Friday, April 10, 2009

Engaging With WebTrends

Here at the webtrends Engage 2009 conference there’s energy in the air. And not because we’re in Vegas and they’re pumping in the oxygen, it’s that the message is clear and the future appears bright. For CEO Alex Yoder and his newly minted management team, it’s all about finding meaning within the numbers. They’ve taken this message to heart with a newly vamped Website, a renewed focus on Web analytics and a personal call to action for each employee.

The Scene: Well, we are in Vegas, so that tells you something. But webtrends Engage was a small gathering of about 250 customers and like-minded peers who are serious about Web analytics. The sessions and hallway conversations were stimulating, the management was accessible and the overall vibe was optimistic. Let’s face it, webtrends has been off the map for a while and this was their new coming out party.

The Message: Alex Yoder kicked off the events by introducing their quest for finding meaning within the numbers. He talked about his commitment to webtrends’ customers and the four tenets of customer engagement: acquire, grow, recover and keep them. He went on to describe the three pillars that they believe will fundamentally change webtrends and analytics as we know it: Power, Elegance and Open. Within these pillars, webtrends plans to demonstrate Power through investments in scalability and flexibility in data. The flexibility in data will be exemplified through free APIs and new methods for portability. Elegance will manifest in their pending interface redesign that improves the user experience beyond the existing platform. And Open extends through their data, their people and their culture. This promise of Openness is the core message of the “new” webtrends and was delivered with genuine sentiment.

I can attest that openness resonated throughout the conference and all the new directions that webtrends revealed. Alex’s message and that delivered by everyone at webtrends was honest to the point of self deprecation, but truly genuine. They admitted outright that they’ve had their problems with management changes, product focus and communication. But they’re committed to admitting their shortfalls and working to earn their customers and focus on their core competency of Web analytics. If you’re wondering why I continue to write webtrends in lowercase, it’s because that’s their new logo. Lowercase letters reflect that they dismissed any pretension they previously held and now they’re focused on business.

The Announcements: The most notable announcement underscores their commitment to Open with the release of their free APIs that allow new methods of access to data. They built a Web Services interface (leveraging REST) that allows users to pull XML by accessing a URL. Data can be exported from webtrends to Excel or integrated directly into applications (check it out here).

Webtrends Open Exchange is their partnership program that makes the APIs even more meaningful. The concept is to leverage webtrends data within other marketing applications like content management, CRM, email, campaign management, search…and the list goes on. By making the data accessible and allowing it to flow into other applications, the potential for data-driven marketing becomes profound. While smaller in its number of partners than Omniture’s Genesis program, the concept is inherently the same, yet with a dramatically different architecture. Webtrends also announced a new developer network to support Open Exchange and provide a forum for developers and apps gurus to learn, share, rant and network.

On the social media front, webtrends announced their partnership with Radian6 which allows uses to listen, measure and engage on social media fronts across the Web. The Radian6 interface is slick and provides real-time access to social media, from wherever the buzz may flow. It provides the ability to compare buzz to that of competitors or monitor activity by channel. It also has workflow processes for users to allocate response duties to employees for a managed and unified corporate response.

The final announcement was the release of 8 industry solutions aimed at serving vertical markets. The design is to eliminate data silos and make data more powerful by catering to specific industries. According to customers, some hope these vertical solutions will provide a welcomed launching point for deeper analysis into their unique issues and challenges.

The Numbers: So I started with the numbers and finding meaning within them…each webtrends employee has a unique number on the back of his/her business card which serves as a call to action. The numbers at first glance are, well…just numbers, but each has a significant meaning to webtrends’ employees. Some represent children’s birthdays, wedding dates, lofty aspirations…and my favorite so far…the atomic weight of titanium. That’s the number that Barry Parshall has on his card. He informed me that titanium is a metal similar in composition to webtrends - it is incredibly strong, yet flexible - and you can beat the crap out of it, but it takes a beating and keeps on going - an analogy he warmly extends to webtrends from experience. These numbers on their cards may be innocuous, but they serve as a call to action by showcasing the openness of employees. By design they are meant as a method for employees to share personal stories and for customers to ask about them. These numbers subtly signify that any combination of numbers can have deep meaning. Webtrends even has a new manifesto that's all about the numbers.

The Key Takeaway: So my takeaway from all this is that webtrends has made some very positive changes to its management team and developed a renewed focus aimed directly at their customers. Alex Yoder has revived the fire within his team and brought on bright talent like Jascha Kaykas-Wolff and Casey Carey to tell the story. They all assured me - and more importantly, their clients - that they are serious about Web analytics. They plan to demonstrate this by continued investments in product and innovation as well as a quest for deriving understanding from the numbers.

From the peek at the new interface wherein “the data itself becomes the interface” – to their commitment to Open – all signs point to go.