Monday, March 10, 2008

From the Campfire to the Rave

I’ve been on the road for the last two weeks attending what could be considered the pinnacle of the Web analytics universe. Coremetrics kicked off in Fort Worth Texas and then most recently Omniture held its client summit in Salt Lake City. The Coremetrics client summit was a full cowboy affair, complete with faux campfires, classic cowboy western video clips and line dancing (for those inclined) at Billy Bob’s bar & grill. The following week, Omniture had an entirely different thematic approach, which felt more like a rave branded in Omniture green. Prior to the opening keynote, attendees were ushered into the massive ballroom with flashing lights, a stainless steel art deco stage and full blaring rave music [check out Manoj’s pictures and video posted on WebAnalyticsWorld]. It was quite a contrast to Coremetrics event, yet there were some striking similarities between the two events. I feel extremely fortunate to have been invited to attend each one and am inclined to share my perspective on these dueling rivals in the evolving Web analytics marketplace.

Training & Education:

On the day preceding the summit, Omniture held educational sessions for newly acquired Visual Sciences customers by enlightening them on transitioning to SiteCatalyst and Discover. Participating clients that I talked to anticipated a laid back casual approach, but instead encountered a rigorous roll-up-your-sleeves intensive training session. Throughout the three days of the Omniture event, they had pros on hand to answer technical questions and aid in real-time implementation issues. They set up “Hot Labs”, for account managers to work with clients on any topic and by my observation they were well attended.

Coremetrics held its formal Coremetrics University training on the day following its summit and although I didn’t get to inquire about the results of the training sessions, numerous clients were looking forward to a comprehensive experience. Coremetrics also had pros on hand throughout the event to answer technical questions and tackle real-time problem solving. Every exec I spoke with challenged attendees to stump the experts on the floor and if my inquisitions were any indication, they were doing a solid job.

Keynotes & Presentations:

Coremetrics opened with a Wild West skit that depicted “Dusty” cowboys dependent on the digital world. A fitting analogy for the chasm that is the digital divide and a graceful segue to Joe Davis’ keynote on How the Web Was Won – or – at least continues to evolve. Laura Evans, from Resource Interactive, followed with her presentation on the Open Brand and John Squire delivered “Got Marketing?” solutions which included Coremetrics’ 2008 updates on Search, Intelligent Offer, LiveMail and Coremetrics Connect. Day two featured an in depth look at the product roadmap and a glimpse of the new toys within the interface. John Payne’s enthusiasm was unfettered as he demonstrated the new Explore data visualization tool. Eric Peterson from Web Analytics Demystified followed by walking attendees through a captivating presentation on measuring visitor engagement, his delivery continues to evolve as Eric delves deeper into the metrics and process. Coremetrics closed with a short-and-sweet message delivered by Joe Davis and a highlight reel of images and video captured throughout the event.

Omniture delivered on their promise of a mix of entertainment and education. Josh James kicked things off by illustrating the new composition of Omniture after its 2007 acquisition rampage. CTO, Brett Error then walked attendees through the SiteCatalyst v14 enhancements and other features on the development front. Peter Kim of Forrester delivered a presentation on Marketing and purportedly challenged other analyst firms to a basketball game on the premise that they could win based on more players (I think we could take ‘em shorthanded). Day one closed with Lance Armstrong’s emotional story of overcoming cancer, where he encouraged us to believe in a cause and take affirmative action. Day two began with Seth Godin’s highly entertaining presentation, first flattering the crowd by touting them as the smartest marketing minds in the universe, then challenging them to create something remarkable and break the constraints of mediocrity. Omniture closed with Brett’s summary recap, a look ahead and a lively interactive feedback session of how to improve on their solutions. He took copious notes and demonstrated Omnitures’ devotion to customer driven development.

Both companies ran multiple simultaneous tracks throughout their client summits making for tough decisions on where to focus. I found the content delivered by each vendor to be compelling, technical and highly educational. I’ll go so far as to say that the topics delivered and ensuing discussions were at a sophistication level beyond many other analytics events I’ve attended.

Breaking News & Product Releases:

Coremetrics came out of the gate with announcement of their new integration platform, Coremetrics Connect. While it’s largely a catch-up move to Genesis and even WebTrends’ Open Exchange, their documentation process and integration guidance is well-considered. John Squire delivered a message of acquisition, conversion and retention and rounded out the product enhancements (i.e., custom report templates, key segments, export builder) around these principles. The flex-based Explore product (widely available in the spring 2008 release) is a data visualization tool that quickly renders dynamic charts and enables analysts to “interrogate the data”.

Omniture’s 2008 product mix equates to 50% Web analytics solutions (comprised of SiteCatalyst, Discover On-Demand & On-Premise and Genesis integrations), 25% is Search Center and the remaining 25% is the new Test & Target combination of Offermatica and Touch Clarity. The SiteCatalyst user interface went through a dramatic redesign from v13.5 with applause-worthy menu improvements, single sign-on, video measurement, intelligent help and Web services APIs. Search Center v3 also debuted with integration capabilities that enable centralized control over multiple keyword bidding and monitoring solutions, scaleability to manage 50 million keywords and automated optimization.

While this category bears no reflection on the product offerings of each vendor, Omniture was over the top. Lance Armstrong was inspirational, but the rave party with neon green light sticks, fresh sushi and Grammy award winning Flight of the Conchords was truly entertaining. Bret and Jermaine act exactly as they do on the HBO series and showcased their genuine musical abilities. The armadillo racing in Fort Worth Texas never stood a chance. I’ll admit that Billy Bob’s was a place like none other, but line dancing and bull rides do not compare. My bias for skiing over golf favored Omniture who sponsored a day at Snowbird, while Coremetrics golf enthusiasts teed up in Texas. I opted to stay in Utah for an extra day which paid off with over six inches of fresh snow and an epic day of Utah powder.

Both vendors succeeded in showing their clients a good time, educating them on the new features and demonstrating forward-looking vision. These companies are driving the Web analytics industry forward. I expect that 2008 will be a banner year for both Coremetrics and Omniture and their rivals in the marketplace have a high bar set before them.

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