I first met Matthias at an eMetrics conference a few years back. Since that time I have enjoyed catching up at various industry events in the States and it was a real pleasure to visit Berlin this summer and see Matthias in action as he was leading the DA Hub event there. I was lucky enough to get some of his time recently to find out more about him.
Q: Tell us about your background and be sure to include: How did you get started in Analytics ?
In my first life I was a nurse working in an ICU. From there I decided to do something very different and studied “media computer sciences” in Berlin – and found out that this supposed-to-be-something-like-webdesign study was pretty, pretty technical. I got started in Analytics a few years later when I worked as a webmaster in a pharma company. I was way more successful in explaining optimizations (at that time mainly Ux and SEO) when I could explain failures and successes with data. After a merger I was promoted into a new founded global marketing consulting role where I was co-managing a large website migration program. Instead of calculating plain IT efforts to recode sites for the new enterprise platform I first checked the website’s success by looking at the web data and identifying the size and type of the target audience.
From there I understood much better if a site worthed a migration, and how to possibly improve it when doing so. So, my background was technical in the first place, but then I became more an interface between departments which had -say- not the best communication experiences. My analytics career started by understanding business requirements, letting the technical part be done accordingly, and providing a measure framework to prove it.
After my pharma years I was hired by Semphonic to head their new Berlin office in 2012. This lasted only 15 months until Semphonic was acquired by Ernst & Young. This happened in the US only (and I had to decline a very appealing offer to move over by family reasons) and I gave it a try to continue on my own. I really do regret not more working with Gary Angel and his team, but the experience helped me a lot to do quite well in my current situation.
Q: What were you doing five years ago and how has that experience help you with your current role/job?
5 years ago I was still “the German pharma guy” (it took ages until I finally met another web analyst from the pharma business at an analytics conference). 2009 was the year I visited the XChange conference for my first time. This really changed my career, which I couldn’t even imagine at that time. It was where I met Gary Angel initially, but I also learned so much knowledge and insights in the discussions. There are so many #measure people I am grateful for their patience and understanding, sharing valuable ideas and recommendations, and sharing experiences with me. I can’t imagine to be where I am now without the exchange, support and motivation I got from all these great analysts.
Btw, didn’t we first met there, too?
Q: What are your favorite industry events and why ?
I am heavily biased as I chair and co-chair two conferences.
As said, the XChange is a fantastic conference. The format is all about conversations. The level of exchange is deep and there’s enough time for longer discussions, asking questions and sharing experiences in detail. The next US XChange takes place in October [LINK: http://ey.cvent.com/XChange_2014], if you have any chance: Join it!
Semphonic brought this conference to Europe, we had two XChange conferences in Berlin in 2012 and 2013 but there were no plans to continue it in Europe after Semphonic was acquired. So, my partner Michael Feiner (founder of AEP Convert in UK) and I kept up the format and successfully rebranded the conference into “Digital Analytics Hub” (with Gary’s blessing – another thing to be grateful for). It took place this June again in Berlin (summary here https://www.linkedin.com/groups/Digital-Analytics-Hub-8111305) , and we are currently planning for 2015 – probably in London.
Beside of that I am co-chair of the German eMetrics. So, I can strongly recommend this one, too. It is rather complementary to format like the XChange or DA Hub, and a great place to get an overview of what the different industries are doing in terms of analytics, meeting the opinion leaders, vendors and agencies. My first touchpoint to the DAA was at the 2007 Stockholm eMetrics where I met Jim Sterne, and also Aurélie Pols and René Dechamps (now running MindYourGroup in Spain). I will never forget Jims face when I came up with web analytics challenges in pharma (no sales, no ads, no branding for a public audience – so, how to measure success?). I learned two things that week: Everyone’s cooking with water, there is no silver bullet to do magic. But there are smart ways do better and better over time.
So: Folks, go and visit the eMetrics! It is important to understand how others are working and what they may consider regarding your challenges.
Beside the conferences I am proud to be directly involved with, I do like the #measurecamp [LINK: www.measurecamp.org] in London very much. It is an “unconference”, I’d say punk-rock style. It requires a lot of active engagement and participation by the attendees. Unfortunately Peter O’Neill is not scheduling it around my wedding anniversary. So, I’ll miss it this September. This drives me nuts.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is just trying to get started in this industry ?
Meet people. Don’t focus on a single tool or channel or type of site. Be interested in analytics for other industries than yours. Talk about your challenges and share your ideas. Don’t be shy to speak (if you get a chance). Question stuff and discuss online. Question stuff again – things change rapidly! Read (Gary’s blog!) and a lot more great sources (this one here!). Have fun. And to make sure this continues: Think of what you’re doing in terms of ethics and responsibility. Analytics is powerful and there’s a dark side involved.
Q: What business or industry related book have you read recently, and would you recommend it to others ?
I have to admit I have to catch up a bit. Business-wise I read a lot on the web, but less books. The most recent analytics book on my desk (and awaiting my review) is a German Google Analytics Book written by two befriended colleagues, Markus Vollmert and Heike Lück from the agency LunaPark in Cologne.
One book I remember very well is Eric Siegel’s “Predictive Analytics” from 2013, a hands-down recommendation.
Q: When or if you could hire a new person to your team, what are the most important attributes that you are looking for ?
Communication skills, self-confidence, responsibility, and an open minded attitude.
Of course, knowledge and experience are certainly important, too, but that’s not all (and can develop over time). I want someone who doesn’t forget the knob when I ask for a door, and who answers a business requirement with a meaningful method or approach, not a tool functionality.
Q: What has surprised you the most in the past 5 years in this digital analytics industry ?
Many things. A recent detail was this video which is -imho- a very nice reflection of our industry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxfTHHltsWA (lyrics -but not the singing- by Jim Sterne)
Certainly the ongoing rise of analytics across pretty much every business and industry is still stunning. On the other hand I am also surprised by how much more “room for improvement” is still existing at basic levels. There are a lot of companies not yet making use of analytics, or spending a huge amount of money to channels or tools more or less by the sake of it.
I am surprised all the time by new approaches, smart use of technologies, new niche tools and especially the passion of the #measure audience, one example: I run a monthly series of DAALAs in Berlin (“DAA Late Afternoons”, meanwhile spread out all over in Germany) where a sponsor does 1-2 shorter presentations in a casual after work environment, and the local #measure audience is very engaged, interested and open minded despite any competition and very different levels of expertise.
Q: We have heard volumes about Big Data, Privacy, Democratization of Analytics. What is next ?
Data Ethics. It combines it all. I read and hear a lot of iterations on what you mentioned, but we are just in the beginning of a larger cultural, legal and of course technical process. A lot has not been said or heard yet. It is about nothing less than if and how we can maintain freedom and democracy.
Technically analytics will become more and more automated and complex, but will still require a lot of brainwork and human resources to make use of it. At least as long there’s not a “holistic full service black box analytics automation” provided by a monopolist. I hope this will last another decade maybe…
Thinking of the upcoming level of personalization across all devices, the IoT, bio-engineering, augmented reality, and all of it undermined by spying techniques, I just hope the societies (formerly known as democratic) will not faint. It would be a terrible tragedy if the public internet became a surveillance machine which creates closed social bubbles instead of open access to information, and which only remaining freedom is to buy products recommended by advertising algorithms. But the threat is real.
Technology-wise I would expect a major development in cognitive techniques, mood- and psychological-based segmentation/personalization, and seamless interfaces, e.g. voice and gesture controls, and finally the dawn of “brainreading” interfaces. All this will make stream data even more “streamy” as click-based metrics like page-views or hits will not more exist. Mobile apps are starting to show that direction, but this will improve a lot in short time.
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite interview questions? What would your answers to them be ?
I loved the question from Emer Kirrane’s “silly series” [LINK: http://www.emerkirrane.com/people/]: Which metrics would you be? Only that I was not asked that one in my interview. My answer would be time-on-site and page-stickyness. Who has met me knows why.
Q: Talking about football (soccer for some of your readers): As a Werder Bremen fan, do you prefer Bayern Munich or Schalke 04?
My kids love to torture me with that question.. While I have a clear opinion on “pestilence or cholera?” (pestilence, easy to cure), I just can’t say which of the above clubs I prefer to be doomed. Forever. (With regards to Andrew Janis, cheer-up dear friend!)
Q: What keeps you awake at night ?
Techno music. And jetlag. Best is a combination of both. Fortunately not for my kids.
Q: You win a business lottery, but there is a catch. The money must be spent to create a new business within the digital measurement space. What area would you focus on, and what kind of team would you assemble?
I would like to improve things out of the typical business we know. Digital marketing is great fun, but only this alone is not really a fulfilling meaning of life (it is very challenging, interesting, entertaining, and crowded by cool people, so that’s a reason to stay with it for a while..).
Thinking of media and education, I would love to prove that people are not mostly passive remote controlled consumers of any stupidity as long it is entertaining, as panel-based methods are telling the broadcast media. I’d like to focus on quality and opinions (not how they are manipulated) rather than quantity and consumption.
I’d like to overcome averages and not optimising for majorities which are outnumbering minorities. I’d like instead segmenting different interests, needs and cultures to enable a fair balance and grant a space for free development for everyone. (You’ve asked, so let me dream)
Thinking of the real problems of this world I think a lot of measures are used plain wrong or are ignored by purpose. Way too often impacts to natural and human environments and infrastructures are not taken into account – this is so stubbornly short minded and obviously counter-productive. There is no next generation to blame us on this if our education is not providing other ways to think about this – e.g. by measuring holistic long term effectiveness.
Near term I wish I had a team which is obliged to immediately intercept -say- a TV news bullshit presentation of data where e.g. a 10.000 points scale is zoomed in, so that a 0,05% increase looks like a huge spike, and consequently “predictions” are made for the next 30 years (to be proven wrong by the next quarter, which doesn’t hinder to continue the road to nowhere).
The interceptor would need to be a wise teacher as shown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIAdHEwiAy8