How Universal Analytics will Drive Strategic Marketing

There’s more and more buzz growing around the next generation of Google Analytics, Universal Analytics. As it slowly rolls out, more and more people are talking about some really interesting applications.

I thought I would take a moment to write another piece, grounded in a bit of reality, about how Universal Analytics is an analytics platform for business, not just a single digital channel. Remember the goal of Universal Analytics is to help drive strategic customer insights.

Just a quick disclaimer: This is a personal post on my personal blog. These are my personal ideas and do not reflect those of my employer.

Let’s get started!

Shane McConkey, my favorite skier.

Shane McConkey, my favorite skier.

Those of you that know my know that I love skiing. So I thought I would combine my two passions, analytics and skiing, as the subject matter for this post.

Technology is helping the ski industry change. Resorts and equipment manufacturers are embracing new technologies, like mobile, to make it easier for the resort to connect with customers and streamline business processes.

I thought I would work through a hypothetical Universal Analytics implementation plan for a ski resort then discuss some of the strategic insights we could get from the data.

Like every business, all of this data can be silod. Measuring across all of the data sources is a functional and technical challenge. That’s where Universal Analytics comes in. It can be the platform that spans all customer touch points – both online and offline.

Measuring the Website

The easiest thing to measure is probably the website. Heck, we’ve been measuring websites for 15+ years.

We can start by tagging the website with the standard JavaScript page tag. This will collect the standard data, like users, session, pageviews, etc. But adding a few customizations will really align the data with the business objectives.

Universal Analytics is still very good at measuring website performance!

Universal Analytics is still very good at measuring website performance!

The most common customization is using Custom Dimensions (previously called Custom Variables) I can think of a few custom dimensions that we should implement on a ski resort site. First I’d want to know if this is an existing customer or prospect. If it is a customer I would want to know the type (individual, family, etc.).

Now let’s talk about measuring the conversions that happen on the site. Users are able to purchase many different types of lift tickets. From single-day tickets to season passes, weekend-only passes to full passes. All of these transactions need to be measured with the ecommerce tracking code.

I also want to measure other micro conversions, like social connections (Twitter, Facebook, Email newsletter, etc.)

We also need to measure marketing, things like marketing channels, ad variations, etc. . We do this using campaign tracking. This will be critical when we measure the ROI of various channels.

Finally, and this is something new to website measurement, we want to join data from the website to other data, like the resort’s CRM. The key is literally a key – some type of user ID that the CRM uses. When someone logs into the website we need to add that key to the Google Analytics data. If a user converts offline we’ll be able to join that data to online usage, and vice versa. This feature has not been released yet but will be soon.

Now let’s move to the offline world.

Measuring the Resort

We can also integrate Universal Analytics into the POS (point of sale) systems at resort. This includes the cafetaria and other retail shops.

Universal Analytics can be integrated with any POS system, including those at a ski resort.

Universal Analytics can be integrated with any POS system, including those at a ski resort.

We’d want to collect all the transactional data using the Measurement Protocol. This would include revenue, product names, categories, etc.

Many reorts allow customers to add money directly to their ski pass. They can then use the ski pass like a credit card and purchase food in the cafeteria or equipment in the ski shop. We could join the transactional data from the POS system to other data (like website) via the User ID associated with the ski pass.

Let’s jump back to the inline world.

Measuring the Mobile App

Use the mobile app SDKs to  measure app usage.

Use the mobile app SDKs to measure app usage.

Today most ski resorts have a mobile app. Heck, it seems every business has a mobile app!

The app provides all sorts of information about the mountain and the conditions. It can even record a skiers route around the mountain and measure how many vertical feet a person skied in a day. We skiers love to brag about how many runs we do in a day :)

This is another spot where a Universal Analytics integration can happen.

Using the Android and iOS SDKs the resort can measure all the standard app metrics, like sessions, screen views, feature usage, etc. These metrics can help the resort fine-tune the app and develop features that are popular.

There’s also a wealth of error reporting to help the dev team fix features those that may not be working right.

Again, all of the data from the app can integrated into a user’s profile via a user ID – as long as there is some mechanism for users to log in. Nothing personally identifiable.

Back to the offline world.

Measuring Skier Traffic on the Chair Lift

Here’s where things get fun! Almost all modern ski resorts have some type of technology-enabled ticket checking.

For those that don’t ski, anyone that wants to ride a ski lift needs a pass. In the old days your pass would be manually checked by someone at the bottom of the lift.

Today lift operators use bar-code scanners to verify a skier’s pass.

Use Universal Analytics to collect data from a lift ticket scanner.

Universal Analytics could be used to collect data from a lift-tickt scanner.

More modern lift tickets have a small RFID chip embedded in the ticket. The skier walks through a scanner and it automatically validates their pass.

Universal analytics could be used to collect data from an RFID ticket scanning system.

Universal Analytics could be used to collect data from an RFID ticket scanning system.

This is another place where Universal Analytics can be applied. With some additional programming the measurement protocol can be integrated into the ticket checking system.

When a customer get’s scanned Universal Analytics can record this unique skier. It can measure which chair lift they boarded and the difficulty of the ski runs serviced by the lift.

Remember, the data would need to be collected in a web-based framework. So a session or visit would be equivalent to a single ski run. And the average time on site would be equivalent to the time it takes between skie runs.

Importing Other Data

Another key feautre of Universal Analytics is the ability to import other data into Google Analytics. This will help all businesses add more context to their data. For a ski resort I’ll want to import a few different types of data.

First, cost data. I want to import all the cost information associated with my advertising. This helps me better calculate ROI on advertising. This is something that is active now. So you should already be doing this :)

Next, I would want to import snowfall data. I want to see snowfall by the day of the week. This will help me better understand a lot of other data in my system. I would expect to see more skiiers skiing on days when it snows. I would also expect to see more traffic to the website and more people recording their ski runs using the app.

Import snowfall data into Google Analytics

If I was a ski resort using Universal Analytics, I would import snowfall data into Google Analytics.

Less snow means less people skiing. That’s great context for my analysis.

Drawing Strategic Insights from the Data

Now it’s time to use all of this data!

Obviously we can measure each specific silo and understand what’s happening to our customers. That’s what we do today. But we want to take a more strategic view and segment the data and a whole. Here are some of the questions I would want to answer:

Question: Do customers spend a lot of time on a certain type of terrain?

Action: If they do then perhaps I can offer them a more appealing ski package. For example, if I notice someone skiing on the Extreme section of the mountain perhaps I offer them a discounted lesson with one of our extreme skiers.

Question: Do customers spend a lot of time in the cafeteria?

Action: Could I offer this customer a better food-service package? Perhaps some type of discount? I could segment based on those that buy family passes and look for more insights. Perhaps I find that people like Justin, who buy a family pass, don’t spend much money in the cafeteria (primarily because Justin is cheap!). Maybe I create an ‘Hot Chocolate Treat’ package to incentivise Justin to get hot chocolate for his kids.

Question: Do customers buy a lot of equipment in the rental shop?

Answer: For those that do, perhaps we can offer them a yearly gear-rental package to help save them money. Or at least add some coupons for use in the store.

Question: Are skiers getting a good value for their investment?

Answer: We can use the data from the pass-scanners to better answer this question. Just segment based on the various customer typess (individual, family, unlimited, weekends only, etc) and view actual number of runs completed. This could be awesome marketing information and help the resort taylor their marketing to each individual customer, giving the right customer the right ticket offer.

Now that’s #smartdata.

When you think about it, this is the same thing that we currently do with website or app data. We segment based on behavior and look for opportunities.The difference is that now we’re looking at a larger data set that includes many different types of behavior.

Another key analysis opportunity is measuring the value of each customer. I can get total value, based on all transactions, in one system, which is a huge benefit.

As I thought about this analysis I tried to think about the value of mobile. In this particular instance I don’t see a lot of value from the app. Sure, I can measure the customer value of those that use the app. But I don’t think there are as many strategic insights from this data vs. other data sources (like chairlift of cafeteria).

There you have it. How I might architect Universal Analytics solution for a ski resort. Remember, not all of these features have been activated yet. There is no cross device tracking, and data import is currently limited to cost data. But we’re moving towards the future. If you create a new web property in Google Analytics is will be a Universal profile.

I’d love to hear what excited you about Universal Analytics and how you plan to merge your online and offline data!

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    1. says

      Your post shows how great Universal Analytics really is when it comes to thinking outside of the box to capture “smart data”.

      Specifically, I’m most excited with how Universal Analytics and the Measurement Protocol have opened “creative doors” for capturing offline data. The possibilites to be excited for are almost endless.

      Great post, thanks!

    2. says

      Supper exited about the universal Analytics and built few tools using available resources. But can’t wait to try cross-device tracking and taget demography using re-marketing and linked CRM to measurement protocol. Do you any idea of launching dates?

    3. Cohen says

      You talk about “importing custom data” but the only thing I could find on importing data into GA was the cost data.

      Is it possible to upload other custom data then only Cost data and if so, how do you do that?

      Loving this article by the way!!

      • says

        @Cohen: We are currently working on a feature called Dimension Widening. It was announced a short while ago but is still not out. I hope that it launches soon. Until then, the only data you can import is cost data. Sorry for the confusion!

    4. says

      First off… a skiing example in July?! I thought only ski resorts that are in heavy planning/prepping mode for the upcoming season were thinking about skiing mid-summer!

      So, can a Google Consumer Survey be tied that elusive user ID so that I can collect customer satisfaction data (or, even, at a kiosk at the resort at checkout…or in a follow-up email) and tie that to both site and, more intriguing, at-resort behavior?

      The “Nothing personally identifiable” comment really jumps out. It’s starting to sound like a to-MAY-to / to-MAH-to distinction. If you’re getting to the point where you’re able to use the data to make personalized offers, then you’re doing a lot of personal *identification*…but just requiring that that be done outside of the analytics platform? Ick! It would be one thing if the “user ID” were as easily created and linkable across channels, but it’s not. Core to implementing the ideas you’ve outlined here will be a *strong* incentive for customers to identify/authenticate themselves in *each* channel. It’s a bit of a damn shame that, even if they do that, the resort will still have to contort their systems to keep PII out of UA…even though they’re using the data for personalization and targeting.

      • says

        @Tim: Absolutely skiing in July! It’s always winter somewhere.

        No, a Google Consumer Survey can not be joined to GA data. They’re separate products that are not integrated. It’s a fantastic idea and I’ll pass it along to the team.

        You’re correct, the fundamental concept behind cross device measurement relies on self identification of known customers. I think it will be a challenge to marketers to create a valuable proposition to incentivise login. And I value your comment re: PII – it can be a hassle. But that’s something that is specific to GA. But on the flip side, you can use the remarketing feature even without PII.

    5. Jess says

      I’m trying to find a way to combine our analytics for a website, mobile site and app so that we can se a clear picture of how traffic moves between – will I be able to do this with Univeral Analytics – or what’s the best way to set it up currently?

      • says

        @Jess: Yes, one of the main features of Universal Analytics is cross-device tracking. The feature is called User ID. You supply an ID for your users and the data from that user is joined across all devices. It has not been released yet but should be available soon.

        • Jess says

          Thanks for this – will this work if the urls are different across the mobile and web sites – as in and, and can it track traffic from the app to the site and mobile site as well? Any idea when this function will be available?


          • says

            @Jess: That’s the idea, that you can measure across devices. The key is that you as a business have a customer identifier that you can use for measurement across device. You supply that identifier to analytics and it joins the data. The best I can do is say that it will be out soon.

    6. Nancy says

      This was a really fun and applicable blog post to read- thanks! We have many of these components in place, but are definitely challenged with some silo’ed systems. Nice to read a fresh, outside perspective. :)

    7. says

      Justin: When will Custom Dimensions data be available via the Core Reporting API? Right now we are running GA and UA in parallel as a work around. Any insights on when this data will become API accessible is much appreciated. The best forecast any web search can provide right now is “soon”.

      • says

        @Adam: I’m afraid the best I can do is soon. I know a lot of people get frustrated re: time estimates, and I apologize. But it’s very hard to exactly state when something will be available. There are lots of moving parts. Again, apologies for the inconvenience.

    8. says

      This is fascinating. In my part of the country, tree skiers have a reputation for not spending much on food and apres. But the revolution in gear has brought older guys like me into the sport and into the trees. I’m spending a TON of money on lessons for my seven-year-old. I know the key to getting my family to ski more days is getting my daughter jazzed. My wife will follow. So if RFID says I’m skiing the Dark Side (Gore Mountain, NY) all day, but not racking up the vert. It means I’m probably an older, tree-skiing fanatic. Sell me more lessons for my wife and daughter. I will spend.

      BTW Justin… hope it’s not too spammy to post a link, one of our contributors is also a major McConkey fan:

    9. says

      Thanks for this, Justin. We’re gearing up to transition to Universal Analytics (we don’t want to set up a new account because we want the historical information – might you share details on when account migration to UA will be available?), so this was really helpful to see how you’re thinking all of these new analytics goodies are coming together and what the best practice analytics of tomorrow will look like.

      Fake examples aren’t always helpful, but this post helped to cement a lot of connected concepts for the first time. I hope you’re well!

    10. says

      a good clear post. Thank you.
      have you thought about what text analytics could do to enhance the understanding even more.
      There’s an often requoted stat that unstructured/verbal data is about 7 times as big/valuable as structured data (though i’ve seen no proof of this)…and when the two types are put together, there’s an exponential increase in understanding.

      • says

        @Chris: Yes, text analytics can hold a lot of insights. But you’re right, working with unstructured data is a lot more work. Universal Analytics is really about structured data – information that you design. Perhaps there are opportunities to merge the two in the future, but you still need some type of key and I’m not sure of the insights you’d get. Thanks for comment, much appreciated.

    11. Eddie says

      Hi Justin,

      Informative article as always. One subject that you didn’t cover. Is there any way to measure app downloads for iOs in Universal Analytics? I know that it’s possible for Android but i cannot seem to find a way for Apple’s App Store.

      • says

        @Eddie: Unfortunately no, there is no way to measure app downloads for iOS using Google Analytics. I know it’s a pain, but there are platform limitations. Thanks for the question!


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