Ten Minutes With…….. Jason Burby, ZAAZ

DSC09671 smallThere is perhaps no other person in our young Web Analytics industry who is quite as prolific as Jason Burby. Maybe Mr. Sterne, but thats about it. Jason is the Director of Web Analytics / Optimization at ZAAZ.

In his role at ZAAZ he leads the team that does cutting edge analytics and consulting for some of the biggest companies in the US, he also speaks at many conferences (in the US and abroad), he hosts seminars, he writes columns (example: ClickZ), he is the co-Chair of the WAA Standards committee and a bunch more things.

I had the opportunity recently to spend a day with the whole team at ZAAZ and I left very impressed with the people, attitudes and their unique approach to the Web overall. If you are in Seattle you should bop in, if only to see the delightful ZAAZ office space.

In this interview Jason shares his perspectives on :

  • what makes ZAAZ unique
  • when should you hire a consultant
  • what questions you should ask prior to a consulting engagement
  • should we have standard metrics in all tools
  • what skills do great Web Analysts have
  • and there is more……

1. How do you make yourself indispensable to a company?

    The way someone makes themselves indispensable to a company is to help them improve the overall business in a way that hasn’t been considered before. This can be done by helping people see new opportunities or helping people focus on the right initiatives. It is rarely about performing a specific task, but more about changing the way business is conducted and helping people look at the business differently.

    For an example, to be successful in web analytics you shouldn’t focus all your time on the tools and data. But rather you should understand the overall issues the company is facing and find a way for analytics to help address those problems.

2. What are some examples of activities and surroundings that motivate you?

    Being able to help solve business problems motivates me. Most often by determining ways in which the web can help improve a business overall. In working with numerous different companies, we get a chance to see many different moving parts, many common problems occurring over and over again and often provide unique answers to each situation.

    In addition, I am motivated by teaching others how to leverage web data to improve business – really closing the gap between “data” and overall business strategy. Helping people understand the ways to leverage data and turn it into recommendations.

    Through the ClickZ Analytics columns I have been writing for the past three years, conference speaking opportunities, growing the analytics team at ZAAZ as well as building analytics and optimization teams for our clients I am lucky enough to have many opportunities to share my passion.

3. (From our regular reader Jen) What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?

    It was a daily struggle between a fireman and joining the “A-Team”. Then I found out the A-Team wasn’t real and didn’t really travel the country in a black van helping people, I knew I needed to reset my vision.

    I was always good with numbers and had a heavy interest in how businesses worked. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration with a focus on Business Economics from the University of Washington. I believe the Economics background has a significant impact on the way I look at business problems and leverage web analytics data.

    The A-Team sure would be a lot more exciting than being in the Web Analytics space!

4. What did you really love about your last job?

    I am going to turn this around and focus on what I love about my current job. Leading the ZAAZ Analytics & Optimization teams, I get to work with some of the smartest people in the web industry as well as some of the top notch clients and brands. Being able to work with so many companies such as Microsoft, Ford, eTrade, Converse, eBay, etc brings constant new challenges daily.

    I get the most satisfaction when our team helps uncover insight into customer behavior, turns it into a recommendation that ultimately has a significant impact on our clients business. Helping clients move from masses of data to actually making changes that directly impact the business is the challenging part, as well as the most rewarding.

5. What differentiates the ZAAZ web analytics consulting engagement from those with other companies offering web analytics consulting services?

    There are a few different types of web analytics consulting engagements that often get lumped together. First there are the ones from the tool providers that help get the tools installed, up, and running. The experts from the tool providers help set up the environment, get tags placed etc. I believe it makes sense to work with these groups on getting the tool up and going, we work with many of the pro-services groups from Omniture, WebSideStory and WebTrends to get the tool installed. Some of the tool providers also offer more strategic consulting on a one-time basis to help their clients. In most cases it is pretty easy to see that the strategic business consulting is not a core competency of the tool providers, but the demand is there so they need to offer it.

    Then there are groups like ZAAZ that focus less on the tool and more on using the data. In this group, I think one of the reasons we have been as successful as we have been is because our DNA is web strategy and site performance. We are an interactive agency that understands where and how analytics can fit in best to the entire process. I don’t think we would be nearly as strong if we only offered analytics consulting. To reap the rewards of analytics the issue of integration of other data sources, overall business plan and other teams must be leveraged.

    ZAAZ has been providing customer insight for our clients through behavioral, attitudinal and competitive sources since 2000, so we have a tremendous amount of experience working with medium and very large organizations with complex business issues. This means we are armed with a tremendous amount of experience and have learned through doing and can bring that knowledge to our clients. We started by providing the type of analysis we do today for our internal teams only. So when we were redesigning a site for Microsoft or Converse, we would leverage the insight to improve the new site. About four years ago, we started offering the analytics services outside of site redesigns.

    That was a long winded way to answer the question. I think the reason we have had success rests on the following three:

    • Hiring the best people
    • Getting to work with some of the best brands in the world (many, many engagements) Business Strategy and improving web sites is our DNA (not analytics)
    • We don’t look at analytics as the be all, end all – we simply see it as a point of insight that can be leverage along with many other things to help our clients improve their business.

6. Since you are a veteran of many of these :), when is the best time for a company to bring on-board a Web Analytics consultant?

    It depends, so many companies have invested heavily in some of the tools on the market and just aren’t getting much of a return on the investment. I want to be clear this isn’t because the tools aren’t good. The top tier tools can provide nearly every data point you could ever want. Where people are failing is in interpreting the data, focusing on the right things and putting the insight to work to improve the business.

    We are often called in to help companies select new tools or when there is a tool in place and they aren’t getting anywhere with the data.

    The right time is before people within the organization have given up on the idea of analytics being able to change their business. But really the right time is anytime people want to get serious about understanding customers and focusing on improving site performance.

7. When is the worst time to bring on-board a web analytics consultant (if there is such a thing)?

    A year from now… For medium and large organizations there are so many opportunities to improve your business. Spinning your wheels with a steep learning curve for the next 12 months is a shame when you could be taking advantage of the opportunities right away.

8. Continuing the above thread, what should a client look for before signing a web analytics consulting engagement? In your experience are there any non obvious questions we could benefit from before we send money out of the door?

    I would focus on the following:

    • Understand their philosophy – is it all about analytics or can they help you change the way you look at the web channel. (look for the latter). 
    • Diverse Team – A larger team with diverse experience can more than likely help solve the complex problems. 
    • Are they talking about only analytics or analytics as a mean to an end?
    • Experience with companies similar to the size of your company (ask for a client list)
    • Ask the question how is the engagement going to help the business overall?
    • Make sure they are considering customer experience, touch points outside of the web channel.
    • Are the people you are working with fundamentally data heads or business people that know how to leverage data to solve problems?

9. Before you say yes to a client what might be some things you look for in that client? Do you say no to any engagements (assuming money is not the issue)?

    Yes, there are engagements we do not accept. Primary we are looking for clients that are passionate about their web brands and are looking to move their organization to the next level. We enjoy working with clients that are willing to change for the better and move fast towards proven solutions that make sense.

10. You work with so many web analytics tools Jason, what do you think of the idea of standardizing measurement of key metrics based on WAA or IAB definitions across all vendors? Would it make your/our lives easier? Is it feasible? [Full Disclosure: I am quite passionate about this! :)]

    Yes I think it does make sense. I have to say as the co-Chair of the WAA Metrics committee, I am probably somewhat biased. But I do think it makes sense to get standards in place so it is easier for people to learn and understand web analytics.

    We need to pull in more business users and the people that can put the data to work, but right now it is often seen as to complicated. Standards could help that. Again – web analytics isn’t really about the tools or specific names of features.

    Having said that I think it is going to be difficult to get all the tool providers to use consistent terms in the tools, as they want to name things different in an attempt to differentiate technologies (a conversion funnel in WebTrends is different than a conversion funnel in Omniture).

    But we need to push for standards. If you are interested in participating in this effort and are a WAA member, shoot me an email, jasonb at zaaz dot com, and I will add you to the invite for our meetings every other week. If you aren’t a WAA member – you should be (if you are reading Avinash’s blog on a regular basis). [AK: I second that, please click here for WAA membership.]

11. Distilling the measurement of success to a critical few is one of the hardest thing to do. ZAAZ.com is a very complex site, in that it exists for many different purposes. What are the critical few metrics that you use to measure success of zaaz.com?

    Actually our site is fairly basic; we look at it with two primary goals in mind: 

    • Recruiting and selling ZAAZ to potential job candidates. (We have two measurements of success for this goal)
    • Generating interest for new business, encouraging people to start dialog with us in one of a number of ways. (We have three measurements of success for this goal)

12. Ok a tough one: What is the coolest metric that you (or Zaaz) have every created for any client in all engagements? :)

    That is a tough one. I actually don’t really think of the metrics that we create as cool. In fact they almost shouldn’t be cool, they should be basic, easy to understand and tie to the clients overall business goals.

    But some of the ones that are fun are when you combine multiple metrics in a way that allows you to benchmark similar sites or projects to get a comparable measure across multiple sites. I look to tie as many of the metrics as I can to actual dollars when appropriate.

13. Since you actually also lead a Web Analytics team what are some of the critical skills that you look for in the analysts that you hire?

    It depends on which role we are looking to fill. For our Sr. Analytics Manager positions, we look for people that have a solid balance of business/web strategy with a solid understanding of data.

    When we started to build the team a number of years ago I made the mistake of hiring a few people that were two data heavy (without as good of a handle on the business side) and the exact opposite mistake of hiring people with great web strategy backgrounds that didn’t really know data.

    We now know how to identify and determine the correct balance for someone that will be successful in the role. The most important skill they must have is the ability to turn their analysis (of the data and business situation) into specific recommendations that will impact our clients business. If they can’t bridge the gap between situation/data and recommendations they aren’t the ideal candidate.

    Having said that we have a strong group of people with very diverse backgrounds and experience, but they all have the core drive to want to improve businesses and make an impact.

14. What is the one thing about the future of web analytics that none of us know, but you do?

    That’s a tough one… I guess I would say that the real upside isn’t in Web analytics. Again, Web Analytics is simply a means to an end. The push should be using insight (behavior, attitudinal and competitive) combined with a solid understanding of the business to improve performance online and offline. Web Analytics on its own without leveraging other points of insight and without a plan for ongoing optimization is somewhat pointless.

    So… what will the future bring? More companies combining web analytics data with other data. In addition, more companies will begin treating the web channel as a truly dynamic medium with constant tuning and personalization of experiences to maximize performance. Web analytics can be the cornerstone of a lot of this insight, but can’t do it on its own.

Please share your feedback via comments. Did you have a favorite answer? Is there a question I should have asked but you think I did not? How can I improve future interviews?

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Comments

  1. 1
    Sevn says:

    Good interview avinash. Very helpful answers from Jason and I will read his clickZ articles now as well. All the questions after #6 were very interesting and provide good insight. Thank you.

  2. 2
    Bram says:

    Hi Avinash,

    Liked the interview. Especially what Jason said about Web analytics only being a means to an end. Web analytics is getting so hot all of a sudden that we sometimes forget that our clients are not interested in fancy KPI dashboards but in doing more business on and offline. Using web analytics to integrate on and offline channels is where the real challenge lies.

  3. 3
    Tim says:

    Thanks, Avinash – a really useful interview. The recurring line of thought running through Jason's answers, namely that web analytics is only a means, not an end in itself, is key. You can accrue all the data imaginable about what a customer does online, but unless that allows a business to take appropriate action, helping, as Jason says, to 'determin(e) ways in which the web can actually help the business' then it's pretty much hot air. I think you addressed this in your 'Overview and Importance of Qualitative Metrics'

    The company I work for, (cScape), has recently conducted an online survey, alongside E-consultancy, that broaches this issue, i.e. the manner in which businesses are using Web Analytics. Despite the enthusiasm:

    '60% of companies are either not very advanced at mapping customer experience and identifying touch-points (36%), or admit they have to start looking at this because they are not doing it yet (24%).'

    The problem is not simply technical. You also need to know what you’re looking for. If web analytics is the means, the end should be improving customer engagement, in other words, developing and nurturing the relationship a customer has with the business in question. That way, the web, especially in this brave new world of UGC, really can benefit a business.

    Shameless plug and all that, but if you're interested, you can find the survey report at: http://www.e-consultancy.com/publications/customer-engagement-report/

    As for my favourite answer, it has to be 'I actually don't really think of any of the metrics we create as cool.' That's a cool answer.

  4. 4
    Ravi says:

    Avinash,

    This is great interview !

    It might have been helpful if Jason had shed greater lights on Monetization model :)

    Thanks for bringing this up !
    Ravi

  5. 5
    Sean McVey says:

    It's cool to see two experts having a conversation like this. The most eye-opening part of this was when Jason said metrics don't need to be 'cool.' They need to be simple and easy to understand. It makes perfect sense because the people you are convincing to make decisions need to fully understand what they are looking at. Thanks for the interview Avinash.

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