A challenge that many businesses face is measuring the effectiveness of their marketing spend - both offline and online.
That task may soon get a little easier - thanks to the release of Google's Universal Analytics.
Like Google Analytics, Universal Analytics tracks behaviour on websites. However, the key difference is that while Google Analytics tracks visits to a website, Universal Analytics tracks visitors.
This may seem like a small difference but actually it is a BIG distinction and will be a big deal for marketers and businesses who want to mine insights to help grow their business.
The ability to track visitors means that you will eventually be able to track the activities of one visitor regardless of what device they use to access your website.
This means you will be better able to track conversions at a visitor level not by the number of visits.
At the moment, we can only really track conversions by visits.
This has been less of a problem in the past, but the as the consumer path to purchase has forever changed it has become more of an issue.
For example, if the same person came to your website via mobile and later came to your website via desktop computer and purchased a product, that one person would be tracked as two visits and one conversion.
Current analytics will not track which source actually helped or assisted the conversion if they came from a different device.
In the example I provided, the reality is that only one person visited your website - albeit multiple times.
Therefore it can be difficult to attribute effectiveness of different marketing campaigns at a more granular level.
With universal analytics, customers can be assigned an anonymous user ID to track purchases offline by visiting a store or phoning and online by placing an order.
The real beauty of the system is being able to segment users into different groups so you can market to them better.
Imagine being able to identify visitors at the risk of dropping out of your sales funnel or even being able to assign exactly where the sale came from.
Imagine being able to use this information to be able to automate your marketing program to give them a gentle nudge back to your sales funnel. It is not that far out.
At the heart of the new universal analytics system is assigning a visitor a unique user ID number.
Yep - I know it sounds like a pain - another technology hurdle - but perhaps it is not be as difficult as what you think in the future.
If you had a loyalty program (that has a membership card number), or even an email address, a CRM system or a coupon code that could uniquely identify a visitor, it can be done.
Obviously there are a couple of data privacy issues to deal with. Nevertheless I am pretty sure that the appropriate technology could be used to encrypt this type of information and assign a visitor a unique ID.
The key is understanding your goals and then mapping out a process that supports those goals and putting measures in place to help track & measure and help you market better.
Businesses and analytics professionals are only starting to come to grips with what this might mean. Universal analytics is only in its infancy.
However, if you are interested then I recommend you head on over to this blog post where you can see how Universal Analytics could be applied at a ski resort.
We had the pleasure of listening to Justin Cutroni talk about this live at a recent Google Analytics User Conference in Melbourne.
It's an interesting case study of where the future might lie.
What do have on your wish list?