Converting Data into Dollars

The Digital Analytics Association recently named Cardinal Path the Most Influential Agency/Vendor of 2015. President and cofounder John Hossack explains how innovation helped his company join the ranks of Google Analytics and Adobe with this honour.

For seven hours in 2010, John Hossack and his four cofounders gathered to undertake the naming of their new company with the same exacting precision that would allow them to rise up through the ranks of the analytics industry. They had certain criteria in mind: something easy to spell, with a hard consonant starting it, and an early alphabet letter immediately following; something that didn’t carry multiple meanings; something that conveyed an idea without specifically describing a service; and, of course, it had to have a domain name available. In other words, it easily could have taken them another seven hours to find something that met so many criterions.

But they found the heart of their company’s mission in Cardinal Path—a desire to help businesses find their primary direction—hence “cardinal”—and move forward.

“We build up this ‘cardinal path’ for companies, and it’s often a multiyear journey,” says Hossack, who serves as president. “It’s putting the right people in place, getting management buy-in, implementing the technology, governance—it’s work, and it requires a high degree of experience so you don’t waste precious time on standing up an analytics function that can seriously impact your business.”But they found the heart of their company’s mission in Cardinal Path—a desire to help businesses find their primary direction—hence “cardinal”—and move forward.

HOW IMPORTANT IS GROWTH?

“In this industry, if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backward. Look at the changing landscape of the Fortune 500 companies in just the last decade. In the digital era, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for laggards. It does take time to get governance, systems, talent, and even data-driven culture in place across the enterprise, but doing it right the first time will pay dividends and provide a foundation for organizations to compete and win on digital. That’s what we’re all about.”

The analytics journey Cardinal Path sets in motion—one that’s designed to help the enterprise turn data into dollars, according to Hossack—involves a few key areas of services: digital intelligence (from analytics platform implementations to sophisticated analytics, such as predictive- and lifetime-value models), digital marketing (including programmatic media buying, SEO, and SEM), and training. “It’s about providing data insights to the right people at the right time,” Hossack says. “We’re using data to build segments that can inform a company’s media purchasing and determine who its most valuable customers are and how to get more of them.”

Cutting-edge analytics doesn’t come in a can, which explains why Hossack doesn’t hesitate to stress that innovation is at the core of everything Cardinal Path does. “Innovation is paramount to our success and our future,” he says. Online/offline attribution modelling is one such innovation that Cardinal Path offers; it helps companies that have serious online investments and digital assets—yet still do plenty of business offline—as they discover how their digital investment is paying off. It’s a service that heeds the “research online, purchase offline” trend; with many of a product’s actual sales happening offline, after the decision to purchase has been made by way of the product’s website, Cardinal Path builds models to map out the impact of such activity.

This work follows earlier innovations, including the Online Analytics Maturity Model, a tool that helps companies assess their maturity across six different axes that Cardinal Path believes success is predicated. The axes—which include the ability to scope projects, the objectives of projects, and the expertise of teams in place—serve as a sort of GPS for businesses. “If an organization’s digital-analytics maturity level is low and remains low, it is destined to fail, regardless of intent,” Hossack says.

He sees the keys to Cardinal Path’s success clearly: create products and services at a relatively simple launching point. Once clients have comfort at that level, Hossack explains, they can grow into the more complex—and more lucrative—services that Cardinal Path has to offer. “It’s really hard to get someone who doesn’t understand much about digital data to say, initially, ‘Yeah, this is going to be worth it,’” he says.

“Our success is completely tied to our clients’ success,” Hossack continues. “So our ability to continue to understand their needs and tie solutions to them based on their maturity as well as the data they have available—that is key.”

5 Questions with  John Hossack

What does innovation mean to your company?
Innovation is at the heart of what we do at Cardinal Path and essential to our growth. Part of our purpose is to know, to share, and to create competitive advantage. You cannot be on the leading edge of this industry without innovation.

Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
Client-side, more and more organizations are awakening to the fact that they must become data-driven organizations in order to be competitive. This realization really moves our company forward because that’s exactly what we’re doing for people—empowering them to make business decisions based on what their data says.

Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
The next five years will see us doing more and more data science and predictive-analytics work. Once organizations have that critical data layer working for them and they can trust the data coming in, we’ll start to focus squarely on the fun stuff—transforming data into revenue.

How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
Ten years ago, the limiting factors were the costs of infrastructure. But with ability to access storage in the cloud, organizations can do a lot more and be more aggressive about trying new things. With data to guide us, we are free to get out in front of trends as they are happening. So being innovative doesn’t have to be as risky as it was once.

How do you cultivate innovation within your workforce?
Once a year, we have an innovation event where different offices will submit standout ideas based on the work we’re doing for clients, with an aim to replicate that success in other areas. We also have weekly Friday meetings across the company to talk about the latest and most exciting work that we’re doing. We are sharing analytics applications with our teams that didn’t exist just months earlier.