One sure way to situate a movie scene in the mid-20th century is to stage a young man holding a wrench in the act of leaning over a car engine, happily tinkering. In those days, many of the processes going on under the hood of a car were accessible to anyone willing to get their hands greasy and spend some time. My last mechanic taught himself how to fix cars in Guatemala several decades ago. Even my mom used to have a little trick she would perform under the hood (you might call it easily reversible sabotage) that let her disabuse people of the notion that women are helpless around engines.
By comparison, today’s automotive systems are much more complicated, much more opaque. It’s hard even to see what’s going on or how to approach repairs without sophisticated computer diagnostic gear.
A similar path has been traced, though on a shorter timescale, in marketing analytics. In the good old days, you could lift up the hood of your analytics system and reliably identify what was going on. With a little savvy you could see the parts of a URL that corresponded to specific campaigns. A bit more experience allowed you to detect things like media channel, ad type, message content. In those days, someone familiar with an organization’s naming conventions might even have been able to detect if a mistake was made when the tracking code was appended to the URL. Just by looking at it carefully, a rogue underscore, or an unnecessary capitalization might have been noticed and fixed.
Peek under the hood of the latest model in the analytics showroom these days, and it’s a very different story. In a recent interview I heard modern automatically-generated tracking codes created in bulk by platforms like Facebook and AdWords referred to as gobbledy-gook — they may hold meaning, but it’s not at all accessible to the naked eye. And if the incoming code hasn’t been described accurately to your analytics system, it may not be able to make sense of it either.
For all their sophistication, modern automotive systems still break down, and when they do, it’s more expensive than ever to try to get them up and running again. Gone are the days when you could spend a Saturday afternoon with a tool box by your side and a rag hanging out of your back pocket, and expect to be ready for a Sunday drive.
Gone, too, are the days when you or your analytics team could visually inspect the codes automatically generated by someone like Facebook or AdWords and make any sense of them. When modern analytics systems break down they can be broken in ways that you’re not even aware of, until your reports come out with holes where the data should be. The trusty tool box you’ve been relying on was developed in a simpler time, but going forward you’ll want a system in place that can deal with the gobbledy-gook and keep your insight engine running smoothly. As luck would have it, that’s where Tracking First comes in. Our job is to ensure that tracking code data is described and recorded accurately, from the first instance of data collection.
No more gobbledy-gook.