Digital analysts crunch numbers, sure. But, in order to crunch those numbers in a meaningful way, they have to truly understand how, when, and where the data gets captured in the first place. In this listener-requested episode, the guys are joined by Jeff Chasin from Adobe, who, fortuitously, has written recently on this very topic! It’s a power hour that comes in at just under 39 minutes!
The following is a straight-up machine translation. It has not been human-reviewed or human-corrected. We apologize on behalf of the machines for any text that winds up being incorrect, nonsensical, or offensive. We have asked the machine to do better, but it simply responds with, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
[00:00:26] Hello and welcome to the digital analytics power hour.
[00:00:29] This is Episode 7 how analysts can build out their technical skills. This episode is coming to us from some of our listeners to get a miller and Clevie both suggested this topic. After listening to some of our earlier podcasts and we really thank you guys for the feedback and the opportunity to respond to kind of your questions. We also have a guest tonight Jeff Chaisson. He’s a marketing cloud evangelist at Adobe. He’s been the digital analytics space as an analyst for many years. He spent time at IBM and other companies. I think he brings a great perspective in some of his recent writing is very much on point with this topic tonight. As always we’re also joined by my co host. We have Jim Kane master of the north in Ottawa. Hi. Great title. Thanks. You know trying to mix it up a little and of course Tim Wilson also a master of slightly less north than Columbus Ohio but though with a little bit of snow. There you go. And I’m like oh how big and I am not a master of North anymore. All right so let’s get into this. There’s a lot of things that a digital analyst can do to enhance their career and their skill set. And there comes a time when they really have to grapple with this concept. Do I need more technical skills like if I come from a more pure marketing or business background. How much development of my technical skills should I try to pursue. What’s the right level. What kinds of technical skills. How deep should I go.
[00:02:02] What’s the benefit to your career. So let’s dig into that. Tim why don’t you kick us off to start with this concept of you know what skills are should a marketing analyst or a digital analyst build and how competent should their technical skills get.
[00:02:19] I think they can never be can never be technical enough with the limitation that you don’t want to spend all your time just becoming more technical. But I kind of look back as we were sort of thinking and talking about doing this episode and look back over the last three months six months a year.
[00:04:11] It always kind of this one continuum from how the internet works to what is the report that I’m presenting that’s all just kind of bits and bytes flowing in different places and every time a light bulb goes on for a new thing I can tell that I’ve become a better analyst. So to me that’s it kind of runs runs the gamut. I can point to specific things that I’m still weak on and try to get better at and I can point to things that I’ve become pretty solid on. And to me when I run into an analyst that wants to just live in psych catalyst or discover or or Google Analytics and says I don’t need to know any of that other stuff I just want to crunch the data. They are kind of by definition limiting their ability to to be effective and productive.
[00:04:57] Now let we throw it to Jim to immediately say that’s wrong I’ll actually let Jeff go first before he goes I want to say Tim you’re wrong. They have.
[00:05:08] A big problem that I run into and I’ve been thinking about recently and I wrote about recently and are probably just more reading in the near future is that when you’re a web analyst it’s a lot different than other types of data analyst positions analyzing when data is different from analyzing data out of CRM systems sort of data out of Point of sale systems. It’s different than just about any other tech data from the standpoint that it’s dirty. So whatever web analytics tool of choice you prefer to use the two visualizations and excel or you have some sort of visualization tool x Hadlow or you’re sitting in front of our all day long and you’re doing more statistical type of analysis. My belief is that the more that you know about how when and where your source data was collected and the technical things that impact that data the more you know about that. I think the more effective you you have the potential to be more effective and to do better analysis.
[00:06:07] So for example think you’re avoiding pitfalls or because you’re being able to quickly get to what you’re looking for.
[00:06:14] I mean a little bit of both. I think you know there’s tons of pitfalls even analysts that are implementation specialists quote unquote that are just straight up business do business analysis and they present to marketers and executives purely from a business standpoint and not a technical standpoint if something’s totally jacked up across an entire Web site or across a site section or across a particular landing page from a technical perspective that impacts their analysis and they need to be aware of that because it can dramatically affect the quality of the data that they’re using in their reports and in their analysis. So if something is implemented incorrectly sampling is implemented twice on a page. There is a redesign for a site section saying how do you know you’re an e-commerce and you’re in a retail situation where some customers come to the store they’re adding things to the cart and maybe they bowwow out in certain product categories or there are two there’s a spike in the number of customers that come in to cart that don’t complete their purchase. So you have an increase in fall out and you try to investigate those patterns.
[00:07:22] Well I will I will say I do think in other others the CRM systems.
[00:07:26] I mean I’ve worked in IBM days the CRM especially in call center data is often an area. I think every analyst actually kind of assumes their data is cleaner than or their data is dirtier than than other other data. So I would I agree with everything you said except for the fact that the digital analysts are particularly unique. I mean I think it’s unique maybe in that we’re dealing with more dynamic systems and processes and that you know a new chat feature gets rolled on the Web site is a lot of times your transactional systems are a little bit more stable from a data capture. You know the classic cost center of somebody is thrown in a dropdown box because they want to figure out where did you hear about us. And shockingly the top item in the dropdown box is what gets reported for 80 percent of the customer records because the call center reps or are selecting or just getting past the field. I think that that goes to almost any kind of analyst it’s dealing with with volume data that’s being collected through processes that they can’t super super super tight control. There is a need to understand really where is that data coming from. And
[00:08:39] I run into just sort of as a some context what I run into very often commonly with people that are in marketing digital marketers merchandisers people are responsible for promotions and campaigns. And also with with analysts is just at a very basic level. You get on a conference call and you’re talking about a new initiative where you’re talking about some new tracking or a new piece of the website new content on the website that’s being added or new campaign or new product category. Something is changing or being added to the site. You want to add tracking right to do analysis. You want to make sure you’re collecting the right data. There are terms that are thrown around on these conference calls that if you asked 10 people after the call what was discussed. You’ll have 10 very very different versions and a lot of that is caused by I won’t say misuse. But you know a misunderstanding of some of the technical concepts. The other aspect that comes into play is that Web sites at large companies are becoming a lot more like a collection of Web applications. So implementing analytics and being a web analyst responsible working with data that comes out of Excite that’s mostly based on content like a media site a blog even if it’s a corporate blog versus an e-commerce site where you have a lot of Ajax running on the page and you have quick views and overlays and modals and you can do things with that content ejecting people or people are quitting their screens.
[00:10:00] Are doing the website. Is that what you think.
[00:10:03] I think scrubbing bubbles are important for a Web site so that extra scrubbing power. So yes that’s a great example. Right. Ajax is a term that gets thrown around just about every conference call grandma. People talk about synchronous code that loads are asynchronous code that load and there are a lot of people are on these calls that just stay silent because they don’t think they need to care how that impacts the data that they work with or how they think they don’t need to care because they sent to say something like Oh I’m not talking about I don’t have to worry about that we have people that the deal will. And maybe that’s true and that’s a great luxury to just deal with the business side. But I think it’s important for everybody that’s involved in promoting a Web site especially when you deal with a large company. You have a ton of money. You know you have six seven eight 10 figure sums of money they’re going into these projects. I think it’s important that people understand just some of the basics about what they’re dealing with and how that can impact their data and impact their campaigns and their investments.
[00:11:03] I would say it’s important though we need to have it that we need to call it the fun and confusion on those conference calls so that everyone actually understands those delays. That’s just something I say a lot or maybe I’ve read it on your blog posts. I could not agree more. I was actually on a call today where somebody used an acronym and I said hold on what are we talking about. I knew that three quarters of the people on the call had no idea what I did know what it was like I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’ll asked a stupid question and if I look stupid that’s fine but hey it turns out that that was somebody who was deep in the weeds was you know use and they’re using their internal terminology and it was kind of important that we understood what they were talking about because the other place that pops up a lot is when you’re dealing with a vendor and I’ll be the first one to put that.
[00:11:48] I know it’s the elephant in the room but when you’re you’re looking at a new piece of technology new system new tool very often you have sales people with a variety of levels of technical expertise or technical experience and terms get used. And everybody assumes that everyone knows what everyone else is saying specifically and a lot of times they don’t. And I think it just helpful for people that have a good grounding in some of the basic technical concepts.
[00:12:13] So I’m going to save my opening remarks and just mash them up with my closing remarks because we’re about halfway through.
[00:12:20] TIM WILSON With Me.
[00:13:39] So maybe there’s an interesting dividing line here that is as an analyst you shouldn’t try to become a developer programmer. But where is that fine line. How much time should you spend developing a skill set. Here’s the other thing that I’ll challenge a little bit Jim is I think we all agree to be a good analyst you’re going to need some data manipulation skills whether that be inside of Excel or a sequel database or Tablo and those kinds of things those skills or technical skills as well. They require logic. They require manipulating software and those kinds of things. So I would call those technical skills in terms of a website you know and how it operates. Yeah. Knowing how the the bread gets baked and making a digital loaf of bread. All right.
[00:14:26] It’s not working but you get what I’m saying though right. I think you’re actually getting to there’s sort of two.
[00:14:55] I mean I think I think the architect driving a bulldozer or you know hanging drywall is interesting way to look at it then maybe partly because I have a degree in architecture at the time I got pretty good doubt about learning about how the buildings really go together what the drywall attaches to the studs and the studs are you know 16 inches on center.
[00:15:18] And this is kind of how things go together.
[00:15:20] That’s kind of an interesting analogy. At the same time I’m not going to be the guy to come and float the drywall in your living room. It’s going to take me frickin forever. I can do it but wind up with a hole in your wall. It needs to be patched. I know what I need to get the right tools for the job and I can do it really slowly and really laboriously I know what needs to happen and I know I can kind of marvel when I watch a painter or a drywall guy come in and kind of blow through that. So I think I kind of like that analogy of how much does the architect need to actually kind of understand the piece and parts of how the building goes together relative to do they need to be the ones who can come in and frame a wall. And I’m not sure exactly where that’s going. The more the more that I can come in as an architect and talk to a carpenter talk to a concrete guy and really know what the steps they have to go through the more they’re going to be receptive to what I’m doing and the less likely I am to do something wacky that is just a royal pain in the ass for them when I could have made it easier on them to build the building.
[00:16:30] I’ll say this I would definitively say that I have never been sad to have a technical skill but I’ve often been sad not to have more technical skills as a digital analyst.
[00:16:42] Third there there’s my own little anecdote in helping before he before he headed to the Deep South was over at my office. This is my home office at the time but it has given me a product currently known as DTN and formerly known as satellite demo. And he was kind of bouncing around show how you could kind of grab stuff out of the Dom and I was I wasn’t quite keeping up and I was I don’t know what was that. A couple of years ago. Yeah two years over two years ago and I feel like now if you gave me that same demo I would totally be following along because I was really just getting a handle on time management and for lots lots and lots of reasons because that’s even helped me with optimizing me and helped me with other using other tools that are kind of that same sort of concept and I think that’s made me a better analyst but I don’t know Jim.
[00:17:36] Jim still thinking you know what I mean I like the fact that you picked out tag management as an example of one of those dividing line tools and measurement. Because when I look at a great Web analyst they cannot go into you know DTM or incitement or tillion or what have you and start writing scripts. They should not know how to do that but they should be able to clearly define what should be measured how it should be measured and manage the project between marketing itas a requirement solicitation for marketing and I.T. kind of service management in terms of getting things done and into production.
[00:18:06] That’s fantastic what it’s actually really simple technical thing and insight is a great example.
[00:18:12] I mean I’m I’m better and insight by far than I am and GTM or DTM but it is actually kind of cool if I’m not going to go and say Oh here’s this crazy we screwed up all we deployed and now we’ve got to kind of hack something to try to capture a piece of data but hey we just forgot to spec this thing and it would be fantastic if I could start capturing it right now.
[00:18:33] It’s great if I can go into insight and actually set that up and I say that because I have one kind of active that that’s where I’m at.
[00:18:39] When I’ve done that or the flip side of hey I’d really love to capture this is where I can’t do it. I’d really love to capture. I just got an error when I was submitting this form and realize we’re not tracking how often that error is occurring. And I know enough technically to know that I’ve actually gotten inspected the album and so now I can make the request to my technical guy and say this would be really useful because I suspect this is happening a lot. And I don’t know what’s causing it. Can you go into in this case and Siden and figure out a way to scrape Saddam and actually capture and throw this into an event. I don’t think I would’ve I would have known how to make the request in a way that the developer in this case would have quickly said yes I understand the request and I can now run with it. So that was kind of the handoff. I would have been fine I wouldn’t have been a bad thing if I as an analyst could say I need to capture this data. I went into the caf for four days worth of data in order to go in to the client so I actually went to my developer and said I have a meeting next Thursday. This was like like a Wednesday the week before. I was like if we can get this in in the next two or three days I’m confident I will have enough data to actually go to them and say you have a legitimate problem.
[00:19:54] And I look at other analysts that I’ve worked with that are trying to you’re not as hungry for the technical and they just would kind of say he can capture that and they sort of throw it over the wall and they wouldn’t know they wouldn’t be throwing it over with any sort of authority. I know this is something we can we can detect it was it was 10 minutes on my part to say I’ve inspected element and chrome a couple of times and I can write up a set of requirements that I am pretty confident the developer will say Yeah I get what we need. I don’t need to iterate three times three or four times. In answer to the question I know we’re trying to do. I can make that happen.
[00:20:32] When I look at the same process I mean what you just said was I’m an architect and the building is a little bit behind. So I said screw it give me a steamroller I’ll help. Is it convenient to know how to do that. Yes. In my opinion is that a big part of the reason why marketing departments and I.T. departments still don’t get along because there’s all kinds of people who know how to do a couple of technical things or are kind of getting in the mix. No I think it’s a process management a people management a program management issue not a I need to learn how to do everything and Jeff you really don’t lay I.T. and marketing don’t get along though.
[00:22:59] I’m take it as a good question. So I mean I will give you a percent answer the first one is that all of my analysts should know what happens when a page loads on one of their stakeholder websites whether it’s clicking on a button or whether it’s customer venting or what have you.
[00:23:12] So they know that because they said this is what should happen or they know that because they’ve gone and verified that’s what’s happening both. OK.
[00:23:18] But the second part of my SO again and that’s an example of of understanding how your food is grown a piece of that doesn’t work. They’re not going to be able to debug it. They’re going to be able to say this thing that should look like this does not. And now I’m going to export a ticket to the department that fixes things that are broken and be clear with them about this because one of the problems with analysts that don’t know technology is they just kind of fix it and flap their hands or. And I’m talking like a clear description of problem and requirement for resolution. So the other part of my answer is I cannot open up the view source and tell you anything about what was going on without measurement tools were deployed I couldn’t debug it.
[00:25:17] Sounds like we’re in an agreement on that. Yeah absolutely. If you’re an analyst and you are not you don’t have a to debugging process you’re not able to actually Q A the tagging you provided. That’s a problem. And there’s a lot of morbid debate of should you be able to go and look at the code and say This is why I think it’s wrong and that’s where you’re feeling like there’s two minutes.
[00:25:37] There’s an I.T. department. No. Wrap it up into a takeaway. You know so I’m an analyst. I want to develop my technical chops. We’ve now clearly defined that there’s something there. You have to understand all aspects of a digital analytics deployment like what they do.
[00:25:52] Well here’s the thing. I think we’re coming to a little bit of alignment on some level of technical understanding of how digital analytics transpires. We may have still some varying degrees of disagreement around sort of how deep an analyst should go or not go what I’d like to do is actually spend just a couple minutes getting some ideas for that analyst who wants to make sure that they’ve got the rounded corner on how do I add these things to my tools so that I can be that guy who understands how the sausage is being made. I may not be out there raising the sheep and then taking them to the butcher and all that but I want to get a better understanding. So where do we send those people what things should they do to get a little better.
[00:26:37] Although that back out there to the team let’s do around on that and then do a little wrap up I’ll I’ll I’ll hit it first quick because I think it is absolutely it’s people so I will I will rattle off these random names I’ll say.
[00:26:51] There’s a guy named Ernest Bueller lives in Austin and a guy named Ryan Rutan. There’s a guy name Kevin Weidner who I work with now there’s Josh Westhill work with now. To me the most I have I have seldom. There’s actually a guy named Alex Smith that I worked with at a resource so I can name the developers who I have gone to and said Help me understand how this works not because I want to do your job because I’ve realized that what I’m asking you to do. I don’t really understand when I’m asking you to do and that’s not from a from a writing code perspective. It’s I don’t actually understand the mechanics of a fairly recent example was actually getting Kevin Whitener who’s I mean he’s at winningest mystified to kind of pull up and say yeah this is kind of how you can this how you can manipulate the Dom just in your kind of local local environment. Here’s how you can kind of learn how to sort of kind of play around with these things so to me the number one thing is is figuring out who the very technical people are who are willing to spend some time and this isn’t like a four hour course. This is who can I periodically have them fire up a white fire the white board and how you do that. So I don’t think it is necessarily going and taking deep classes as just saying that the architect analogy which I’ll keep going back to and I’m not going to use all the time to really understand how that window keeps water from getting out.
[00:28:24] I don’t want to go and built a flashing but actually want to understand how the water how the window keeps water from getting out. Who can I ask who can can explain that to me. And that’s kind of my number one thing is is there a lots of developers out there who will happily spend time explaining this sort of thing to you.
[00:28:43] What about you Jeff. What kinds of tips are takeaways. What do you say to an analyst who’s looking to kind of develop a skill set to be more effective on the technical side.
[00:28:52] I think anybody that works on the web whether an analyst or a marketer merchandiser or whatever your whatever it says in your business card or your LinkedIn profile if you work on the web. We work with the Web every day. I think there’s a couple of really basic very helpful resources that I’ve used before. One is a web platform dot org. They have some docs there that its web platform dot org is the euro. It’s a work in progress but there are some really good general Web concepts and beginners guide material there for anybody regardless of your technical background or if you consider yourself completely non-technical it’s very approachable material starts at a very basic level or easy to read at one or two articles and take up very useful information. The other one is Mozilla dot org. It’s actually developer dot Mozilla dot org is where most of their documents are the Marsella developer network. Great to bookmark and if you hear something on a conference call you want to demystify some.
[00:29:50] Some fear uncertainty and doubt you want to clarify something the term Great to jump in there and look something up and just get a quick definition or a quick example to look at to make sure you understand what’s being discussed or where you’re going with the other one which I don’t hear very much in the analyst community I don’t hear about it too much conferences but I think there’s a book out landing page optimization by Tim Ash and I think the first four or five chapters of that book while there I wouldn’t really call them very technical probably the best grounding and introduction into basic digital marketing concepts that any analyst could could get really easy to read really approachable you could read it in a weekend. It covers a lot of the basic concepts that I run into people that there’s a lot of confusion. So those are my my three and then I would echo what Tim said. I think people are the best resource if you have a friend or developer you have a friend who is a little bit quote unquote more technical. Pam coffee take him to launch asking the questions.
[00:30:48] Nice. Thank you. All right so let’s do wrap this up and let’s put a bow on this. Where did we land then. What was the key takeaway for each of us. Let’s start let’s let’s start with maybe 10.
[00:31:02] No damn it. I’m starting Tim. So you know the things that I just heard an ignorant ignorant fucking slut sorry I don’t I don’t I don’t think we actually have the explicit qualifications so that was gratuitous explicit language. Carry on and carry my carry carry on finance are my Canadian sensibilities are very offended right now.
[00:33:05] I’ll dive in blather throughout this and I will try to be try to be brief. But the one I one take away is I’m maybe I’m just a wannabe wannabe developer who can’t quite quite get there because I still like it.
[00:33:20] I really enjoy when I get to dig in a few hours and get smarter on the technical and then I feel like I’m using that for years and years afterwards. I think the the the talking to people I made notes about some of Jeff the platform that Oregon developer. There’s a lot that work. I’m actually not one of those so I’m going to be checking both of those out. I have jumped into taking Coursera courses have not done anything on code academy but I’ve thought about it. There’s that take away. I do encourage people for a relatively brief post and I just gave it a try. Pretty sure here’s your longtail search of the day is are you a student of the game analytics. I think Jeff’s post which was very very concise and anytime you got a big nice nice and David Foster Wallace may he rest in peace. Quote you’re you’re in for for a winner. So it makes the case pretty well there. The one thing I do think we didn’t really talk about and I was realizing that Cleve young being one of the people who recommended this post there is a role and I think this role is growing in the analytics world of where you’ve got analysts who are doing analysis and then you have analysts who are kind of implementation specialists or operational implementation people.
[00:34:39] And even in the show prep for this Jim my erstwhile nemesis I think even referred to a role that is kind of bridging between a missing role in most I.T. marketing or charge around technical operations that if you’re in an organization where you have the luxury of having someone who is in that role that is fantastic. There is a huge what job opportunities come up that are people who are or companies looking for Adobe and implementation type type people and those are people who specifically can kind of bridge between I.T. and I would say more often than not the analyst in our organization. But if you’ve got one of those people and I’m lucky to have a couple of clients that have people who do that they’re also a fantastic resource because they really are. They’re responsible not for doing analysis prefer making sure that data is coming in and understanding the mechanics of how that is flowing. And I will still bet on I think the analyst need to be understanding that as much as they possibly can understanding the architecture of it. So I have seven takeaways for me from this discussion.
[00:35:45] So I think for me a couple of takeaways. One is if we were in different careers I would be a chef and Tim would be a carpenter and our analogy usage this evening. You know throwing away back 2004 2005 Eric Peterson and his presentations and speakings would throw up a slide that had this hybrid analyst and it was this dual capability person who had both technical as well as analytical skills. So you know even that long ago kind of this debate where this concept was kind of I was there. I’ve come to kind of see analysts exist on a spectrum towards sort of a more functional or marketing analyst or technical but I’ve never ever encouraged people to steer away from the technical. I’ve never explicitly told people hey spend time becoming more technical if you’re an analyst. You’ll never regret having more technical skills. And there’s a balancing act and I think we talked about that a little bit too. I like that as well it’s sort of don’t develop your technical skills to the disadvantage of your other analyst skills being technical and being an analyst. I think the two things that go very well together in my experience. All right well what an interesting show. Good topic for us to discuss. Thanks again to Kleeb young Andrew Miller for giving us the idea behind that and asking those questions about it. Very special thank you to Jeff. Thank you for being on in kind of giving us your point of view I think it’s timely and we’re really glad to have you.
[00:37:17] Can I throw in that that I know that when this when this actually goes live that Mr. Cain and I will both be sitting at the bar adding metrics imbibing a and doing some unrecorded podcasts work. So for anyone who’s listening who has you know Preedy metrics keynote on on March 30 first is listening to the podcast please do seek us out. Let us know what you think and tell us. Tell us where Jim is completely wrong. We would love to hear from them.
[00:37:48] All right well that wraps our show. So we’d love to hear from you. What’s great about this podcast for us is the opportunity we get to interact with people in the digital analytics community. So if you have a question or you have a topic or something you want us to talk about please drop us a line via our Facebook which is Facebook dot com slash analytics our you can also hit us up on Twitter.
[00:38:13] At this hour. Thanks again for Jeff jam. I’m Michael Holmes. Thanks for listening.
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[00:38:38] Smart guys want to fit in. They made up a term called analytic analytics don’t work.