John Squire of CoremetricsJohn Squire, Chief Strategy Officer at web analytics vendor Coremetrics, has a wealth of knowledge about the web analytics industry and he shared some insights with Econsultancy about the company’s strategy and proposition on a recent trip to London.

One of the areas I was keen to discuss was the growth of free analytics tools and the threat that this posed for established vendors such as Omniture, WebTrends and Coremetrics. 

According to research for the Online Measurement and Strategy Report,  80% of companies are now using Google Analytics compared to 66% last year, although many of these companies are also using paid-for tools. 

I asked whether established vendors such as his own company needed to differentiate by focusing more on services, as free web analytics technology gets better and steals market share. 

Although he said that Coremetrics is committed to support and implementation with “dedicated implementation engineers and a strategic services team” (and this claim is backed up by a recent Q3 2009  Forrester Wave report which scores his company very highly for Customer Satisfaction and Strategy), he stressed that Coremetrics was first and foremost a technology company rather than a strategic consultancy.    

According to Squire, Coremetrics is differentiating its technology by focusing on individual customer data in a multichannel environment. They look at “complete historical online behavior and brand interactions on websites, across multiple ad networks and via email, video, affiliate sites, social media, and more”.

In marketing speak, he is referring to the company’s Continuous Optimisation Platform which is fuelled by Coremetrics’ Lifetime Individual Visitor Experience (LIVE) Profile.

This focus on website visitors as individuals makes sense for web analytics vendors because a significant limitation of Google Analytics is the inability to tie up analytics with data at an individual customer level. Google faces a challenge on this front because it already has to contend with criticism that it has too much data, and this is a problem that worries businesses as well as consumers.

According to Squire:

 “We help our customers view their online visitors as people, not just clicks in a session, and that’s a big distinction from how other solutions see the world. As customer history grows, the data set of the LIVE Profile becomes richer, creating a clearer picture of each customer. This in turn makes the offers, content and personalised interaction with that customer more effective and more likely to drive conversion and build customer loyalty.  

“Businesses can also augment this data with offline information from point-of-sales, catalogues and call centres, and even attitudinal research, to better understand their target audience and allocate their marketing budget.”

Another way that Coremetrics is seeking to differentiate itself is through a benchmarking service, by using data from customers across key strategic sectors including retail, financial services and entertainment / media.  

Squire said: “As all our clients use the same, standard tagging system, we are the only enterprise vendor capable of offering anonymous, industry-specific benchmarking. This provides them with business intelligence around their KPI performance versus their peer group and industry. Coremetrics Benchmark is a standard element of our service.”  

It is interesting to compare the way that Coremetrics has evolved with its larger competitor Omniture, a company which has made a string of acquisitions in contrast to Coremetrics’ more organic growth. Asked about this approach, Squire explained: 

“From a technical perspective, we are perfectly positioned to grow organically as all our tools are built around our LIVE Profile offering. We have the R&D expertise, funding and technical know how in-house to develop proprietary, market-leading technologies that really draw on the strength and potential inherent in our LIVE Profile offering. Acquiring companies and going through the exhausting process of reworking an acquired technology so it can hook into our system – or any system, for that matter – could impact the seamless experience that we currently offer customers.  

“Is it easier for customers to work with a vendor whose technology is developed in-house with an eye toward simplified tagging, or with a vendor who has grown through the acquisition of disparate technologies, disparate optimisation models, disjointed data models and their disparate tagging schema?”

Squire believes that his company’s approach to tagging is another aspect of its proposition which distinguishes it from competitors:

“Other vendors go through the painful, time-consuming process of defining every tag on every page with their clients – both attribute tags, such as product, price and size, and customer event tags, such as adding an item to a basket or going to the check out. This adds significant time onto the implementation period, puts demands on marketers’ schedules and clearly delays results. 

“At Coremetrics, our many years’ experience of working with brands means that we have been able to develop industry-specific, pre-defined tags to capture visitor behaviour data. Clients do not have to pre-define segments, visitor events, campaigns, or categories for analysis. 

“Our SmartTags also dynamically accommodate all content changes to a site so adding a new page, new product, or new category typically requires no tag maintenance. In fact, even a complete redesign of a web site’s content rarely requires new tagging. 

“The entire tagging process is handled through flexible, backend business logic instead of logic that is hard-coded into the site instrumentation. This approach results in reduced IT maintenance, maximum analytical flexibility and a faster impact on top line results.” 

Here is the rest of the interview in full: 

Can you explain a bit more about how clients are able to benefit from the attribution models you are able to build (and how you build these models)?

“Assigning an accurate value to the first click, last click and every click in between across every element of a multi-channel campaign has always been one of the biggest headaches in marketing. But our sophisticated applications not only make this analysis possible, they’ve effectively upped the ante for all marketers. Put another way, if you’re not using attribution models to determine what’s working, what needs adjusting and where you should or should not invest your resources, then you’re putting your company (and your job) at risk. 

“We offer qualified attribution windows, which range from the same day to 90 days, and can create customised conversion or purchase windows for clients. These provide clients with a 360-degree view of how all their marketing channels interact, enabling them to allocate their online marketing budget more effectively than ever before and to optimise campaigns.  

“Our experience means that we are able to provide consultation to clients – based either on sector best practice or by analysing individual data – if they are uncertain as to the most appropriate attribution windows for their business.”

Which types of company are getting the most out of your technology?   

“We work with over 1900 brands globally, including leaders in the retail, financial services, travel, media and business-to-business sectors. In the UK, our clients include Alliance and Leicester, Boots, Boden, Toys R Us and Virgin Holidays. 

“We’re also seeing take-up from companies who want to measure the effectiveness of social media, particularly in the travel sector, and those that are exploring mobile as a marketing channel.” 

What kind of agencies are your clients using to help them get the most out of their web analytics?  

“Typically, we work directly with the brand to analyse their campaigns, although our data is fed back to their agencies. In some cases, we work with search engine marketing agencies to attribute value to keywords. 

“Our clients work with a wide variety of agencies that manage their online marketing campaigns. We continually see that our most successful clients work with agencies that have a keen focus on data and have invested in a quantitative approach to online marketing.” 

Do you see web analytics consultancy as a growth area for digital agencies? 

“A number of full service agencies pitch themselves as offering analytics already, but this is often a diluted, bolt-on service to their core proposition. Those agencies that really invest in building out a data driven practice will certainly see increasing benefits for their clients. 

“The challenge in this market is that there is a real shortage of skilled web analytics practitioners. There is certainly an opportunity for agencies looking to add these services to partner with specialists, like Coremetrics, that offer pedigree, deep expertise and proven technologies in this area.”

What are your views on multivariate testing and is this part of the Coremetrics proposition? 

“As visitor behaviour changes, it is important to track visitor response to different content variations in order to identify the most effective creative. Coremetrics partners with best of breed providers, such as Maxymiser and Autonomy, to allow businesses to test the performance of different online content to help businesses keep in step with changing customer needs. 

“Personalisation is also key and marketers should take a balanced approach to engage effectively with profitable customer segments through tailored targeting.  

“Truth is that we see most customers today using A/B/C/D tests on their sites. On very special occasions, they run multi-variate testing (MVT) for unique strategic activities. It’s not that marketers don’t want to do more MVT, it’s just that they don’t have the internal resources to design the tests, the creative resources to build the multiple iterations, the analytical bandwidth to analyse the results and to do this constantly in the course of business. From our perspective, we are seeing purpose oriented or functional A/B testing against a control taking hold as a business practice at a much, much faster rate than MVT.” 

To learn more about the web analytics industry, download the Econsultancy / Lynchpin Online Measurement and Strategy Report