Episode #26 – Tim Wilson of Web Analytics Demystified
Tim Wilson, Web Analytics Demystified
In this episode number 26 of the InnovaBuzz podcast, Tim Wilson of Web Analytics Demystified shares with us his insights as a data analyst, emphasising the need to focus on the right (smart) questions, setting goals and by doing these steps we can get most value from data on our online presence. We also talk about photography, baseball, guitar and cycling! Find out how these are related, by listening to the podcast!
Listen to the Podcast
Focus on measuring the fundamentals:
What is the purpose of your site? Is it achieving that or not? Are we really instrumented and measuring and keeping an eye on that and improving it?
Some of the highlights of this episode include:
- There is still a massive lack of clarity around digital analytics. The data doesn’t provide the questions and the answers, the data really is just there to provide answers if you have asked the right question. You still need be asking smart questions.
- Whilst it is good to “poke around the data”, it if often better to understand what data is being collected and ask: what does it mean, does it matter and do I really care about this? Then, if it is important – what can I do to improve this item and what other data might help to figure out what is causing the current status?
- It’s vital to have clear goals in mind before collecting data, analyzing and drawing conclusions.
- Don’t get lost in the data analysis – keep an eye on what is happening in the “real world” too – work through the user experience.
Are we really clear on our goals? Do we really know what success looks like? Are we recognizing that the analysis starts with a hypothesis, it starts with an idea and then we look at the data?
The Buzz – Our Innovation Round
Here are Tim’s answers to the questions of our Innovation round. Watch the interview to get the full scoop.
- #1 thing to be more innovative – Be passionate about what they’re trying to do.
- Best thing for new ideas – Trying to really think through problems or challenges people are having and how can I solve that.
- Favourite tool for innovation – I am right now on a list kick! I’m a big fan of Wunderlist to manage all my tasks even email. I am also a huge fan of Slack.
- Keep project / client on track – Defining the goals and objectives, defining the end-point, defining success and then communication.
- Differentiate – I’d say you have to give a hoot. You’ve got to figure out what you’re passionate about and then just be passionate about it.
To Be More Innovative and Productive
Figure out what you’re passionate about and then just be passionate about it.
Tim suggested I interview Josh Manion of Ensighten on a future podcast. So, Josh keep an eye on your Inbox for an invitation from me, for the Innovabuzz Podcast, courtesy of Tim Wilson!
Click to Read…
Hi, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz. Welcome to Episode No 26 of the InnovaBuzz Podcast – designed to help smart businesses with an interest in innovation and the Internet of Things become even more innovative.
In this episode, my guest is Tim Wilson of Web Analytics Demystified. Tim has been working in digital analytics since 2001. His work portfolio is impressive, and includes having managed the business intelligence team at a $500 million high tech B2B company. He is a well-respected consultant, agency analyst, speaker and industry contributor.
Tim describes himself as a marketer-friendly Geek! He very generously shared with us today, his insights as a data analyst and how, by focusing on the right (smart) questions, we can get most value from data on our online presence. We also talk about automating statistics, and about baseball, photography, guitar and cycling! This is another fascinating episode, I learnt a lot in from Tim and I hope you will too, so stay tuned.
This podcast is sponsored by Innovabiz, where we help smart, innovative growth focused business owners grow their business by making their websites achieve more. Of course, at Innovabiz, we do more than just build websites – we provide solutions to our clients’ needs by leveraging the power of the internet in innovative ways. If you want to learn more, then go to innovabiz.com.au or contact me directly through the contact information there.
Now, let’s get into the Innovation Hive and get the Buzz from Tim Wilson.
Jürgen: Hi I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz and today on this episode of the InnovaBuzz podcast it’s a great privilege to have with us all the way from Columbus Ohio in the United States Tim Wilson of Web Analytics Demystified. Tim is a senior partner at Web Analytics Demystified and has been working in the digital analytics space since around 2001. He’s got a very impressive work portfolio that includes having managed the business intelligence team at a $500 million high tech data company. He’s also worked for a number of high profile brands ranging from Hewlett-Packard to Purina to name a couple, working with them on their digital and social data and translating that data into actionable strategies that help their marketing. Tim, I think you describe yourself as a marketer friendly geek, so welcome to the podcast.
Tim: It’s good to be here, thanks.
Jürgen: Now we met at the Google analytics conference a few weeks ago here in Melbourne and Tim gave a really great presentation on … I think it had a pirate theme around finding the buried treasure in analytics or a title to that effect.
Jürgen: Hopefully we can learn more about that today.
Tim: Absolutely. Go ahead.
Jürgen: I was just going to say, because I know you’ve had an interesting background and before we start talking about data or analytics and all those other geeky things, let’s find a bit about you as a person. Where did it all start? Going back to your childhood, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Tim: That’s a good question. I’m really excited to be on this, crossing the western pond from me, I guess the eastern pond from you to chat about this. It’s interesting, I don’t know as a child that I had a whole, whole lot of ambition. Somewhere around secondary school, or high school as we call it in the States, I decided I wanted to be an architect because I was in tiny little town in southeast Texas called Sour Lake and I had in my head that I was good at math, I’d be a good engineer but I was also very creative so I probably could be a good designer.
Architecture seemed like the thing that would leverage both of those strengths but what I discovered is that I’m really not that great at design and I’m probably not quite technical enough to be an engineer. But in a lot of ways the space I wound up in of analytics still kind of bridges the creativity of problem solving and ideas and with a somewhat technical slant, because like it or not the world of analytics, it’s not just punching the magic analyze button, it’s getting hands dirty on what data is being captured.
Jürgen: Now you did pursue studies in architecture though didn’t you?
Tim: I did. I wound up with a degree in architecture. I think I knew by my third year that I desperately lacked the talent that some of my peers had but I had spent a good chunk of my parent’s money on tuition so I figured I’d stick it out. I think I lasted for about two and a half years after college in architecture and then somehow jumped from that to technical writing and then jumped from technical writing to web marketing because I was doing technical writing at a company that was for and by engineers.
This was back in the late ’90s, early 2000s that they were kind of forward thinking on the internet and said “You know, we have a bunch of engineers who are customers and we have a bunch of really smart engineers who work here. If we could get some of our engineers internally to put content up on our website that is not necessarily selling our product directly but is just a helpful resource, we could be – build this online community thing.”
I was a technical writer on that engineering side of things, and then because I could write and I had done a little bit of work with internet and early, early HTML, hacking away with Microsoft FrontPage, the thought was “Gee, you’d be a good person to get over on our marketing team because you can talk to those engineers and help get some of that content up on our site.” That kind of was my entrée to marketing, really from an early online community. We were stitching together Lotus Notes databases and calling it a community.
Jürgen: Yeah, that brings back memories Lotus Notes databases!
Tim: I still defended it. Lousy email client but man there was stuff that we could hack together for internal use that I, as a reasonably technical business user could build little helpful applications but it’s hard to defend Notes.
Jürgen: Yeah, we had it as a email client, which was a disastrous email client, but we built an awesome CRM and database out of it back in the early ’90s which was fantastic. It’s the sort of system that you see online now as a software as a service type thing that people are charging pretty hefty monthly fees for.
Tim: Exactly. I mean that’s I think the LotusScript and whatever the command language, you could just stumble along and next thing you know you’ve got an interface that people can enter stuff and get stuff out of. Yeah.
Jürgen: Anyway, you got into the analytics space through marketing and helping engineers talk to the marketers if you like.
Tim: Yeah, basically I was managing that online community and somebody needed to own the web analytics tool because we had one and it was kind of the hot potato that nobody really wanted. It just was tossed my way as “Oh, well the person who used to sit in the cubicle next to you used to do that and they moved to another cubicle so now it’s yours.” There wasn’t a whole lot of logic behind it. This was back in 2001. It was slow, it was clunky. Our website was pretty large, that had all these multiple Lotus Notes databases that were serving content. We had Oracle homegrown stuff, we had static HTML pages and we were trying to mine through large files with a tool that no longer even exists.
As my career, kind of pretty quickly moved from this online community thing to managing the Web Marcom group, which was more of a classic Marcom role. The analytics came with me and then I just totally ran out of bandwidth. I said something’s got to give, so I went to our business intelligence group and said “Hey, why don’t you guys since you’re already in all of our CRM and ERP and our data warehouse data, why don’t you also take on web analytics. It’s another source. I’ll help train you up, I’ll support you anyway I can. I just don’t have bandwidth for this.”, and they said “Yeah, that makes sense.”
We got up to leave the meeting and I kind of shook my head and said “You know the sad thing is this is probably what I had the most fun with in my job.” It’s just the one that does the least logically fits on my plate. They said “Why don’t you come back in the conference room, we have an open role.” So instead to hand off a tool and I wound up giving … I came with it and pretty quickly was then managing the BI team. I knew within six months that I’d pretty much found my career home at that point.
Jürgen: Now in those days you were probably leading in the sense of people looking at business intelligence at a lot of numbers, I think there was a lot of stuff that got ignored, particularly in the online space. It tended to be just financials and that kind of stuff. How did you build the awareness around that and teach people the value of this kind of data?
Tim: You know there are those things you look back on and it may take five or ten or fifteen years to realize what a forward thinking company … The company is called National Instruments and they’re maybe a billion dollar company. I still stay in touch with them, they’re out of Austin Texas. The founder and CEO was just a forward looking guy, he figured out that the internet was going to be big and it was interesting for them because not only as a marketing channel and a sales channel but even for their products. They, I think, have continued to be out ahead when it comes the internet as a place where you can build products, and then even on to the Internet of Things.
A lot of what they do is on that front, so when somebody at National Instruments, that was kind of a legendary story there, there were a couple of guys who said “We should start up a website.”, and this was, I want to say, mid ’90s for a company that had a lot of SKUs and was selling very technical stuff. They built it on a computer and set it over in a corner and it grew by increments until pretty quickly there was no one saying “Oh, that channel’s never going to amount to anything.” It very quickly became seen as, even though it was a B2B company, that this is a potential lead generation engine, it is a potential CRM engine, it is definitely an e-commerce engine.
Now they’ve sort of been out in front and the data came along with that. I think that was one of those unintentional genius moves, was that not only do we put web analytics in BI, which still today with a lot of the clients I work with, that’s not the norm. You’ve got the finance analyst, you’ve got the BI group and you’ve got the web analysts living somewhere else. We also had market research in the BI group because we said “It’s all data.” If somebody asked a question, we were supporting all of sales and marketing, we wanted to say we should have a group that says what is the best data source or data sources to answer that question.
That was twelve, thirteen years ago and it just seemed logical from the inside and I think it was just people a lot smarter than I were intuited that, that made sense and I just accepted it. But then the rest of my career has been trying to tell other companies that have not intuited that. They lived a lot longer with e-commerce off in one silo and the other channels in a totally different silo and struggling to realize that from a customer’s perspective online and offline aren’t any different, they don’t want to act like they’re working with two different businesses.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s a fascinating story and I guess if you think about it in hindsight, a National Instruments company there’s a natural fit there isn’t there, because they’re measuring stuff all the time, that’s part of their product range.
Tim: Yeah. I will still say, that time there were some things that I and you saw in Australia … at the Google analytics conference, there’s still a massive lack of clarity. I feel like as the world has become more aware of data, the instincts of all of these people trying to use data are often kind of dead wrong. So a lot of what I spend the hammer that I beat constantly or the drum that I beat, some metaphor in there, is that the data doesn’t provide the questions and the answers, the data really is just there to provide answers though you still need be asking smart questions.
That’s been to me one of those challenges, there are people saying “We have all this data, there must be value. Go look at the data and find value.” They’re not really wanting to say … There’s still every bit the space for, or the imperative for, creativity and ideas. The data just helps validate those ideas, it’s not a replacement for generating ideas. I’m not sure exactly what you said that sent me off on that little soap box.
Jürgen: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point. It took me quite a while when we were in the early phases of the business building websites – we always put Google Analytics in the back end of the website and give people access to their account to take a look at it. I just assumed it was something every website developer and designer did. Over time I realized that hardly anyone actually did that, so we started telling people that we did it, that differentiates us.
That was the first step and then we’ve gotten to the point now of saying “Let’s take a look at that data and let’s actually use the data to guide a strategy going forward.” Then we get to the point of people saying “Wow, that’s interesting we’re getting sales and hits.” or whatever it may be or “We’re getting a 50% bounce rate, is that good or is that bad?” Then we come back to the point you were making in saying “I don’t know, it’s really about let’s come back and ask the right questions and set up some goals and then use the data to set some direction.” I think it might have been Jim Stern that said … I remember this one because this really resonated. I think he said that analytics or data without goals is narcissism.
Tim: Yeah. There’s a spot definitely for small businesses, for somebody who’s straight out of school, to jump into a tool that just has base tagging or whether web analytics, whether it’s social analytics, whether it’s mobile analytics, and say “I just want to poke around and get a sense of what kind of data is here.”, as long as there’s a realization that if I look at it and say “I have a bounce rate of 50%.” One it’s probably good for me to understand what is a bounce rate, does it matter? And then I need to stop and think “Does it matter and do I care?”, and if I care then “Why might that be happening and what might I do to improve it? What other data might help me figure out what’s causing that.”
I think it’s pretty easy for people to get … there’s so much data, the tools are providing more and more information, Google’s adding on demographic stuff, it’s adding on more ability to do pathing or flow navigation and multi-channel attribution. So there’s more and more charts and visualizations to get lost in which are fascinating and interesting but can be colossal time wasters to dig into it.
Jürgen: That’s right, yeah. I’m always amazed when I go … I think I hardly ever go into a Google Analytics account and have a look around without finding something that was new since the last time I was in there. They must update things at least every week.
Tim: Yeah. It’s all valuable quality stuff but it’s like any tool. Take something like Microsoft Excel that’s been around, seems like, forever and they’re adding features with Excel 2010 and Excel 2013 but you know, 98% of what people are using, 99%, maybe 99.5% was around in Excel 2003. But I think with digital a lot of times it’s “Oh what’s the new shiny thing we’re chasing.” It’s “We want to do multi-channel, multi-touch, multi-session attribution.”, and it’s like if 90% of your traffic is coming to your site for the very first time then does it really matter how much those 10% … They came from paid search and came from paid search again.
I have people ask a question that’s kind of a good question if they were about six levels more mature in their evolution of analytics, they’re not hitting the very, very basics of saying “What is the purpose of your site? Is it achieving that or not? Are we really instrumented and measuring and keeping an eye on that and improving it?” It’s kind of chasing … A tool released a new feature and there are a lot of blog posts on it, so people say “I must use that feature.” It’s like “Well you should probably use the feature that was there five years ago that you’ve been ignoring first.”
Jürgen: That’s right, yeah. Avoid the shiny object syndrome.
Tim: I have been called the grumpy cat of analytics. I think that might not have come out in the presentation but I’m hearing it come out now.
Jürgen: Okay. Actually a lot of this resonates really strongly with me because one of the things we emphasize when we go into any project, whether it’s building a website or whether it’s some other online work, is let’s start with the objective and get the objective really clear, get on the same page with the objective and understand that, and then the next step is how do we know when we’ve reached that objective and what measures can we put in place to reach that, so what you’re saying is basically “Don’t get distracted by the shiny toys, look at what’s meaningful as a measure to guide the strategy.”
Tim: Right, and I’m assuming … How many of the clients that you work with have full time analysts? Is it rare?
Tim: Yeah, so that’s kind of the tough thing too, is that there’s a lot of data, there is some complexity to it. It’s a tough competency for a small business to fully ramp up and do in their spare time, even if they’re really interested in it. But at the same time there aren’t a whole lot of models. They kind of wind up needing to use some external company or part time contractors or consultants or agencies and those guys need to be doing their work well and efficiently and having the conversations it sounds like you have with let’s really push and be clear that we have clear goals and objectives because without that it’s … Yes it’s narcissism.
Jürgen: Yeah, I do like that. All right let’s move on a little bit more about the business. What do you actually do on a day to day basis? Because I know you’re a senior partner at Web Analytics Demystified but you do a lot other stuff. Is that part of that role or do you do things off your own bat?
Tim: Yeah. It’s a title of senior partner, it’s probably more senior consultant. The way that we work is we’re a small consultancy by choice. We have various disciplines, I’m one of the two who focus on actual analysis and process development with clients. All of us are really passionate about doing the work so to a man, or to a person, both genders, we’re not in the “I want to grow my team and have a big team of consultants descend on a company and do analytics.”
Actually day to day I am doing analysis and I do reporting and I do digging into the data for a small number of clients, less than ten more than five at any given time, and kind of helping them figure out, sometimes they’ve got in-house consultants who need training and guidance. Sometimes they don’t have internal analysts and I’m a proxy analyst for them. I work with everything from large CPG brands that have fifteen different brands and those brands each have different agencies that are developing and managing their digital presence and their media presence. Those agencies have analysts, in that case I’m an extension of the in-house analytics team that are the objective.
The only dog we have in the fight is the brand success. We’re objective, we don’t have an agenda we want the paid search agency to look like it’s doing better than the media agency. A lot of that is developing standards and governance and processes. In another case there’s a really large, eight figures a week of online e-commerce and they’ve got effectively one full time web analyst. She’s swamped and I handle some of her duties and help her, being a sounding board and improve their processes and streamline things.
I kind of run the gamut of working with non-profit foundations, CPG, e-commerce. All kind of primarily around on the web analytics front, it’s Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics. It’s where we have the most expertise but then also do some social because social analytics is part and parcel with that, as well as mobile apps and mobile site analysis. I don’t quite have the glorious kickback with the three-Martini lunches that a title like senior partner feels like it should warrant.
Jürgen: But it sounds like you love what you’re doing which is the important thing.
Jürgen: Yeah and add a lot of value as well.
Tim: Hope so.
Jürgen: Is there something that keeps you awake at night, that you worry about?
Tim: I do worry. I worry about the industry honestly, the analytics industry. I don’t worry about myself finding more business because we’ve got this massive supply and demand gap when it comes to talent. My worry is that the bar is too low for somebody to get in. If you wind up with, and I’ve seen it happen, we’ve been trying to hire a web analyst for eighteen months, we haven’t found anybody. Finally somebody came in who could spell Google Analytics and they had a pulse so we hired them. And then that person winds up being completely out of their element and they do a terrible job. Which in and of itself, them doing a terrible job, is not the travesty, the problem is that they train everyone one around them that that’s what web analytics is.
A lot of what I find myself … There’s not enough hours in the day for me personally to go and reeducate all the people who need to be reeducated. It’s one of the reasons that I love speaking. I want to get out and talk to as many marketers, really as possible, analysts too but as many marketers as I can to say “Look your analyst can do some things really well but there’s a darn good chance that they’re, for a variety of reasons, maybe not approaching things, they’re not actually helping you become more mature as a business. They are pulling the data that you ask them for as opposed to saying ‘Time out, are we really clear on our goals? Do we really know what success looks like? Are we recognizing that the analysis starts with a hypothesis, it starts with an idea and then we look at the data?’”
As opposed to last week I got a request from a well intended project manager saying “Hey we’re going to redesign the website. Can you just analyse the current site and bring us your insights in a couple of weeks and tell us what you found?” I’ve been doing this for a while and I know the brand well and I can probably do that well. It’s not going to be nearly as effective if instead we’d sat down and said “We’re redesigning the site.”, “Why?”. Like somebody said we need to do a redesign of the site. And I’ve asked for it two or three times, you have some inclination, some idea of why the site needs to be redesigned.
It’s probably not “We have extra money and we don’t care whether we waste it or not. Why don’t we spend it on redesigning the site?” It’s kind of like “Oh you’re the analyst go dig into the data, come back with recommendations.” As opposed to “Let’s sit down and have a conversation. Let’s think like marketers. What do we think is going on? What do we think might be going on?” I can do that, because I’ve spent time as a marketer and I’ve worked with marketers a lot and senior analysts can do an okay job but it’s still not at all a replacement for who are the stakeholders? Let’s sit down and talk about what’s keeping them up at night? What are the questions they have?
And then let the analyst say “Okay, I can answer those questions. I can validate your suspicions.” Or I can tell you “No, don’t worry about that. You think X is happening a lot and I’ve got the data to say it’s not, go back to sleep.” I’m afraid that there are too many people who are getting trained and conditioned, because I guess I’ve run into those people as well. They try to tell me how to do analysis, I’m like “Wait a minute, you’re paying me good money because you recognized you had a problem. If I come in and you tell me how to do analysis and I’m trying to tell you that I’ve seen it go that way. You’re asking me to repeat the same thing that you didn’t like the results for the last three years you’ve gotten and yet you’re telling me to do the same thing. That’s probably not going to work. That’s great, thanks. As we’re recording and then you’re on one day and I’m on another day, you’re not going to keep me up tonight, thank you very much for bringing that anxiety back to the fore.”
Jürgen: All right. Yeah, I think you make a really good point though, going back to things like goal clarity and what does success look like and what are we really trying to achieve? I love to take all the conversation back to that. I recently had somebody say, and they’re in my network, “Could you do us a favor and just have a look at our website. We’ve just redone it, have a look at it see what you think.”, and I was procrastinating on that a little bit because I thought “What do I do?”, because they’re not going to pay me to do that, that was kind of like an implied favor.
It was early in the week of the analytics conference and actually I was reflecting on your presentation, on Jim Stern’s presentation. I thought I’m going to go back and basically I turned it around and I said “What exactly is it you want to achieve?” And I did have a look at the site and I said “It’s not obvious to me what you want to achieve.”, I said “You know maybe you should start by explaining what do you want to achieve and what does success look like and maybe the website does reflect that but I don’t recognize it as person that’s outside the loop and is just coming as a visitor to your website.” So I gave a bit of feedback like that and the response came back and said “We need to sit down and talk because you raised a lot of interesting questions there.” Which suggested to me that they didn’t have the answers to them.
Tim: From an analyst perspective that actually reminds me of another thing that regularly happens. We were talking about this with some friends a while back, sometimes our registrations … we’re trying to drive registrations on our site. Their registrations are down, can you dig into the data and see why? Any good analyst, the first thing they do is actually go through the registration process. I’ve had one client that it’s happened more than once where I go through the process and I’m like “Well I clicked submit and it told me that my password was no good”, it didn’t meet their criteria and it told me exactly what I had to do and I have a password that meets those criteria and it doesn’t work.
I’m thinking “You’re asking me to look into the data and you have not even gone through the experience.” Basically it was a development disconnect. There was another case when I did submit, as soon as I hit submit and I was supposed to get a coupon offer on the back side of it and I got a 503 server error, so then I called up another analyst and said “I don’t want you to look at the data either, I want you to go through this experience and see if it’s as busted as I think it is.” Once I had three analysts, we’d all gone through, I went to the client and said “I haven’t looked at the data at all, I just went through the experience and it’s completely busted. I don’t need to look at the data.” That’s definitely something that analysts will preach, senior analysts. That’s a mistake analysts will often make is that they’ll just live in the data and they’ll forget that they should go be the customer a little bit and poke around the site.
Jürgen: Yeah, see what’s happening in the real world.
Jürgen: At the front end yeah. All right, that’s really great advice. When you’re not digging into data and trying to make sense of it and trying to help people learn what they should be doing in their marketing based on that data, what else do you to keep balanced?
Tim: I do have an absurd number of leisure activities that are data related, which I think speaks to somewhat my passion for the space. I’ve got three kids, one of them up until about a year ago played baseball and I wound up getting, it’s probably no shocker, a little into the stats on that. Built my own scoring, built an Excel spreadsheet that would generate all the stats. I now have that posted. Every year when that’s come around, I get a few emails from people who are downloading the score sheet. And again I’ve got three kids so that’s my leisure time. I’ve got limited time but I get outdoors as much as I can. I grab my camera as often as I can and get out and kayak on the lake nearby, pretend that I know how to compose a picture here or there.
Jürgen: I’m a photographer, that’s fascinating.
Tim: Yeah but I’ve kind of checked out your portfolio and I’m on the other end of amateur from you I think.
Jürgen: Okay. Yeah, well I’m still just playing around and learning things. Yeah I did take ten minutes yesterday, because the canola fields are in full bloom yesterday and I went out, there’s one nearby here. It’s just a massive yellow and I thought I’ve got to get out and photograph that.
Tim: I’m trying to get better and better about recognizing when there’s an opportunity, when the light is hitting such that it would be a good time to go hit some familiar haunt and see if I can get a new perspective on it.
Jürgen: Yeah one of the things that, on photography, one of the things that I found fascinating, I set myself a challenge a couple of years ago. I did it two months, not consecutive months but two months because it’s actually difficult to do, of taking a photograph every day and then I would post it, I’d hold myself accountable, post it to Facebook or something and get people to comment on it. In doing that it forced me to go out and have a look at things, I’d go out different days and like you say you’d go out and visit places that you’ve been to hundreds of times but do it at a different day or go and find a different place or just look at different angles.
That kind of forced me to think about all the different ways I could actually photograph something, whether it’s the light, whether it’s the composition, whether it’s something happening right at that time in the particular area. I found that really fascinating. As you do it, the longer you do it the more familiar you become with all the little shiny toys I guess you can call them, with all the features on the camera. Some of them become more second nature and you start exploring different ones and finding different stuff. That to me is really fascinating. I had a month in San Francisco where we took a vacation and I went out and took about average of a hundred photos every day and it was the same kind of experience.
Tim: Wow. Yeah I took great courses, they had some deal and they had Joel Sartore, the National Geographic long time photographer. I’d done film back as a kid, so the basics of aperture and shutter speed I was pretty solid on but getting him … He moved a little slow but he really reinforced and he hammered that in, “Get out. Don’t ever take one picture, you’ve got digital. Get down, get closer or get up. Try the same spot a different time of the day. Figure out.” Nothing else that reinforced that I should be grabbing a camera more often. I’m now convinced I … I’m starting down that slippery slope of “Oh I bet that next expensive lens would probably make me a better photographer.” I play guitar as well, acoustic guitar. I’m equally amateur at that but same sort of thing, I’ve moved passed realizing that no, a more expensive guitar is not going to make me a better player. It’s certainly not going to make me a better singer.
Jürgen: It makes it a pleasure to actually play probably because I know I’ve just bought … I’m a cyclist so I’ve just bought a really expensive bicycle. I’m still not any faster than I was before but it is a real pleasure to ride.
Tim: And there’s a little bit of cachet that comes with it, right?
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s right. We talked about photography and cycling and music, guitar playing, all kinds of stuff. Let’s look at the future then a little bit. You talked about the challenges in the industry, what do you see as the future for the industry? What kind of innovations do you see coming down the track that people can look out for or even take advantage of?
Tim: The one thing we know is the volume of data is not going to decrease. I’ve realized how poor of a futurist I am. I was an early, early, early nay sayer of the cloud and software as a service. I declared that Salesforce, salesforce.com would absolutely never work and certainly web analytics tools that were cloud based would never work and both of those I’ve been horrendously wrong. We’re actually for my podcast, we were recording yesterday and we were talking about the Internet of Things and wearables. Actually we were focused just on wearables, so my head’s still spinning a day later from that.
I think the volume and complexity of the data and the inner connectedness of it is just going to keep going up. We’re going to have more and more of an ability, as consumers get more comfortable with it, to actually recognize “Oh you’re interacting with the brand on your phone, now you’re interacting on my website, now you’re interacting with some TV, some other screen display.” That complexity I think is going to drive … It’s a little scary because from analysts it’s going to drive a need for much, much richer tools. I see analysts, you know the buzz word for the last three or four years has been data scientist and I know a few people that I truly consider data scientists. I know more people who label themselves data scientist who I don’t think are.
But there are tools out there, there’s this open source platform called R, which is kind of a programming scripting language designed just for data manipulation. With big data the world Hadoop and polling data in from different sources. There’s a ton of technology vendors trying to provide a way to get that data integrated and manageable in a way that it can be analyzed but I still see the race being, it’s going to have to be a “first” people getting more sophisticated with the tools they’re using. I don’t think the tool is going to solve the complexity. It’s hard to imagine where we’re going to be in ten years.
I sometimes joke that it may get so complicated that we just throw up our hands and just say let’s just go with our gut, go back to the madmen days and say “Let’s just make a pretty cat picture and try to sell our product with it.” Yeah, I don’t know. It’s exciting and I’m not sure I’ve got enough time left in my career that I’ll be struggling with it.
Jürgen: Yeah actually I listened to your podcast a couple of days ago on R and I guess you mentioned the Internet of Things, it got me thinking do you see a time where some of the data is actually collected by some tool and automatic adjustments made to whether it’s a website or a social media campaign or whatever it may be, based on what the data is telling you through some sort of programming thing and through the Internet of Things?
Tim: Yeah, I think that’s one of the promises of machine learning, is that if you can connect this stuff in where you’ve got the smarts … The funny thing is it still goes back to: you have to have what success … that has to be defined. It can be a successful customer experience, they could have a value mapping of the customer has to be successful, if they’re successful and I’m enabling them to be successful then I’m successful. Okay. Internet of Things, I’m going to have data coming from that person or from some product of mine that they own. What does success look like? Now I can go tell a machine this is what success looks like, so sit there and fiddle around with whatever levers can be pulled and learn from my body of customers which leads them to be the most successful. We’re talking on a website, we’re saying “I want them to complete a goal and convert, to purchase, to register, to view this content.” We start talking about the Internet of Things, I really want my customers to be successful with the watch that I sold them or the shampoo that they’re using or the razor that they’re using.
I was having a discussion again last night about the blending of product management and marketing, I think that’s coming and Internet of Things and data is going to play into that. I actually talked to a guy named James Lee Asencio a while back and he was commenting that with mobile apps a lot of times its product managers who are more in the driver seat than websites which maybe have more product marketers, maybe putting words in his mouth, or marketers, web marketers. He said product managers are a lot more inherently clear in their minds what they want the app to do. In a sense it can be easier to work with them, with the data whereas marketers sometimes can get kind of often “Oh we’re trying to drive awareness or consideration or provide an immersive brand experience.”
But I think Internet of Things can be bringing those together where it becomes that much blurrier between, they became aware of my products, they purchased the product, they’re using the product. It’s not discrete stages like that it’s kind of blended because I’m getting data about what they’re doing all along the way and have the opportunity to react and provide a better product, better service, better experience.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great. Great insights, thanks. Okay, well we’ve been going for quite a while so I really appreciate your time. I think we should move on to the Buzz which is our innovation round, which is designed to help our audience, and they’re primarily innovators and leaders in their field, to get some tips from your experience. I’m going to ask a series of five questions and hopefully you’ll give us some really insightful one line answers that are going to blow everybody away.
Tim: No pressure!
Jürgen: No pressure! First is, what’s the number one thing anyone needs to do to be more innovative in what they do?
Tim: I’d love to say be clear on their goals and objectives but I’m probably going to say be passionate about what they’re trying to do.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great advice. All right, what’s the best thing you’ve done to develop new ideas or products?
Tim: This starts definitely outside of analytics, it’s trying to really think through either in my personal experience or what I’m observing where there are challenges? Where are points of friction? Inefficiency drives me berserk so I’m kind of tactically oriented, but find a problem that it’s like nobody likes that, nobody enjoys doing that thing. How could I solve it? And I’d say I’m not very good at it and I’m blown away with the people out there, the Steve Jobs of the world who seem to have that wired into their nature.
Jürgen: Yeah. I don’t know whether it’s a talent or a mindset. I certainly love problems and solving problems and the challenges but not at that sort of level obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be here! What’s your favorite tool or system for either improving your own productivity or taking things away and allowing you to be more innovative?
Tim: I am right now on a list kick for a long time. On the productivity I am currently a Wunderlist user and have been for probably a year. I am a big, big fan, a list maker for productivity because then I don’t have to ever sift through my email if I have a to-do it goes on my list and I can sort it there. I am also a huge fan of Slack. The amount of email that has decreased for us internally, that’s my current new favorite communication platform.
Jürgen: Yeah Slack is fantastic isn’t it? We’ve adopted that now and it’s just eased my email burden quite a bit. I played with Wunderlist a little while ago but I’m not using it currently. As a list fan do you know Workflowy?
Jürgen: You should have a look at Workflowy, as list fan I think you’d love that too.
Tim: Yeah that bounced, I’ve got one client who uses Asana. Everybody kind of has their favorite. I used to work off of a notebook for a number of years, just writing a list in the notebook and I’d get the satisfaction of crossing an entire page and moving to a new page but my list, it never gets down to zero so digital works a little better than recopying lists.
Jürgen: All right, what’s the best way you know to keep a project or a client on track?
Tim: Defining the goals and objectives, defining the end-point, defining success and then communication. I am married to a project manager, she’s not actively doing that and getting a paid salary for it but she’s wired for it. I do it well enough that I think I’ve watched cases where if you don’t have a work breakdown, if you’re not clear on what needs to be done next and what the obstacles are, you’re going to look back in three months and say “Why aren’t we where we expected to be?”, but you also have to define where you’re trying to go.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great advice. Finally what’s the number one thing anyone can do to differentiate themselves either as an innovator or as an analyst or as a marketer in whatever space that you choose?
Tim: At the risk of using mild profanity on your podcast, is that okay? I’d say you have to give a hoot. You have to give a hoot, maybe I won’t go with … I think it’s the same thing to be more innovative, you’ve got to figure out what you’re passionate about and then just be passionate about it. I think that’s kind of held me in such good stead in my career that I’m doing something I absolutely love. I’ll happily talk to anyone about it at anytime because I think it’s so much fun. I think that comes through that even when I’m cranky and grumpy it’s because I actually care. From blog posts to doing podcasts to going to conferences, that’s been …
Some people will say “Oh you’ve really worked, developed this personal brand.” I’m like “No I just love this stuff.” It’s going to be every outlet. I think I look at the people that I admire and respect and that’s the same thing, they clearly are in the niche that they are passionate about.
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great advice. You make an interesting point there in terms of people talk about personal branding and being strategic about your personal brand and they give you how-to lists, speaking of lists, but as you say unless you’re passionate about it and you really do care about making a difference in that particular space then you can go through the process but it shows that you’re a little superficial.
Tim: And it winds up being work, like I’ve got to check this off the list because I have to do it because that’s what the personal branding guru said to do and god I dread it every … As opposed to saying “Wow I really want to tell people about this exciting thought I’ve had. I’m going to write a blog post.”
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great.
Tim: Life lessons.
Jürgen: Okay. Well this has been fabulous. Finally then, I guess what’s the number one piece of advice you’d give any business owner who wants to be a leader in their field, I think we’ve probably covered it there.
Tim: Yeah, I think that was it. I think the same … Yeah.
Jürgen: All right. Before we move on then, who else would like to see me interview on the InnovaBuzz podcast and why?
Tim: There are a lot of people!
Jürgen: We’ve got time!
Tim: You know there’s a guy, he’s over here in the States, he’s name is Josh Manion. He’s one of the more fascinating people. He started a digital analytics agency, consultancy. He then saw a problem, a need, and developed on the side a technology to solve that. He wound up then spinning that off. He now heads up that company, which is tag management system, a company called Ensighten. Along the way he’s a chess grand master and as he was spinning up the technology side, he was doing basically stunt marketing at conferences that was some of the most entertaining and memorable stuff. It all goes back to this, I look at him as a guy who, he is pleasant, nice, super sharp and super, super passionate about solving problems. So he is one guy.
Jürgen: That sounds exciting. Josh Manion look out, we’re coming to invite you onto the podcast courtesy of Tim Wilson.
Tim: I’ll give him a heads up.
Jürgen: Yeah, yeah it’s probably a good idea. All right, thank you very much for all the time you spent with us and all the insights you shared with us today Tim. Where can people reach out to you and say thank you for all that you shared?
Tim: Sure, on Twitter I am TGWilson. On email, this is where our company name’s a little bit of a mouthful but firstname.lastname@example.org or they can also, we talked about this, we’ve got a podcast that’s right about the same number of episodes as this one, the Digital Analytics Power Hour. The format of that is myself and two other guys, a guy named Michael Helbling and a guy named Jim Cain, kind of inspired by all three of us loving to go to conferences. Yes for the content during the sessions but Jim Stern is also a big time proponent of the lobby bar that some of the best stuff of conferences is the discussions that happen after, in the evenings in the lobby bar over a few drinks. That’s kind of the format of the podcast every two weeks. We take a digital analytics topic and we pour ourselves a drink and we hop on Skype and we tackle that analytics topic and really have fun doing it. Again I love talking to people.
Jürgen: That is a fun podcast. I can tell you have fun doing that one so I can definitely recommend that. We’ll post links to all of those things underneath the blog post when we publish it. Tim it’s been really great to have you on the podcast, thanks for sharing your time and your insights with us today. I’ve really enjoyed myself, I hope you have. I’ve learned quite a bit. There’s been some really valuable lessons there I think for everyone. Let’s keep in touch, I wish you all the best for the future and certainly in what you’re trying to do to elevate the profile of analytics and also the quality of what analysts do for the market place and for people using analytics. Thanks again.
Tim: Awesome. Thank you, it’s been a lot of fun. Thanks for having me on. Best of luck with you as well.
Jürgen: Thanks Tim.
That was certainly another fascinating interview and Tim share a lot of great information and insights! We had fun doing this interview, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did and take away some useful information.
All the show notes for this episode will be at innovabiz.com.au/timwilson, that is T-I-M-W-I-L-S-O-N, all lowercase, all one word, innovabiz.com.au/timwilson, for all of the links and everything we spoke about in this episode .
Tim suggested I interview Josh Manion, the founder of Ensighten. So, Josh keep an eye on your Inbox for an invitation from me, for the Innovabuzz Podcast, courtesy of Tim Wilson!
Thank you for listening to the InnovaBuzz podcast. We’d love you to review this podcast, because reviews help us get found and your feedback helps us improve. You can review us at iTunes or Stitcher and while you’re there, please subscribe so you’ll never miss a future episode.
Until next time, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz.
Remember, if you don’t innovate, you stagnate, so think big, be adventurous and keep innovating!