car meant to showcase its technological prowess (read about what Toyota did to position the Lexus LF-A among elite sports cars).

Keep these steps in mind and you’ll see how your brand will grow faster than …. well, a Ferrari.

How to expand your analytics knowledge: Three books that show managers how

Web Analytics 2.0
Avinash Kaushik's excellent guide for analytics in management

Yahoo Web Analytics
Dennis Mortensen has written a great guide on analytic dashboards as well as his analytics solution, sold to Yahoo in 2008

Need a little more information on using analytics within your organization?  There are three great books that I have had the pleasure of reviewing at Small Business Trends, an award winning small business blog started by editor Anita Campbell.  Written by the leading experts in web analytics and business intelligence, these can help develop an organization around the timely use of analytics tools.

  • Analytics At Work (Thomas Davenport, Jeanne Harris) — focuses on analytics within an organization.  Differing from their first book, Competing on Analytics, Analytics at Work is for medium sized organizations that want to incorporate business intelligence tools for operational efficiency but not as a leading advantage in a given industry.
  • Yahoo Web Analytics (Dennis Mortensen) — this book is more than a how-to regarding Yahoo! Web Analytics.  It’s perfect for online merchants who are interested in Yahoo Web Analytics, but also advanced analytics practitioners who need additional ideas for Javascript code and segmentation analysis.

I have also reviewed other business books with Ivana Taylor, founder of DIY Marketers and the book editor for SBT.  We try to review business books we genuinely like and that have great use for small business owners.   A great one Ivana did  is called Success Made Simple which featured perspective from Amish small businesses

Small Business Trends covers a number of great small business subjects and tips.  Definitely a must follow for any small business owner.

What other business books have been a great aid to your business or outlook?

Lexus LFA – A unique vehicle with unique marketing

One of the most anticipated vehicles in years is the Lexus LF-A, a 550 horsepower, V-10 engined, 2 seat wonder, built from carbon fiber and aluminum. Taking seven years to develop, only 550 LF-As will be built, at a price of $375,000 each.

But the price, far above the most expensive Lexus (the LS Hybrid), is not the most striking aspect of this product. Toyota’s effort to market this special vehicle gives the most pause.

Lexus has one challenge ahead — creating a brand worthy of commanding the $375,000 price tag. While Toyota has been successful with marketing the luxury division, Lexus is not considered in the same league as Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, and Lamborghini, where customers are willing to pay for not only a luxury car but a luxury car maker heritage. Thus the goal of the LFA is to be a halo car for the brand.

First, Toyota released video of the LFA being driven on the Nürburgring race track. The video was meant to display the sporting aspects of the car and reinforce the special development of the vehicle. Nürburgring is a very technical handling oriented race track on which many manufacturers have used for race car handling “cred” for vehicles as well as engineering development (Cadillac’s CTS-V is an example).

Second, Toyota took a few plays from Chip and Dan Heath’s Made To Stick (unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility) by integrating its carbon looming history into the car’s background. Little known fact: Toyota owns one of two looming machines in the world. These looms weave carbon fibers into complex shapes. Toyota has decades of experience. So for the LF-A it used an unexpected fact (Carbon loom) as a sticky point to enhance the technology and experience that is built into the car, qualities that luxury buyers seek about brands like Aston Martin and Ferrari (Hand built quality, racing heritage, and race car-level technology trickled down into production road cars).

Next, Lexus wanted to ensure that its customers benefit from the LFA, not speculators who would only display the cars instead of actually drive them. Having the vehicles seen on the road strengthens the brand, with a special quality given the rare production. So the decision was made to only offer leases on the vehicle (save for Europe), with an option to buy.  Moreover, Lexus will court influential customers to sift out speculators. In Automobile magazine Paul Rohovsky, National Manager of Advance Business Development at Lexus, states how Lexus is relying on its customer database, having a call center asking questions and developing a relationship experience.

If this sounds familiar to segmenting and developing strategy using analytics, you’re getting a gold star. Lexus has created exclusivity and excitement through energizing its customer base to help expose its brand to new customers (for more on an example of segmentation, see the Zimana blog post on segmentation and the Orient Express).  There are also hints of a shared customer-service provider experience —  a leasing program can lead to further customer interaction with specially dedicated Lexus service and sales professionals.  This controlled experience mimics online social groups that discuss specific products, such as Facebook Fans.

You can also see a great discussion video by Editor-in-chief Jean Jenning of Automobile with Brian Bolain at Lexus — Brian’s Lifecycle Manager position implies cross function responsibility for managing a great experience for the customer throughout the product usage.

All in all, Lexus’ approach for the LF-A contains solid ideas of marketing, analytics, and customer service detail from which all businesses can learn.

Hip Hop gets the party going, but does it give branding lessons that lead to long term sales?

Blogspot has an interesting post where the marketing tactics of hip hop artists can potentially be helpful to B2B marketing. It’s a good article — You can see Blogspot’s get crunk post here. The Jay-Z example — allowing your customers to tailor your product which leads to sales — is a great one. But hip hop is about brand building in a way different thatn what has happened traditionally in music. For businesses, particularly B2B, the transfer of lessons requires a filter, because music has become a medium based on immediate sales. For a business starting out, gaining sales immediately is essential, but for longevity the efforts have to take a different form of development.

One byproduct of hip-hop is that artist development requires very short term and immediate results (sales), to the point of no true artist development, as was done by music producers like Barry Gordy of Motown (Let me be clear — this byproduct is widespread across the music industry, so there is no blame on this genre). Artists must be fully packaged – appearance, singing technique, marketing – prior to recording songs for corporate distribution and the consumer market. Furthermore, the ability to record music almost anywhere has also accelerated the pace of artist development, with artists not having to be located in Los Angeles to access production-level equipment and savvy personnel. For the music industry its product, the artist, is being developed with an immediate eye for sales, but not with a long term sensibility for product.

Countering the short term development, the traditional music ingredient for product – er, artist, longevity is the “marquee song”, a hit song so successful that when it is played, listeners associate the singer and moment with it. Elvis and Frank Sinatra are examples of artists with marquee songs. For Michael Jackson, it’s “Billie Jean” and “Beat It”. Prince had “When Doves Cry” among others. Aretha Franklin spoke about R-E-S-P-E-C-T (and we found out what it meant to her, too!). These songs are more than “hits”. They take a life of their own, because of the collective memory of the generation that heard the music. The marquee song image is strong among an audience, associated with an era as much as the artist. When the beat to Billie Jean is played, even a small children today that barely speaks says Michael Jackson and dances, while a teen is aware that the song is clearly the 1980s, a time period they can only image or gain insight from movies and video footage. Many people played Billie Jean when MJ passed this year. At that time they were recalling more than the artist, they were going back in time to where they were in life then. This is what a lot of artist want, as a confirmation of reaching and connecting with people (sounds familiar to social media, huh?). Yet many do not gain that marquee sensibility.

In hip hop many artists have developed a different mindset. The short span between albums (one year compared to 2-3 years for a pop album) can render an artist outdated. To counter, rappers choose to expand their artist development beyond their core offering, recorded music. Movie performances by Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and LL Cool J are examples, along with the breakout box office successful for Will Smith and Queen Latifah. Clothing lines from Sean Combs (Sean Jean) and Jay-Z (Rocawear) are also signs of “brand extension”.

To gain mindshare of a customer, businesses must seek to create their marquee service or product. The equity markets reminds people of this perspective repeatedly; Companies are cheered by analysts and rewarded via increased share price whenever an unprofitable business unit is spun off or when a company returns to its core market after fail new-product ventures. Small businesses that create “divisions” and “separate products” prior to establishing a “marquee service” can diminish their focus on the very product that can develop their customer base for the long term.

Unlike many genres, many hip hop artists have their “marquee song” in the form of a persona, adjusted bit by bit to match where the fanbase demographic is in a lifespan. Ice Cube is an excellent example. Ice Cube is no longer running from the police like he did in NWA videos but now appears in movie fair like “Are We There Yet?” and “Barbershop” as a no- nonsense father — roles more removed from his early movie days in “Boyz In Da Hood” and “Trepass” (which are extensions of the no-nonsense, not-for-playin’ image built from solo albums like “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” and “The Predator”). These are memorable long-term branding images, all crafted and adjusted from his “marquee song” — himself. The fact the he is executive producer for a number of his key movies proves this point even more and reinforces a self-sufficiency characteristic evident among many hip hop entertainers. Moreover, more rappers are inserting complaints in their lyrics about about the music game in their songs, so the interest to cross into other media and ventures shows no signs of abatement.

This branding of identity approach fits for many businesses where an identity fuels demand. But for B2B, a strong identity is necessarily not the strongest chess piece on the board. Quality of product and service is important, while developing a customer relationship requires consistent engagement efforts that do not lead to results immediately yet are important milepost on the trail to profit.

I still love many of the rappers from the (“cough, cough, ahem”) 80s and 90s. But I think instead of holding a one-size fits all, businesses need to derive the lessons in brand building to their respective industry. A brand that builds trust — a very essential quality in online marketing — will gain longevity that leads to conversions and to growth. It is essential for small businesses to weigh the examples against the results to develop the best fit of solutions. Any effort should be supported with an analytics process, be it Yahoo! Analytics or a simple review of marketing efforts, to ensure that the best fit brings the best solutions.

I just saw a Tide commercial which repeats the chorus line from Rebirth of Cool (Cool Like Dat) by the Diggable Planets. So maybe we are be closer to marquee hip hop than I can imagine. The rap fan in me can hardly wait.