The post on the state of e-commerce in 2017 ended with a conclusion that if you want to guard your business against irrelevance, you need to get the most out of your marketing data using the right tools and the right process. Keeping our promise from the last article, in this post we’ll point out the pros and cons of various data-driven e-commerce marketing tools. We’ll only cover the tools we have experience with. The goal here is to make you more confident about marketing technology choices. In the follow-up post, we’ll cover the process behind data-driven growth.
The importance and challenge of data-driven e-commerce marketing tools
Picking the right tools for marketing is no smaller challenge than telling the right story. The growth in the number of new tools in the recent years is exponential.
With fragmentation this advanced, knowing which one tool is best for a given problem and how to make the tools talk to each other is a task in itself. The task we’ll make easier for you in this post.
Problems and solutions
We humans like tools. The first happy campers of our species spent their days bouncing stones together in order to find something to kill animals with. Then we got bored with stones and became excited with iron. Fast forward to today, we look more fancy and are a bit healthier, but we’re essentially the same group of folks who like to play with things and create tools to make our life easier.
The number of tools we need is proportional to how complex our life is. Marketing is a complex machine running on science, art, down-to-earth deliverables, and high-in-the-clouds visions and ideas. No single tool can make it all work, although marketing vendors want you to believe the otherwise.
If no single tool will solve your marketing, how many marketing tools should you employ in the day-to-day of building marketing in your e-commerce company? There’s no definite answer here, so we need to approximate it.
There are five key stages of consideration to every online business: awareness, acquisition, behavior, conversion, and profitability. It’s not possible to execute on too many tasks in a quality way at the same time, so let’s assume there are three goals per stage. Exemplary awareness stage goals for an e-commerce company could comprise of being seen in the social channels, delivering engaging display ads, and being associated with influencers. With 5 distinct stages and 3 goals per stage, we have 15 things to do in the marketing of e-commerce business. Next, if we assume that 1 tool can only do 1 thing well, we have 15 tools, which is the approximate number of different e-commerce tools you would be using in your e-commerce business. The final number will depend on the peculiarities of your e-commerce shop, in particular how big it is. Bigger shops will have more complex problems to solve, so they’ll need more tools. But 15 seems like a good average number.
Research1 seems to confirm this hypothesis, as shown in the graph below.
Although the average of 12.4 is in line with our estimations, bear in mind that this is based on the aggregate data, and not specific to e-commerce.
No tool can magically automate you entire marketing by the flip of a switch. If a vendor claims so, run away. If no tool can execute on all-in-one magic and if we have so many tasks to accomplish, we need to rely on the integrations between the tools that are world-class at one specific thing they do.
The ultimate purpose of the marketing technology integration is then to build a marketing stack, which is an orchestra of specialized marketing tools, often working together behind the scenes, that automate marketing processes in your e-commerce. The better the marketing stack, they less you’re involved in the mundane marketing operations, and more of your precious focus can be directed to the strategy and vision work.
Developing marketing stack is challenging. You need to pick the right tool for a given marketing job and, sometimes, for other marketing tools it’s supposed to be working with.
Google Suite: The safest bet for a basic e-commerce marketing stack
Although we’ll explore and review various stacks of marketing technology tools or in the future, we’ll start with the safest and the most traditional bet that an e-commerce business can choose: the suite of Google products.
There are two types of Google suites. The first one, called Google 360, is an enterprise level solution. Most of the products in this suite have their free and not as powerful versions. Let’s review the tools and see how the free and premium versions can differ.
Analytics (360) is a reporting tool that helps you understand the acquisition, conversion, demographics, and behavior of your customers. A 12 years old product. The 360 version has more attribution modelling features, deeper integration with other tools such as DoubleClick, data pipeline (a link that sends data) to BigQuery for big data analysis, as well as larger usage tiers for the volume of data processed, number of custom dimensions, and more.
Tag Manager (360) is a container that makes it easy to add and manage tags2 that your website uses, and rules for firing them. It also provides a container version control, to keep track of the container or tag changes over time. The 360 version comes with features useful for the enterprises such as Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
Optimize (360) is an A/B testing tool which natively integrates with Analytics. A step forward from the Content Experiments module of Google Analytics. It helps you find the best versions of various pages of your website. Using the WYSIWYG interface, you can easily install changes right into one of the website variants.
Data Studio (360) is a data visualization tool that natively integrates with Analytics (and hence with Optimize). It reduces time to insight and speeds up information processing. Creating reports is fast and you can import third party data into the reports too.
Surveys (360) helps you easily gather feedback from your customers on web and mobile.
Attribution 360 is only available in the premium suite and helps you solve the problem of marketing mix in your business, i.e. answer the question to what extent various marketing channels contribute to the final conversion moment. This tool is also able to find the attribution of nondigital touchpoints, e.g. these happening on TV.
Audience Center 360 is a platform for managing your customer data.
All but the last 2 tools have free versions.
Google Suite: pros & cons
First, the upsides.
People are often enthusiastic about new technology, but implementing new tools and getting the company used to them is a huge investment of time, money, and focus. Google (360) products have long history, either as standalone tools (Analytics) or as components of other tools in the suite. This is a mature ecosystem, so if you’re looking for a stable environment for the analytics and marketing in your e-commerce, that’s the way to go.
Deploying the entire Google (360) suite with upgraded versions of all the other tools will be six-figures-expensive, but if you stick to the standard versions, perceivably but not dramatically less powerful than the previous ones, then you’ll pay nothing.
Price factor can be a very important consideration for small to medium e-commerce shop. If you use 10 marketing software tools with $100 per seat, the monthly bill will be about $1000 dollars. It seems then that the free Google (360) tools is a suitable solution, at least until your business reaches the initial scale, when more resources become available and you can put more money into the toolkit.
Variety & completeness
Free Google (360) tools have features to help manage the e-commerce company in the pursuit of the most important goals across five key stages we’ve mentioned earlier. In addition, these products are very alike in their UX and UI, which shortens your learning curve. Tag Manager has setup templates for all Google (360) tools, and other Google products outside this suite: Adwords and DoubleClick. If utilized to the fullest, the suite can provide business outcome that is larger than its parts would independently. This is because the parts are made for cross-integrations. One of the interesting (though edge case) integrations is that between Optimize and Adwords, where a given landing page is shown upon the click of a particular ad, ad group or a keyword.
Economy of scale
The longer you use the products, the more data is being produced, and hence there are more hooks for integrations to help improve your conversion rate or decrease the cost of user acquisition. The cost per given delta of improvement goes down with every additional day of usage of Google (360) tools.
One of the key upsides of using Google (360). Because the ecosystem is so big and so many companies use these tools, you’re probably not the first person that experienced a problem at hand. There are many learning materials from Google and independent experts or consultants.
Privacy laws compliance
Very important in Europe. If you use Google (360) products, you’re essentially outsourcing this problem to them. There are many interesting analytics startups from the US which are useless in many European countries because they’re not compliant with the local laws.
These are the key benefits of using Google (360) tools in your e-commerce. What are the drawbacks?
Behind the frontier
Big companies are usually slower to innovate than nimble and obsessively focused startups. Although the Google (360) tools are moving relatively fast, being a part of the huge company and its processes puts them to a follow-up group, rather than the leader pack in terms of freshness and originality of the end solutions.
It pays to remember that these products are designed not only to be useful in themselves, but also to support Adwords.
Where to go from here?
Google (360) is the first, native marketing stack that we’ve covered. Tools themselves won’t do much if you don’t know how to use them. In the next article, we’ll cover the process you should employ in your e-commerce business to get the most out of these tools.
- Source of the numbers and graphs in this section: Winterberry Group White Paper: “Marketing Data Technology: Cutting Through the Complexity.”, 2015. The white paper findings are based on the results of a research that included phone, online and in-person surveys of more than 50 advertisers, marketers, publishers, technology developers, and marketing service providers. Click to read more.