Crawl, Walk, Run: Michael Loban and Alex Yastrebenetsky

Marketing isn’t what it was in the 80s and 90s. With advances in digital marketing comes the need for analytics. Companies will need not only a platform to help them run analytics but a roadmap for how to do it all. This is especially true because honestly, marketing isn’t even what it was last month. The digital marketing landscape is changing constantly, and it can be a challenge to keep up. Fortunately, Alex Yastrebenetsky and Michael Loban can help.

They have just published the second edition of their book, Crawl, Walk, Run: Advancing Analytics Maturity with Google Marketing Platform. On Author Hour today, they discuss how the latest Google platform will improve your bottom line, how to keep up with new privacy laws, and their framework for helping any company tackle what can otherwise be an overwhelming endeavor.

Jane Borden: Hi Author Hour listeners, I’m here today with Alex Yastrebenetsky and Michael Loban, authors of Crawl, Walk, Run: Advancing Analytics Maturity with Google Marketing Platform. Thank you so much for being with us today, Alex and Michael.

Michael Loban: Absolutely, it’s a pleasure.

Jane Borden: This is the second edition of this book, things change quickly in your industry. I do want to get into what’s new in this edition but first, can you tell our listeners a little bit about what you do and the goals of this book?

Michael Loban: Yes, absolutely. Alex and I both work at InfoTrust, which is a global digital consulting and technology company, and in essence, what we do is we help organizations generate more revenue, improve on their business, connect better with consumers using digital analytics. This book is, in many ways, a summary of what we’ve learned over the past 10 years of working with hundreds of retailers, some of the most globally recognized known brands about what you can, what you should do, with digital analytics and a few things that you should avoid doing.

Jane Borden: Okay. Tell us, what does Crawl, Walk, Run mean in regards to digital marketing?

Michael Loban: Absolutely. I participated in way too many conference room, boardroom presentations where I explain and breakdown complex analytical topics to enterprises or to leadership within enterprises, and a lot of times, the feedback that I was getting was, “Yes, we understand this, this is a lot, where do we start,” right? Or, a lot of times, it was along the lines of, “But how do we start this Crawl, Walk, Run? What is the good opportunity for us to engage initially in that Crawl, if you will?”

Because of that, many things that we did as an organization have really simplified our approach to analytics and how we help organizations get started. I think if you ask any executive these days about analytics, everyone will tell you that, “Yes, we absolutely see value in that, yes, we absolutely know that we should be doing that but where should we start based on where we are as an organization?”

So that was our goal. Let’s have if you will, a map based on where you are right now, let’s determine what should be the next steps, and we break those steps down in this model, Crawl, Walk, Run that tends to resonate with a lot of people.

Jane Borden: Yes, it seems like it can be an overwhelming process and your book certainly makes it clearer. You wrote in the book that there are 7,000 different products in the marketing technology landscape, I mean, I’m not in your industry and I’m overwhelmed.

You guys love Google Marketing Platform, you’re partnered with Google and they have far and away the most stake in the market. Things are changing constantly with Google Marketing as I mentioned, that’s part of the thrust behind the second addition. This new addition opens with a conversation about the growing pains associated with migrating from one platform to another. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you help your clients approach that because it’s inevitable, isn’t it?

Michael Loban: It certainly is and almost every organization or every listener that has ever worked for a large enterprise has one of those horror stories where the company decided to re-platform and move from one CRM solution to another, from one cloud to another, and I’m yet to meet somebody who said, “You know what? That type of project was within budget and was delivered on time and every stakeholder was happy, right?”

That’s kind of unheard of when they talk about implementations of analytics platforms. Now, in the digital analytics space, it’s very common for organizations to make the decision–do they want to be an Adobe shop, do they want to be a Google shop, what solutions do they want to use? Generally, how do they maximize those solutions within the organization, so you do not end up paying for 50, 60, 70 different markets and platforms that you have and are not utilizing?

A lot of times, what we do is when an organization is investing in a platform and they will approach us asking, “You know what? We have this investment, here is how we are using the solution, can you help us determine if this is the right one for us to use? If not, what other solution would you choose?” That’s where we tend to help.

For us, it’s not just about the platform and how we go from let’s say, Adobe analytics to Google analytics. It starts with, “What are the organization options, how is the organization currently thinking and segmenting their consumers, how it thinks about marketing personalization, how it’s thinking about delivering excellent messaging and services to clients?” And then based on that, we think, “Well, what is the right suite or stack of products that this organization can benefit from?” And that’s how we help them make the selection.

We don’t really look at all 7,000, we determine what solutions will help the organization the most and then we help them with the migration. It always, for us, starts with purpose, what are they doing, and why are they doing it?

The Framework

Jane Borden: I think, discussing purpose, you’ve taken us into your six P’s. You have a framework you’ve developed that helps companies navigate through this process. Can you tell us about the six P’s?

Michael Loban: Sure, the reason we came up with this framework–it seems like these days, everyone has their own framework–is to help organizations think through the total cost of ownership of having a digital analytics, digital marketing platform and what does that mean to fully leverage?

When we talk about 7,000 solutions that are available in a market and which one we should use, a lot of times, we do not account for time to implement, time to learn, who are the people that need to be trained to use solutions, what processes we should follow as the organization to make the most out of those products? That’s what we wanted to change.

The framework that we’ve talked about in the book is the one that we use on a daily basis with our partners. First, it starts with the purpose, what and why are we doing it? Then we talk about our three levers of execution, right? What is the platform that we are going to be using, who are the people that will be using this platform, and do we need to hire those people, do we need to bring in outside help, do we need to upscale our team? What processes we should be following.

Once that implementation is done, we talk about pace and payoff, which are two measures of success. Is the organization functioning faster in a more agile capacity and are they able to generate more profitability because if they are not, then chances are, our investment was not worthwhile and we cannot measure how well it impacted the organization and day-to-day business.

Jane Borden: I imagine your customers are really happy to have you guys working with them.

Alex Yastrebenetsky: Also, I’m very excited to share that our net promoter score for our existing partners is 75, which is Starbucks, Southwest Airlines–world-class level so we are very proud of the work that we do.

Jane Borden: It’s never bad to be in Starbucks’ company.

Alex Yastrebenetsky: Exactly, especially if you’re an engineer.

Jane Borden: Okay, let’s talk about what’s new in the second edition. What was the thrust behind putting it out?

Michael Loban: A number of my friends, when they saw that the second edition was published, called me crazy and asked, “Why are you doing this to yourself four months after you published the first book?” And they’ve seen the amount of work that took us obviously to publish the first edition.

I remember back in college, I got my first book about e-commerce, and it was a textbook and by the time I was reading it, the book was greatly outdated. They were talking about concepts that didn’t really apply because the environment has changed and that was years and years ago.

Today, the pace of change is incrementally higher and by the time they published the book, Google, for example, was introducing a number of other solutions that initially we did not cover in the book just because they were not yet available, and they were not released to the market.

The key one that we updated in our book was the introduction of Google Analytics 4, the new model for measurement, and we found that this is such an important pivot in how organizations will be tracking and analyzing the data on their websites that was important for us to go back and update the book with this section.

Before, it was in the first edition and it was called App + Web, which was how it was first introduced. Then when Google Analytics 4 was fully introduced into the marketplace, we took all the information, and we updated the book. We have a whole new chapter on GA4. Additionally, we introduced a few other concepts by Google.

Google Analytics 4

Jane Borden: Okay, take us through Google Analytics 4, what’s going to be improved for customers?

Michael Loban: Sure. A couple of concepts are important. The first one is it really is an event-based model for analytics and the key things, even just take a step back in terms of why GA4 and why right now?

We have to understand that the world of marketing is going through a big change. We have seen a lot of changes within governance and regulations, such as the GDPR in Europe or CCPA, California Consumer Privacy Act, in the United States, and we all know that there is more and more impact in terms of what organizations can and are allowed to track about their consumers.

Additionally, we see a lot of changes that have happened with browsers. GA4 takes those things into account and allows us to collect information about our consumers a little bit differently using an event-based model.

Additionally, which is very exciting, GA4 has additional machine learning capabilities that are built right into the solution hence giving analysts the amazing ability to leverage Google’s cloud infrastructure and basically see what Google is suggesting, based on the data that it is collecting about the website or about the mobile application. GA4 allows us to better connect tracking that happens across different devices and what happens on your website versus what happens on a mobile device.

Those are some of the changes that we have seen with GA4, but again, it is important to consider GA4 in context with what is happening in the industry overall.

Alex Yastrebenetsky: One thing I’d like to add on top of what Michael was just saying is to build a little bit on AI capabilities. Ultimately, why does an organization collect the data? You can take this data and you can make some hypotheses of the data and then decide, for example, which are your best clients or how much can you afford to spend acquiring this client? And so on.

What’s really interesting with the new generation of Google analytics is that in the past, you as an organization needed to invest significant resources in hiring engineers to take all of this data from Google analytics, build very sophisticated models using data scientists, and then taking these models and then test the models. It was a pretty significant undertaking.

What’s really cool with the new GA4 is that by starting to build in some of these things, it may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ability to model those capabilities right into the product. You as an analyst no longer need to talk to engineers, or the data scientists in your organization to test basic things.

You could try different things and if you’re seeing interesting results, then you can involve your data scientists and engineers in your company to do a lot more advanced stuff. Considering that there is a major shortage of this talent in the industry, that makes a big difference for the organization because data scientists and data engineers do not need to spend as much time working on simple things, because more and more of those simple things are starting to become available out of the box in the product, so they can focus on more advanced modeling that adds the most value to the organization.

Jane Borden: So, it frees up your people to focus on taking you higher, and also, I imagine they’re happier to be doing tasks that are maybe a little less rote. There’s a lot of data out there, there is a lot of data that you can collect and can save if you choose. Does this platform make it easier to know what’s useful and what isn’t?

I imagine the laws are constantly changing about what you can and can’t save. You talked about that a little bit earlier, can you discuss that more now?

Alex Yastrebenetsky: Sure, so as far as collecting the data, the flexibility of the platform really allows you as an organization to no longer have to distinguish between getting the data from your app and getting the data from your website, or let’s say a mobile webpage. This means that when you are collecting all this data about the consumer, especially if it’s the same person, you no longer need to separate, “Here is what this person did within my app,” versus, “Here is what this person is doing on my website.”

We can now holistically bring this data together so you can better understand who this person is and what they’re interested in. So, that makes your ability to analyze and better understand your consumers a lot more comprehensive. That’s a very big change and a significant architectural change in how the technology works.

From a privacy point of view, it is a bit challenging in the industry because the product has a lot of new capabilities but it’s almost like shooting at a moving target a little bit because while the product’s capabilities have changed, at the same time, you have Chrome as a browser and the browser is working on some very high-end stuff. The browser RND team will not be available until 2022, without getting into a lot of technical details with the listeners, so let’s just say that a lot of the architecture that online advertising has been built on is going to be changing next year. I am talking about the fact that cookies are going away.

So, GA4 is addressing some of that, but at the same time, it is difficult to really surprise and address some of the capabilities that have not been released yet in the browser, if that makes sense.

Jane Borden: Okay, is this new system going to be somewhat durable when it comes to privacy laws, which will continue to change, I imagine?

Michael Loban: We absolutely believe so. That being said, no system is perfect and that’s where an organizational analytic strategy comes into play. We have to better understand overall how, again, there are three forces, right? What’s happening now from a consumer standpoint, and what consumers expect now in terms of privacy and protection of their data, and regulatory requirements that are changing, as well as technical changes that happen, such as Alex mentioned around the browser cookies.

Taking those things into account, we need to build a roadmap of how these changes will impact our data collection, will impact our ability to target for the answers online, and they will impact our ability to do personalization across different marketing channels, and then leverage solutions such as GA4 and other tools in our toolbox to help us get where they need to be.

The key here is not just your ability, but the ability for the organization to learn to test and optimize as these regulations and changes happen. The companies will have to get more comfortable and build cross-functional teams internally so they can test how these new technology and regulatory changes are going to impact their day-to-day digital marketing activities.

Managing Uncertainty

Jane Borden: You have a chapter in the book titled Managing Uncertainty, what’s your advice for your clients around that?

Michael Loban: Just like I mentioned, the key in terms of managing uncertainty is to get much better at experimentation, right? There is only one way to manage uncertainty because we cannot control what happens. Respect the regulations, as well as very much respect what the consumers are now asking for. We know that the consumers are paying much closer attention to what companies do in terms of data collection and data distribution.

There is no way, if you will, to fight it–at the end of the day, you are going to lose this battle. What you can do is simply understand and look at what is happening, see things for what they are, not worse than they are, and develop capabilities within the organization to test and experiment.

When Google Chrome is making the change or when Apple Safari is announcing a change to browsers and how it will impact advertising, the question should be, “Okay, I understand this, how does this impact certain areas of my digital marketing? What do I need to test to see the impact and what do I need to do to address this or to mitigate my risk?”

The beauty of this, if you will, is every advertiser is dealing with this at the same time. It’s not like somebody who is larger, like the billion-dollar organization, has an advantage over a million-dollar organization. No, the regulations, the laws are the same for everyone, so in many ways, it levels the playing field. Again, we have to get stronger and get better at using what is available to us.

Jane Borden: That’s such an important thing to remember. So, you’re saying that testing and experimenting can be a way to build resiliency in this constantly shifting landscape?

Michael Loban: That’s a trend that we see that really separates those that are emerging as market leaders. They are the ones that can see the technologies, the changes that are emerging, and start experimenting with those. You do not want to wait for everyone else to do it, to adapt to these new standards, and be the last one to jump in. You really want to be among the first ones to try, internally.

We are not suggesting that you become the first one to fully embrace everything because some of the solutions are still being developed. Some will be only fully baked out in 2022 as Alex mentioned, but you want to be one of the first ones that has the capability to test them internally.

Jane Borden: Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about that you would like to share with our listeners?

Alex Yastrebenetsky: I think that the main thing that we’ve touched on is regulations, with some of the changes that are happening, I firmly believe that we are going towards a privacy-centric marketing approach where organizations that cannot just embrace the changes that are happening but actually put the privacy of consumer data at the forefront of what they are doing, they can truly become market leaders, and that’s one of the things that the organizations need to keep in mind.

Before, it was a little bit of the wild west where consumers didn’t ask, “What is happening with my data or how are you using the data that you collected about me?” That is not the case anymore. To me, companies that can truly embrace this and turn this into a competitive advantage, I am not saying it is going to be easy, but those that can will emerge as leaders.

Jane Borden: It’s good advice among so much applicable advice and information in this book. Alex and Michael, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you. Congratulations on the second edition in four months. We’ll look forward to the third, hopefully not quite so soon, for your sake.

Again, listeners, the book is Crawl, Walk, Run: Advancing Analytics Maturity with Google Marketing Platform. Alex and Michael, in addition to reading the book, where can people go to learn more about you and your work?

Michael Loban: Sure, they can find more information on our website, and I always encourage people to connect with me on LinkedIn, Michael Loban. I’m pretty easy to find and certainly, Alex is easy to find because of his last name, it’s a unique last name.

Alex Yastrebenetsky: Exactly, I am also on LinkedIn every day, Alex Yastrebenetsky. I really enjoy it when people reach out to me.

Jane Borden: Okay, great. Thanks so much.

Michael Loban: Thank you.

Alex Yastrebenetsky: Thank you.