Waiting for Google

Waiting For Godot

This isn’t going to be a very exciting post unfortunately, though it was supposed to be. I visited the UK Google offices this week to have a chat about the future of Google Analytics, well Google Universal really. I was hoping for some help, some tricks and tips, perhaps a few sneak peeks at a roadmap with dates and maybe some contacts for people who were nearer to the holy grail of marketing attribution than we are, and could help us out.

First of all, I have to mention the offices (in the newly built Central Saint Giles). Though not a big fan of the buildings themselves, the interiors of the Google offices were fabulous (as you’d expect). The area I liked the most was the library – where the rest of the office is very lively, colourful and conducive to high-octane innovation (or whatever they do there 😉 ), the library was this wonderfully quiet, brown-carpeted and wood-panelled space, which felt like a great place to really get your head in to a problem without the distractions of email, Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, LinkedIn, Youtube, RSS feeds and everything else that stops us doing real work.

But, that aside, we were there to talk about the issues we have with Google Analytics (GA), for help with the endless problem of marketing attribution, and also to talk a bit about social media.

And they do have a lot of great stuff coming up in Google Universal (GU from here on). The vision is obvious in its simplicity – to break down the barriers that exist between silos of information whether online or not. So today, when we look at the attribution models that exist there are a lot of things missing in the model (a lot of these are straight from Avinash’s posts – who works for Google as well, particularly his post here):

  1. Offline activity before online activity that contribute to lead generation, including –
    1. Events and conferences,
    2. Word of Mouth,
    3. Print ads and direct mail,
    4. TV, radio, posters etc,
    5. (Potentially) product trials
  2. Offline activity after online activity, primarily sales that take place on the phone or by email (i.e. not through a browser tracked by Google),
  3. Activity happening on different devices (right now, GA doesn’t pick up that the customer who bought yesterday, actually did lots of research on his/her iPad just before purchase) – phones, tablets, home PCs vs work PCs, other browsers even.

One of the key things they’re trying to do as well, which was very interesting, was to move away from viewing Visits, Unique Visits or even Unique Visitors and instead to consider the Customer as the central key for the data. “Unique Visitors” is a proxy to this, but suffers from all of the problems mentioned above – if that individual customer browses sites on a mobile device, found out about you at a conference and eventually buys on the phone (with a brief visit to your site, somewhere in the middle), then you still don’t really know what happened, even if using Unique Visitors as your focus.

So this was all very interesting and all very exciting. But what I realised about half-way through the conversation, was that so much of what they’re offering is still very much in the future – hence the title of this post. There are many things that are theoretically possible, but I’m afraid they were a little short on real and useful implementations that we could take away and use. Two problems for which we didn’t get great answers were:

  1. Attribution of offline activity such as an event. I was really after some great best practice advice and to find out how others had fixed this problem. Instead it was mainly just some quite obvious suggestions (“Have you tried a specific redirect URL for customers at an event, such as www.red-gate.com/NYCEvent2013?”) which we already knew,
  2. Integration with CRM systems so that customer data could be pulled in to GU and used to segment better. E.g. if you could add in your own knowledge of your customers to GU – for example, what sector they were in – then this would be a great way to split out your attribution to suit your own business. You could display things like “Show me what marketing worked for the Insurance sector vs. Healthcare”. But again, this is a way off. In theory it can all be done right now, but there are no pre-existing add-ins for Salesforce, SugarCRM, Dynamics (all the standards) as yet. If you want to try it, you’ll have to have a crack at using the APIs yourself.

So my last question to them was basically “Can you give us a feed or channel through which we can find out when these things are going to be available?” – and this answer was actually useful. The best place is the training and thought-leadership events and conferences that they run about GU, as things will often get discussed at these events that aren’t firm yet, that aren’t quite ready for public consumption and so it’s a great place to hear the buzz. If I go to one of these sometime soon, I’ll report back if its useful!

So overall, a little disappointing, as I’m quite a practical person and wanted to come away with something I could implement the next day (as an aside – always a great rule of thumb for training/educational events – if people can leave your conference and implement something the next day, that’s a great success). I’m excited about what they’ve got coming, but I really want to see the worked examples, the pre-written integration packs, the services that seamlessly plug in and “just work” for measuring offline activity. When these come, I think we’ll really start to see the true power of something like Google Universal.

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