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Interview: John Lovett from Forrester Research

Published by Eric T. Peterson on August 9, 2009 All posts from Eric T. Peterson

Following up my interview with Bill Gassman a few weeks ago I realized that I would be remiss if I didn’t build on Forrester’s recent Web Analytics Wave report with an interview with John Lovett. John, like Bill, totally, totally understands the web analytics industry, and in that understanding is able to clarify the marketplace in a way few others can. Don’t believe me? Check out his response to possibly the worst article about web analytics, ever. Measured, polite, even complimentary … that’s John.

I am personally honored that John accepted my invitation to return to the X Change this year and both lead the huddle on “Industry Standards (or a lack thereof)” and co-lead a huddle on technology with Bill Gassman. If you haven’t met John personally, and if you are able to join us at the X Change, I strongly recommend you make a point of introducing yourself to him.

Finally, before my questions and John’s answers, I wanted to point out how incredibly deft Mr. Lovett really is: in response to a high-and-hard fastball question about “which vendor is really the best,” John knocked the ball clear out of the park with his answer: none of them. I’ll let you read the rest for yourself …

Your recent Wave report really emphasized a lot of conventional wisdom about the web analytics vendors but had some surprises for folks.  What surprised YOU the most about the Wave results?

Well Eric, I like to say that surprises are for birthdays and not for business. So in terms of actual surprises, there weren’t any big bombshells for me. I was however pleased that the vendors demonstrated innovation in a number of areas (like social media measurement) and that despite my attempts to develop extremely challenging criteria, the vendors continue to improve year over year.

One comment people have made to me is that they question the validity of comparing fee and free solutions in a single matrix due to the fundamental differences in their business model.  How would (or do) you respond to that challenge?

That’s preposterous! I respond by saying that it’s negligent not to compare free vs. fee based solutions. In today’s economic environment if you’re not watching expenses by understanding the cost to benefit ratio of your Web analytics solution, you are acting irresponsibly. Free tools have merit for many organizations as both primary and secondary tools, while fee based solutions are more appropriate for others based on their capabilities. Organizations must do their diligence to understand what they need in a Web analytics solution to decide what’s right for them, which is really the insight the Wave attempts to provide.

I asked Bill Gassman from Gartner a variation on this question recently, but do you now or see in the near future a situation where you as a Forrester analyst are advising your clients to actively consider these free solutions in addition to “traditional” web analytics solutions from Omniture, Coremetrics, and Unica?  As a follow-up, how do you see free tools impacting the market in the next 12 to 24 months?

I advocate that a single system for measurement is always the best way to go, yet recognize that this isn’t always feasible. Duality of Web analytics tools is a reality for myriad reasons. Thus, company’s need to manage their data dissemination practices to ensure comprehension and mitigate doubt. This is tricky, but certainly possible. I often help clients determine which solution is best suited to meet their needs and financial implications are always a part of that discussion.

With regard to how free tools will impact the market: we are just witnessing the beginning of the incoming tide on this one. By this I mean that “free” will continue to disrupt the market by placing pressure for improvement on all vendors. Just look at the recent Webtrends product upgrade announcement – the majority of press around it cited a “look out Google Analytics” slant. Why the comparison…they’re worried! Fee-based vendors have even more to fear now that Yahoo! Web Analytics opened up its partner program.

Another comment I hear about the Wave results, and forgive me this, is that they’re lame because they do nothing to differentiate the “market leaders” who appear as a tight cluster.  The evidence cited is that all four vendors issued press releases declaring their “market leadership” which appears technically correct based on the Wave but as the Highlander said, “There can be only one.”  First, how do you respond to this and second, who is the real market leader in web analytics?

Here’s the dirty little secret – the real market leader is the wildly talented Web analytics practitioner. It’s not the tools that differentiate it’s the craftsman. Any company that believes the Web analytic technology alone will make them incredibly successful is delusional or just plain out of touch. There is no get rich quick scheme here. Each of the leading vendors on the Wave offers a highly customized solution that can be tricked-out to meet nearly anyone’s individual needs. But this takes a great deal of work. For those organizations that are looking for the far-and-away winner in this technology category, guess what: the tools will only get you so far – you need talented people to really make it happen.

Rumors are that Omniture has a bunch of “800 lb gorillas” hanging in their offices right now.  Clearly they’re proud of their position, but last quarters results highlighted that there are clear risks to their business that are beginning to manifest.  What do you think are the greatest risks to Omniture’s business over the next 18 months?

Well, I don’t buy into rumors and sure don’t know where I left my crystal ball. But things are tough all over. As I stated earlier, free solutions are threatening all fee-based vendors and forcing them to work harder. I can tell you that measurement technologies are an imperative for executing on digital marketing endeavors. Solutions like Omniture’s, Webtrends’, Coremetrics’, Unica’s and everyone else’s will continue to play an important role in the evolution of organizations conducting business online. I believe that Web analytics is increasingly becoming an integrated service and expect to see things evolve to easier access to data through new and alternative means. The leading vendors, including Omniture, will play a role in this evolution.

What’s your taken on the current hype cycle around “open”?  Omniture bangs the Genesis drum, Coremetrics connects, and now WebTrends appears to have decided that “open” will be the foundation of their future success (or lack thereof) … but some people think that “open” is a check-box requirement, not a competitive differentiator.  What do you think?

Open is not a feature, it’s a philosophy. The ability to get data into and out of a Web analytics solution is the crux of the issue and leading vendors facilitate this through bi-directional API’s, other import and export functions and data dissemination capabilities. Webtrends is currently doing this as well as anyone, but “open” also means talking to your customers about development plans, listening to criticism and demonstrating a willingness to change. These qualities aren’t unique to Webtrends, they’re characteristics that all vendors should exhibit. Webtrends is just marketing around them and if that’s causing people to want open, then it appears to be working.

As a previous attendee to the X Change what do you like best about the conference and what would you like to see us change this year or next?

I appreciate the intimate conversational format of X Change. The huddles really facilitate deep thought, controversial leeway and provocative discussion. As someone who attends a number of conferences, it is refreshing to engage in dialogue with individuals who are passionate about what they do and to initiate a true collaborative thinking environment. As far as change goes, I really hope to be able to guide the huddles that I’m leading toward resolution. Within our industry, all too often we surface problems and issues without identifying solutions. I’ve taken your challenge to heart and hope to walk away with some tangible results from my huddles.

John will be joining Bill Gassman, Gary Angel, June Dershewitz, and over 100 expert users, consultants, and vendors at the 2009 X Change conference in San Francisco on September 9, 10, and 11. Registration is currently underway and we’d love to have you join us! For more information please visit:


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Categorized under General Web Analytics, Interviews, Vendors, Web Analytics People, X Change


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