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Category: Analytics

Top 5 Digital Analytics Industry Trends 2021

February 18, 2021

Each year I like to share my take on the digital analytics industry trends. For fun, you can reflect back on my 2019 and 2020 trends. There’s always overlap from year to year, but one thing is for sure: I could never have predicted the ways 2020 panned out. In 2020, organizations had to continually evolve, adapt, and persevere through both socially and financially uncertain times. For many organizations, 2020 was a pressure-test against how to adapt, engage, and delight the customer.

As I set our sights on the year ahead, full of optimism, there are several trends to share (many influenced by the previous 2020 year).

Trend #1: Digital Experience (DX) Measurement Increases

The “pressure-test of 2020” led to organizations quickly accelerating many of their digital transformation objectives. Retail businesses were forced to quickly evolve towards both regional and local laws that redefined the customer experience. Much of that shift involved a greater reliance on digital. We saw how “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) often became the primary way many of us shopped for same-day products. In fact, “buy online, pick up in store” is so popular that according to Digital Commerce 360, 90% of retailers will offer “buy online, pick up in store” by 2021. It has quickly become the expectation of the customer’s digital experience.

Thinking beyond the impacts of the pandemic, organizations are starting to realize that their website and/or app doesn’t sit on their own islands (this certainly isn’t how your customer views things), and the digital analytics data gathered is much more actionable when combining the web/app data with other first-party data sets. The complete “digital experience” (DX) is continually expanding to include the expectation that the organizations you engage and trust are using your data holistically across all touchpoints to provide a useful, secure, and engaging experience. For example, if you sell physical devices that are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), the customer expects that you can intelligently market to them in a way that genuinely helps them (auto-delivery or anticipation of a refill of consumables, etc).

The complete ‘digital experience’ (DX) is continually expanding to include the expectation that the organizations you engage and trust are using your data holistically across all touchpoints to provide a useful, secure, and engaging experience.

If your organization has (or plans to offer) voice-based shopping (think via Alexa or Google Home), are you able to holistically understand your customer behavior? Can you determine if the voice-based experience ends up being too frustrating (and why) and then the customer shifts over to your more traditional website or app? When the customer shops on your app, can you identify if that same customer completes the purchase on the web or in-store? The blending of this data against the known customer identifier becomes important to tell the full story about their full digital experience.

Digital analytics platforms, such as Adobe Experience Platform and Google Analytics 4, are evolving to meet the data needs of capturing and activating upon the full digital experience. Throughout 2021, these platforms will continue to build the foundation that can support rich digital experience data capture.

This trend of measuring the entire digital experience will continue to transform the competitive analytical maturity of organizations from laggards to leaders.

Trend #2: Privacy Continues to Evolve

family safely browsing online while maintaining data privacy

I talk about this every year when I do my digital analytics trends article, and this year is certainly no exception. The pace of change continues to accelerate along with the visibility and expectations of end users.

Privacy Law

gdpr general data protection regulations logoIn November 2020, we saw the population in the State of California vote to approve the CPRA (California Privacy Rights Act) as a measure to strengthen the existing CCPA law. There’s time to prepare for the changes ahead, as it begins to apply to collected data as of January 1, 2022, with enforcement beginning July 1, 2023. We continue to see that California leads the standards that organizations adhere to, when it comes to privacy laws in the U.S. (in Europe, GDPR is king). Meanwhile, many other U.S. states continue to strengthen their own privacy laws. For the healthcare industry, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is front and center, with those organizations focusing not just on traditional analytics data, but also on digital HIPAA compliance at a rapid pace.

Beyond the significant financial liabilities, honoring and providing choice to your customers is paramount. When you focus on how your organization builds trust and delights your users, everything begins to fall nicely into place.

Privacy Tech

All major browsers will continue to provide increased privacy protections for their users. In the past, this was mostly focused on Apple’s Safari browser and Mozilla’s Firefox browser, but now you’re starting to see how Google Chrome is evolving in the privacy landscape. From the death of the third-party cookie to the restrictions of first-party cookies, you can count on impacts to digital analytics and marketing.

A critical piece of advice I have regarding digital analytics and browser privacy changes is to be careful about chasing the workarounds. The time investment can often be significant and the return on investment poor when you consider the limited amount of time before the browser technology evolves to combat your workaround. Ultimately, work to understand why the browsers are making these changes and focus on sustainable approaches, such as a migration to a server-side user identification population.

From an interesting marketing perspective, Google has recently announced that it is testing a promising technology (Federated Learning of Cohorts or simply FLoC) to replace cookie-based ad targeting. The opportunity for the development of the right privacy-conscious technology is significant.

On the app side of things, iOS 14 is turning on its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) policy. This new prompt will start showing up on any app that “collects data about end users and shares it with other companies for purposes of tracking across apps and web sites.” Google has responded recently by stating that their latest Google Analytics for Firebase (GA 4) software development kit (SDK) will no longer use information (such as IDFA) that falls under ATT; therefore your app will not show the ATT prompt. History tells me that ATT becomes the app-equivalent of ITP, where there are continual revisions by Apple as the industry reacts and adapts to changes.

As you approach your digital analytics data strategies, it’s critical that you consider privacy by design and working governance and transparency into this strategy. The benefit of building consumer trust is clear, but in addition, if a privacy-related matter is introduced, it is more efficiently mitigated.

As you approach your digital analytics data strategies, it’s critical that you consider privacy by design and working governance and transparency into your strategy.

It’ll certainly be an interesting year ahead, guaranteed to be filled with privacy law and technology changes. Your opportunity as a brand is to build trust and respect your customer’s data.

Trend #3: AI and ML to Become Insightful

When we look at the two largest digital analytics platforms, Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics, we see both vendors continuing to build out and invest in their artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technology that helps to uncover insights, provide forecasting, and more. Both vendors are focused on making this technology approachable to every user; no data science skills required. This is both good and bad as currently the technology only scratches the surface of what can be done with the data (bad), but it’s starting to shift the usage away from simple report delivery (good).

Adobe Analytics has its Adobe Sensei technology that brings together straightforward anomaly detection, contribution analysis, propensity scoring, and more. Google Analytics has its Analytics Intelligence and Anomaly Detection features; the Analytics Intelligence helps to provide either automated insights based on trends in data or custom insights based on user-defined triggers.

For those times when you know the right question to ask, Google Analytics supports typing in a question — a feature called Natural Language Queries. For example, you can ask Google Analytics “Any anomalies in transactions last month?” and you’ll get back potential insights based on the anomaly detection forecasting capabilities. While fun, it’s still early days with this stuff and it can sometimes become frustrating when the AI doesn’t understand your question. Further, as of the time of publishing this article, this Natural Language Query feature is absent in GA 4 (though we fully expect to see it in the future).

google big query logo and adobe experience cloud logoFor all of your more complex data science needs, fear not! On the Google side of things, you’ll be at home with Google BigQuery ML, which supports a wide range of machine learning models. Similarly, for Adobe users, you can check out the Adobe Experience Platform’s Data Science Workspace to leverage data across the Adobe ecosystem (and beyond) in your machine learning models.

From the beneficial insight discovery assistance that the simple and built-in AI and ML can help provide to the more complex ability to leverage the underlying data to build your own models, we’re finally seeing an increase in native (in platform) capabilities around insight discovery. It’s still early days, but I expect this to continue to improve and evolve this year.

Trend #4: Security and Governance Come into Focus

As more individuals throughout an organization become dependent on the great data we have in our digital analytics platforms, governance must increase. This is primarily proliferated by three contributing factors:

  • Privacy laws and liabilities around how data is collected, stored, and respected
  • Joining of digital analytics data with other first-party data sets within the organization
  • Maturation of app and web development practices that are hyper-focused on performance, security, and a need to understand digital analytics.

All of these contributing factors are positives that show an overall increase in maturity around how organizations approach data collection and usage. If you don’t acknowledge and address these points, you run the risk of being perceived as a “black box,” which can ultimately lead to the inability to gain executive sponsorship of your initiatives, lack of collaboration on new opportunities, and many other problems. To avoid this “black box” mentality, it’s critical that your digital analytics team work effectively with other areas of the organization to increase visibility, transparency, and understanding of how, why, and what’s being done. Many times, this may introduce additional processes that are of benefit to the digital analytics team.

conference room table with digital analytics data displayed on computer screens

Privacy Laws and Liabilities

As discussed in Trend #2 above, privacy will continue to evolve; that much can be expected. With GDPR, CCPA, and other privacy laws, there are significant financial liabilities that have, rightfully-so, provided increased oversight of digital analytics data collection, storage, and usage. The digital analytics practice must be in line with the rest of the organization’s data policies, processes, and standards.

Joining of Digital Analytics Data

As digital analytics data is connected to other first-party data sets within the organization, actionability and insight increases. For example, your data science team can leverage digital analytics data against a known user ID to develop advanced segmentation, which can then be imported back into the digital analytics tool for reporting and in-tool segmentation. This type of increase in data connectivity means that the digital analytics data quality and overall governance is in plain view; the “black box” mentality must be avoided at all costs.

Maturation of App & Web Development Practices

I’m seeing how a focus around security and performance is beginning to drive the conversation towards tag management systems (TMS) that support server-side data delivery. On an app, if you can eliminate the size and battery impacts of countless SDKs by replacing them with a single SDK that can securely transmit beacons based on defined rules (an API Hub), that’s a significant win. Similarly, for the web data collection, you can reduce third-party javascript (always a security risk) and increase performance (less javascript and fewer beacons in transit) by leveraging a server-side TMS. Beyond security and performance, developers and product teams have a real need of receiving actionable insights that can drive enhancements that improve the digital experience of users.

Trend #5: Analytics Maturity Increases

people in conference room conducting an analytics maturity analysis

All of the previous four digital analytics trends support the argument of an increase in Analytics Maturity. I absolutely love helping clients understand their current maturity and, most importantly, helping them develop an actionable roadmap to increase their maturity. The outcome of establishing and measuring against a clear strategic analytics roadmap will lead to positive outcomes that improve the digital experience of your users.

As we head further into 2021 (and certainly beyond), I see this focus towards increasing analytics maturity gaining speed, focus, and resources. At Blast, we’ve even developed our own, completely free, Analytics Maturity Assessment. Our assessment is quite a bit different from other analytics maturity assessments that you may have taken in the past; I encourage you to give it a spin. This is a great initial step at understanding maturity and it can then be augmented with our comprehensive analytics maturity framework to begin taking action on the results.

2021: Make Your Mark

The five top digital analytics trends that I’ve shared are sure to make for both a fun and challenging year ahead. I’m really curious though to hear your thoughts on trends. What are you seeing? Where’s your organization focusing?

Most importantly, we’re all here to make our mark through our passion in the digital analytics industry, the impact we’ll make in our organizations, the ways that we’ll give back to our communities, and the positive influences we’ll have on our coworkers. So, I’d also love to hear about your goals for the year ahead and how they may (or may not) connect to the digital analytics trends I’ve shared. What are you doing to Make Your Mark in 2021?

Joe Christopher
About the Author

As Vice President, Analytics at Blast Analytics & Marketing, Joe leads a team of talented, analytics consultants responsible for helping clients understand and take action on their vast amounts of data, to continuously improve and EVOLVE their organizations. With 20 years of experience in analytics and digital marketing, Joe offers a high-level of knowledge and guidance to clients across all industries. He is an expert in all major analytics platforms including Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics, as well as various tag management systems such as Tealium and Adobe Launch. He also consults on data visualization, data governance, and data quality strategies. Having extensive expertise in many areas, has enabled Joe to become a well known thought leader and speak at industry events such as Tealium’s Digital Velocity series. Joe remains on the pulse of various information technology, programming languages, tools and services, keeping Blast and its clients on the leading edge.

Connect with Joe on LinkedIn. Joe Christopher has written on the Blast Digital Analytics Blog.

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