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The WebTrends Identity Crisis

Posted by Andrew Edwards on April 27th, 2011 at 9:33 am

I have been serving web analytics customers for about nine years now. Most of that time I have also known WebTrends quite well--as an offering as well as a company. Disclosure: my company is a partner with WebTrends, as it is with some of the other vendors in the web analytics space.

Let me preface by saying I think they have a great product, one of the strongest in the market. And let me also say that some of the issues I will bring up are not unique to WebTrends but are common to most if not all analytics vendors.

With the acquisitions of Urchin (Google), Omniture (Adobe) and now Nedstats (comScore), WebTrends remains one of the only if not the only enterprise class, pure-play analytics company left standing. That is an accomplishment (yes?). Whether or not they soon get acquired is a matter upon which I cannot speculate. But on the surface, this "last-man-standing" bit would seem to offer rather a strong market position.

So why does this Portland, Oregon company, probably the oldest in the analytics space, continue to suffer from what I call an acute identity crisis?

For instance:

-are they a cloud computing solution provider (WT OnDemand)?

-are they a software vendor (with the only true enterprise analytics software available)?

-are they a Social Media company, as their latest marketing push would suggest?

-are they a consulting company (since they perform significant professional services to configure their own product)?

-are they never to embrace their legacy as the oldest player in the market (perhaps they don't want to admit to all those instances of Log Analyzer kicking around)?

What I see is a fragmented offering that seems reactive rather than pro-active. There is much attention paid by WT marketing to whatever is currently frothy in the marketplace--social media these days; reaching out to "agencies" as if they as a class of companies have anything but disdain for accountability--and virtually none paid to the bedrock issues that make them an attractive offering.

If you believe the buzz, you would think the world of interactivity will rise continually on a cloud and this cloud will reach a size sufficient to block even the sunlight. And naturally, any smart company will want to leverage that buzz. But what if one of your core offerings--in this case, WebTrends Analytics on-premise software--happens not to be in the cloud but behind the firewalls of no small number of enormous corporations who have no taste for outsourcing their sensitive user data? And what if that core offering were really the only one of its kind? Would it seem like a smart marketing move to shout that news to the hilltops? It would--or at least I think it would.

But it is not shouted. In fact, it is (as far as I can discern) buried. Almost as if it were part of some unwanted legacy--even as the user base seems very much interested in their software offering. So what might be the rationale behind the diminution of a software offering?

Partly it's about matters of control. It is harder to support software than cloud solutions. There are version and upgrade issues with software--distractions all. Sometimes you even have to send folks on site to support software and that is mad expensive these days. And of course the environment belongs to the customer not the vendor. Finally, software, since it lives outside of WebTrends' servers, is much more likely to be serviced by independent, skilled analytics professionals rather than the professional services team fielded by WebTrends (a fine group of talented folks). These practitioners are viewed--sadly I think--more as competitors than as partners. Such an attitude helps neither the overall market environment for WT nor does it help its customers solve tough problems in a way that suits them. But perhaps control is preferred over customer-choice? Disclosure: my company services some WT software owners.

Partly it may be about a truly esoteric matter of "valuation" even though WT is a privately held company: my understanding is that cloud-computing companies have a better multiple than on-prem software companies. Go ask an analyst if this is true--I am just an observer of this phenomenon with no financial expertise.

My observation is that from a market-positioning POV, WebTrends is not comfortable in its own skin. It fields some of the most capable products in the analytics space. Yet its marketing team does little to help, but seems instead to muddy the message with flavor-of-the-month claims. The company also seems to do little to help itself among its technically proficient partners, committing perhaps not enough effort towards empowering this group such that they may aid WTOD and WT software customers in solving business problems using WT products. To be fair, this is an industry-wide problem not just a WT problem. Nearly every analytics vendor appears more interested in shoehorning customer requirements into the tool rather than creatively applying the tool to solve customer problems.

Do I have a solution? Not entirely. I recognize the challenge: oldest player in fast-evolving market. Maybe someone somewhere sees this as a real downside. But embracing who you are (the better to leverage your value to prospects) and those who care about you (the better to leverage your base and your partners) would be a great start.

All I am really trying to say is this: the analytics marketplace is ill-served when one of its major constituents is hiding its light under a bush.

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