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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

What Google Gets Right about Marketing in the Cloud

There's good reason to believe Google's new cloud-based marketing analytics service could have a huge impact in digital marketing.

Google is known as an innovator's innovator: a company that valorizes innovation for the sake of innovation. From its experiments in collaborative convergence (Google Wave), augmented reality (Google Glasses), and driver-less cars, Google has sought to push the boundaries of what's technologically feasible. At the same time, it's also worked to compel a complacent culture to come to terms with the possibilities or implications of technological change.

Google recognizes that innovators must also be alert to -- or, rather, not opposed to borrowing from -- the innovations of others. In this connection, too, it understands that failure can be a Very Good Thing. Its many and varied attempts to conquer social media are testaments to its resilience in the face of failure: Google Buzz, Google Friend Connect, and Google+ were all spectacular duds.

Just last month, it announced Google DataProc, a platform-as-a-service Hadoop and Spark offering. There's no lack of PaaS Hadoop or Spark services, but DataProc seems squarely aimed at Amazon's Elastic MapReduce and Microsoft Corp.'s Azure HDInsight. DataProc isn't a dud. It is, however, another example of Google's playing catch-up with competitors. The lesson, in any case, is clear: Google isn't afraid to follow the leader.

This month, Google took a page from leaders as diverse as Adobe Systems Inc., Marketo Inc., Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., and (not least) it announced a new cloud marketing analytics service, the Google Analytics 360 Suite, that consolidates two previously separate Google technology offerings. Google Analytics 360 Suite consists of six cloud apps aimed squarely at marketers and could have a huge impact in the digital marketing segment.

Four of the Google Analytics 360 Suite's apps are brand new (albeit beta) products according to Paul Muret, Google's VP of analytics, display, and video products. “It's harder than ever to get a complete view of the consumer journey and then make sense of it all. That’s why we’re introducing the Google Analytics 360 Suite, a set of integrated data and marketing analytics products designed specifically for the needs of enterprise-class marketers,” Muret wrote on his Google AdWords blog.  “It all starts with understanding consumer behavior in the moment -- getting the right insights and then making your brand useful to consumers.”

AdWords is, of course, the homegrown advertising service that generated almost $67 billion for Google in 2015.

Google Analytics 360 consists of:

Google Audience Center 360. A beta offering, Muret positions Google Audience Center 360 as a data management platform that “helps marketers understand their customers and find more like them across channels, devices, and campaigns.” Google Audience Center 360 integrates natively with both Google and DoubleClick and is open to third-party data providers, Muret said.

Google Optimize 360. Another beta offering, Optimize 360 permits marketers to optimize a site's user experience (UX) for particular audience.

Google Data Studio 360. Also in beta, imagine Tableau augmented with data prep technology, designed specifically for marketing-oriented use cases. Data Studio 360 boasts real-time collaboration and sharing, courtesy of Google Docs, according to Muret.

Google Tag Manager 360. A tag-management product, Tag Manager 360 “offers a simplified way to gather site information,” writes Muret, referring to site code bits.

Google Analytics 360. The heart of the matter, as Graham Greene himself might put it. Analytics 360 is the linchpin of Google's digital marketing push. Muret promises that Google “will roll out exciting new capabilities throughout the next couple of months as investments continue to grow” and that Google Analytics 360 “will serve as the measurement centerpiece by analyzing customer data from all touch-points and integrating with our ad products to drive marketing effectiveness.”

Google Attribution 360. This is Google's erstwhile “Adometry” offering. (Adometry was itself a best-of-breed that specialized in online advertising attribution. Google acquired Adometry for an undisclosed amount in May of 2014. ) Muret claims it's “been rebuilt from the ground up to help advertisers value marketing investments and allocate budgets with confidence.”

Google Analytics 360 is officially in beta. “Beta” is another one of those things that Google gets Just Right. Remember, Gmail ceased being a beta product in 2009, a full five years after it was first released. Google's philosophy, now as ever, is to put apps into the hands of people, the better to use them and to break them -- and, in breaking them, to improve them.

“The new products -- Audience Center 360, Optimize 360, Data Studio 360,  and Tag Manager 360 -- are available today in limited BETA,” Muret wrote, acknowledging that not all customers will have access to these products.

“If you're a Google Analytics Premium or Adometry customer, you will see the products renamed in the coming months, and we'll let you know when you're eligible to join the new betas,” he wrote.

Google's Analytics 360 plugs right into Google AdWords and DoubleClick Digital Marketing services, according to Muret. Not only is AdWords the envy of the industry -- Google generated $74 billion in revenue in 2015; AdWords accounted for almost 92 percent of this total.  It's a technological marvel, based as it is on two of Google's most revolutionary, if not-so-well-known, innovations: Spanner and F1. Spanner is Google's distributed NewSQL database; F1, the ACID-compliant relational DBMS that sits on top of it.

As a combined data processing and data management platform, Spanner/F1 achieves most if not all of the benefits of the NoSQL model -- e.g., data type flexibility, relaxed/non-existent schema requirements, massive parallelism -- without the associated costs. In other words, Spanner and F1, combined with other Google infrastructure technologies (such as BigTable and BigQuery), give Google Analytics 360 a powerful, creditable data management -- and data processing -- substrate.

That said, Google's new cloud marketing service is noteworthy in its own right, says Mark Madsen, a research analyst with information management consultancy Third Nature Inc.

Madsen cites Google's Tag Manager 360 product, which he says addresses a chronic problem area. “Tag management is a nightmare. Not only are tags set up by people with no data discipline, that not being part of their job or training, but they're often set up piecemeal by the least-senior person in the department, with the least experience. Then the marketing managers wonder why their numbers are all over the map and make no sense. Tag management is [the equivalent of] MDM [master data management] for online marketing,” he argues.

On the whole, Madsen is sanguine about the service.

“They're trying to bring things like A/B testing to a broader audience, which is great. It's still not that easy to analyze [i.e., A/B alternatives] and the 'Optimize' product looks like they're going to make it a little more accessible to people. The same applies with personalization,” Madsen said.

“The BI/dashboard side of it is an extension of what you already had in Google Analytics. They're putting more data into one place, which is huge because people are constantly stitching together data in Excel. All this stuff is ... there to push the use of Google's other products, the bottom of which is ads.”

Madsen refers to a problem that Google's Analytics 360 service might not do much to redress, however. “The challenge of online advertising is that of linking ads to lift or profitability. Everyone is running around playing all sorts of games with ad buys, and there's not much indication that any of it really works,” Madsen argues. “Not that it shouldn't be analyzed for ideas, but when you look at all this ad buying and optimization and algorithmic ad placement, it's fuzzy and the reasons something does or doesn't work can change in a seconds. [For example,] one other company buys ads with the same keywords, or geography, or targeting profile, and so on. This changes what a person sees.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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