A Conversation with Optizent’s Anil Batra about Experimentation
While many companies claim to be “data-driven” when decisions have to be made, not all of them leverage the power of analytics, research, and Experimentation — and even fewer see those functions as business-critical. I recently spoke to Anil about his research into why some companies walk the walk, the brief history of digital analytics, and where digital analytics is heading next.
Rommil: For the benefit of our readers, could you tell us what you do and a bit about how you got to where you are today?
Anil: I am Managing Partner at Optizent, a Digital Analytics Consulting and Training Company. I have a degree in Electronics Engineering from India and MBA from the University of Washington. I started my career in databases and reporting. In the early days of websites and online business, I became curious about how websites were developed and what kind of data was collected by them. My first “Web Analytics” (the term was not even used back then) application was developed by importing web server logs into a SQL database for a company called Carewise, in the healthcare space. That’s how I got started. Then I worked for digiMine, one of the first Web Analytics companies, before Omniture (now Adobe Analytics) and Google Analytics existed. The company later rebranded to Audience Science before shutting down after 15 or so years. It was one of the first companies in the field of Behavioural Targeting. The field was so new that I wrote back then, on my blog, that Google will get into it, which later they did and now Behavioural Targeting is everywhere (see my old post from 2006). Seeing the power of online data and how it can help organizations really intrigued me. Since then I have worked for a few agencies leading their digital marketing and analytics teams. Co-founded an agency several years ago that was sold to another agency. Now I am involved in Optizent, with a big focus on training and education.
Could you tell us more about Optizent?
We help marketers make data-informed decisions. It is a very broad statement and we cover a broad range of services including, defining data and analytics strategy, picking the right data collection and automation tools, setting up the tools, connecting data sources and tools, data analysis, A/B testing and Personalization. We also have a big focus on training internal (client’s) teams on how to use various tools and use data to develop better customer experience and improve marketing. We conduct onsite workshops which are customized for the organization and the team that we are training. Another part of Optizent is Optizent Academy, which delivers online training and trains individuals to become a Digital and Web Analyst. For your readers, I am going to give a coupon to try out the Optizent Academy Insider Membership. They can just use coupon code EXPNATION for 50% off.
How is it different from other agencies?
While many agencies are focused on a few tools or platforms, we understand that one tool or platform does not fit all. We first focus on the business, outcomes business desire, and then figure out the toolset that will be required and the resources that will be best suited. We don’t assign one or two people who are expected to know every marketing tool, we assign the experts in that particular tool. Our model is very flexible so we don’t tie clients in big retainers, we quickly scale up and down as needed. And, as I said above, training and developing a data-driven mindset in our client’s organization is one of our core areas of focus.
You’ve recently worked on a presentation for the Marketing Analytics Summit called, “Developing a Culture of Experimentation”. Can you tell us a bit about that — and why you felt it was important to shed light on that topic?
I wanted to understand how some companies are data-driven while others are not. I come across and work with all sorts of folks, some are frustrated in their current environment because nobody in their organization pays attention to what the data is telling and what experiments could reveal and then there are others who are enjoying the journey of using data to make data-informed business decisions, they are conducting deeper data analysis and hundreds of experiments in a month/year. So I decided to dig deeper and find out how experimentation cultures are developed in various organizations so that those who are frustrated with their current situation can figure out what to do next.
As you interviewed folks in the industry, was there anything that stood out to or surprised you?
I won’t say there were any big surprises. There was a consistent theme on what kind of organizations have deep experimentation culture and what it takes to develop one. Having said that, there was one organization which I found to be very different from the others that I talked to. Data, Analytics and Experimentation are built into this company’s DNA. From the day the company was built, they have been running online experiments. No product feature or marketing goes in front of the users without a proper test plan. So in a way that was surprising because they were the only ones who had this kind of culture. However, a lot of startups are now built on data and a culture of experimentation is part of their business. These organizations know that without data and experimentation they would be dead.
I hear you. I’ve worked at a good handful of startups and only one of them Experimented out of the gate. They were led by ex-Googlers and 2nd-time founders, so maybe that had something to do with it.
For those interested, how can they learn more about your presentation or see you present?
This specific presentation is available for download at https://academy.optizent.com/f/developing-a-culture-of-experimentation. I don’t have the recording of the session but when it becomes available, I will notify everybody who has downloaded this file as well as my LinkedIn network. As for my future presentations, I will post messages on my LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as on my blog, http://www.anilbatra.com.
Changing gears. you were a board member for the Digital Analytics Association (DAA). What are some of the most notable changes in the industry that you’ve witnessed over the last 10 years?
I was on the board of DAA in 2008 -2010, I didn’t seek reelection after my term was over as my son was born back then and the family needed my time. I continue to be involved with DAA though since then. Now, I am actively involved in the area of education. I teach several DAA classes including Digital Analytics Essentials series.
Actually, I was on the DAA board when it was called the Web Analytics Association (WAA). During that time we made the decision to change the name to DAA to reflect the growing channels in the “Web” ecosystem. The change from Web to Digital was one of those big changes that happened about 10 years ago.
Wow, that brings me way back.
Google Analytics, which was a very basic tool at that time, has come a long way and can do a lot more in terms of bringing different data sources together and providing a complete picture of marketing across channels, including offline. Both Adobe and Google have developed platforms that connect various tools that were all disconnected before, there are still some gaps but these platforms are becoming better day by day. This allows marketers to collect data about customers (customers’ behaviours, customer touchpoints, marketing channels, 3rd party data, qualitative data etc. ), reports on it and take action on it to improve marketing, provide personalized customer experience and drive conversions.
Another big thing that has happened in recent years is the blurring lines between marketing and technology. Marketers now have to know how marketing technology works, how data is collected and organized and how to extract it to use for marketing. That is one of the things that we focus at Optizent Academy, teaching marketing technology and data so that non-technical folks can understand and use it effectively.
It’s time for the Lightning Round!
What is your favourite analytics solution or platform?
I am tool agnostic. Every situation and business outcome desires a different tool so whatever tool is the best and provides the biggest bang for the buck becomes my favourite tool in that situation.
I somehow expected you would say that. Spoken like a true data-driven professional.
Vanity metrics. A thing of the past, or alive and well?
Alive and Well. It has a place and will always have it.
Describe Anil in 5 words or less.
Always Experimenting, Learning and Teaching!
Anil, thank you for joining the conversation!
Thank you, Rommil!
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