045: Data Storytelling with Avinash Kaushik

Avinash-Kaushik-sqData data everywhere, but not a drop to analyze. Avinash Kaushik, the Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google, co-Founder of Market Motive Inc and author of best selling analytics books shares his thoughts on the difficult process of turning data into insights. How can we tell stories with our data and what is the role of a data analyst in a nonprofit? Avinash shares great frameworks for how to approach the MASSIVE problem of leveraging data in an organization.

There is a story in every data set, some more useful than others. The executive team is more likely to take a nap when presented with “interesting” spreadsheets, but if there is a clear narrative that explains the insight AND the way forward you are doing it right in the eyes of Avinash.


There is a story in your data, find it, tell it, use it to make real impact in your organization. Click To Tweet Podcast w/ @avinash. Care about, Do about, Impact if done: The critical approach to analyzing data. Click To Tweet



  • Model Social media metrics
    • Conversation Rate – comments
    • Amplification rate – retweets
    • Applause Rate – likes, favorites
    • Economic value
  • Model for making data matter
    • When looking at any data set for your organization move through these three areas to determine what and how to tell the story of your data.
    • Care about
    • Do about it
    • Impact if done

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Find more free tools and resources through Google for Nonprofits.


George:  This is Using The Whole Whale. The podcast that brings you the story of Data and Technology in the nonprofit world.

My name is George Weiner, I’m your host and the Chief Whaler of WholeWhale.com.

Thanks for joining us.

Welcome to episode 45.

We’re talking with Avinash Kaushik, the Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google, and co-founder of Market Motive.

He has been probably one of the most influential people in my thinking, in the understanding of Google Analytics and understanding the power of what data can do for an organization.

He has written two books, more recent one was Web Analytics 2.0 which is really the go-to Bible for understanding web analytics and the behavior of people online.

He was nice enough to join us today to talk about how we can use data and storytelling, to discuss a bit about what the role of a Data Analyst is, and some of the examples that he’s seen in the nonprofit world.

I’m not going to lie, this guy is awesome.

We go through so many different topics but don’t feel bad if you have to sort of pause, rewind and listen to this again.

There are tons of show notes, and hopefully, you can use topics when you hear them, maybe as the beginning of a thread, you should chase down. For example, reading his blog on Occam’s Razor.

Alright, I’m going to jump into it, and I’m so excited. If you enjoy this half as much as I enjoy talking with Avinash, we’ll be in a very good place. Thanks for joining us, here we go.

George:  And I’m here with Avinash Kaushik, the Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google and co-founder of Market Motive. Thanks for joining us Avinash.

Avinash:  It’s my pleasure, thank you for inviting me.

George:  Yeah, I have to ask, what exactly does a Digital Marketing Evangelist do for Google?

Avinash:   I am still trying to figure that out. I have two different kinds of roles at Google.

I work with some of the largest customers that Google has around the world. I help them create marketing strategies, with a heavy flavor, how digital marketing is changing, the role of digital and in the context of all the things they are doing, or just kind of do what they do on digital.

At Google, my other role is to help focus on having Google and Googlers tell their stories with data. How to use data to figure out and tell better stories, to try and get companies to action faster.

So that’s the two facets of my role.  

I started off as an analyst at Google and very quickly I realized that data isn’t the problem, we have more data than God wanted them to have. Every company, every nonprofit, every for-profit and yet people don’t make as clever of decisions as we might expect them to do and really doesn’t have anything to do with.

Other reasons why people don’t  make better decisions and then it turns out that it’s little bit less to do with data and a little bit more how we think about the opportunities in front of us.

George:  Totally so. I actually spent time with nonprofits and making the case for analytics and specifically Google Analytics. I actually like to hear this in your words, what do you feel the role is for Google Analytics for nonprofits?  

Avinash:   Sure. So, Google Analytics is basically a really great way for a nonprofit to get enterprise plus (inaudible 04:14:00), if you’re a nonprofit that handles money, I happily encourage you to go get a solution from IBM or Adobe. But both of whom who have pretty good analytics solution, like really good ones.

Google Analytics gives you all those features you need for zero cost. So, it’s a very effective way to get the same kind of analytical solution that currently powers some of the largest companies in the world.

So that’s the more toolcentric answer.

But for me, it’s the purposecentric answer that is much more important.

So, coincidentally, I don’t know when you’re going to post this but we are recording this at the very end of 2016 and my wife and I wrote our check for charity yesterday. Where all the proceeds from both of my books are donated to charity and we support Smile Train, Doctors Without Borders and Ekal Vidyalaya. Those are the three charities that get all the money that we make from books. But I’ll use Smile Train as an example because we just wrote them a check yesterday.

Now, the great thing about Smile Train is that they invest a ton of money in many different ways to connect with the existing donors, as well as a whole bunch of investments that we make in order to attract new donors. At the moment they have this Grouchy Carol on their website, they have this Christie Brinkley thing, they are trying to create a small jar, they have a holiday tributes, they have donations coming in of course from GiveWell blog, they have like at least forty things that they are doing on their website right now.

And wouldn’t it be amazing for the Smile Train, this finite amount of (inaudible 06:00:00) power to know there is actually working. Or should we rely on the director of Smile Train or the President seeing or people “digital” at Smile train to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And it is really as simple as that.

So we got like forty things happening on the website, you have to figure out the seven that are actually working and then figure out how to double, triple those seven things and that’s really the most alternative ways when thought about.

For me, in terms of using Google Analytics or using digital analytical solutions we have to understand what is working and help them understand what is not working, and then they can figure out how to use the resources to maximize the amount of impact we can have in the world through the stories of creating our websites. And then we can dive deep into how they can do very different things and the effect it will have. And for me if you are a nonprofit there is finite resources, it is better to use data to figure out where to put more of your precious money and figure out where to put more of your precious resources.

George:  Absolutely. So you’re able to collect these data, understand what people may or may not be doing on your website, but you actually made a point in a recent post around story-telling that even if you have all of this information sitting there, if it doesn’t make it that last mile, if it doesn’t make it basically to the executives who are making the decisions, we really actually end up in a rot. And you used some lovely amazing terms that I would love for you to tease out such as “data puking” and “reporting squirrels.” Can you explain a bit more?  

Avinash:   Absolutely. So to think how…so for me the last mile is as an analyst, we do an amazing amount of work and we collect a lot of the information and then we have to give it to the analysts themselves can make the big important (inaudible 8:06:00), that are necessary will be somebody else, a senior person from the company who will make decisions about what is it that should be done and it can end up context that I think is (inaudible 08:21:00) because what tends to happen is whether you use Google Analytics or any other analytics solution, you get that tsunami of data and as soon as you get this tsunami of data thrown out, really good interesting data, mixed in with not all that interesting data and what happen is, we will take the most obvious metrics and we’ll say “oh, that’s huge, trend in page views,” or, “Oh my God, did you realize the average time people spend on our site is a 1:36 seconds,” and that’s where you can take data to work in the nonprofit sector and work with them to try to make….And (inaudible 09:00:00) “64.8% new visitors, yay, hurray, happy birthday…”

George:  We did.

Avinash:   We’ve got to be really cool to get this for the very first time, and a couple months of it (inaudible 09:15:00) a month and after a while we realized that we were not going to tell people what is the meaning of all this stuff, what’s it mean simply (inaudible 09:30:00). We didn’t puke all the data out and show the simplest way to.

Here’s one of my favorite examples.

So one of the first question people will ask is, what are the most, what is the content that people really want from us? Very simple question in the nonprofit, president, CEO, whatever is going to ask. So these are the top reasons and (inaudible 09:56:00) and I think he saying, what we got to sit down and think about what are the places people wanted to see but did not get to see it?

George:  Here is where Avinash is making a distinction between a data squirrel and a data analyst, the squirrel being someone who simply just brings over that 63%, yay! But so what? Nice, but so what? A data analyst helps you get to the point where actually taking action or finding insight on whatever the data is brought to you.

Avinash:   (inaudible 10:35:00) about the navigation they are experiencing to the website. And as you navigate very directly tied to your ability to make money as an example, right? As a returning donor for myself Smile Train’s (inaudible 10:53:00), but I wanted to know more about how many of our money has been used, I can see from the superficial stuff but I can actually dig deeper into the data, how do you answer that question? And the top 10 pages that doesn’t answer that question.

So I think that it is very normal and it is okay the first time you get access to our data you will spend a little time puking the data out, but it’s important to know that, the role of an analyst is to communicate care, do and impact.

Care, do and impact.

So from the data, try and figure out how to tell the nonprofit what is it that we should really care about when it comes to the data. So what is it that we should care about when it comes to the data? And that will come from the data, all these metrics.

So here is why you should care about this piece of data.

So we care about bounce rate, so here’s why we care about it.

We care about conversion rate for our donations, or here is why you should care about it.

Or here’s what people are searching on our website, here is why you should care about it.

But then George this is really important, what is it that a person should do?

This is where most analysts sort of fall short, and sometimes George they’re not even clear whose job it is to figure out what you should do. I said this to Smile Train (inaudible 12:18:00), so we threw data out, so whose job it is to figure out by looking at the data what we should do? Ideally, it is the analysts say that’s somebody else’s job. I would go its the analysts job. You are the closest to the data. You should have enough marketing savvy, understanding exactly what is happening on the website and say what the hell the company should do, right? And if you don’t know what that is, then go find people in the marketing team, go find the people who’s responsible for content, go find the people who are responsible for PR, go find these responsibilities who are responsible for these key area issues inside the nonprofit. And in a small nonprofit, it might be Joe, the same guy, right? Or Julie, you know. So here is this thing in the data, what do you think we should do about it and have that kind of teaching, right?

And then finish the last part which is, what will be the impact if the action is taken?

I’m going to give you an example, on the Smile Train’s fan page there’s a big promotion about Christie Brinkley. When you look at the data it turns out that nobody cares about Christie Brinkley. God forbid, okay.  Nobody cares. Nobody is watching the video, going to the page, nobody is there. What should we do is avoid Christie Brinkley or now again, remember, this is just a made-up scenario, okay. Now we are going to them and we don’t need Christie Brinkley, we need Bruce Willis, alright, great, great. Now go back to the data, go back, unless if you look at the other patterns and what kind of content data we will change, and what kind of videos we’ve created, and you go back and said, basically say to Bruce Willis that we anticipate we will get these many more donations.

So I think the care, do and impact model puts data in its right place. Which is, data is in the care, data is in business impact. But magic is in the data. I think analysts have figured out that their job is to get the data from care to do to impact are going to be very successful and very important for nonprofits because you and I know George there is very little money to waste. We raise…

George:  Yeah, extremely little.

Avinash:   It is very little, and you have to figure out how to use every precious dollar in the best possible bang for the buck if you will. And I don’t think that those people who call themselves analysts think that the job extends beyond why you should care. The data will come in, so why should you care, what should you do, and what is the business impact model?

George:  Yeah, so you make an interesting point about sort of in order to get that last mile effort, you actually talk a little bit about some of the tools out there that kind of kill it. But I’m just wondering, honestly are spreadsheets and Powerpoint killing the sort of data analyst out there? Is it killing the ability to tell that narrative inside an organization?

Avinash:   I’m not sure. So wonderful, wonderful (inaudible 15:44:00) about great storytelling with data and how do you visualize (inaudible 15:48:00). What I think is look, most of the analysis , most of the initial analysis or even the last analysis that you would do, will happen in Google Analytics, its where it can happen right? Or the more simple minded approach we could possibly be, it might happen in  Excel or Tableau or many of the other solutions that we have.

So most of the initial analysis will have there. And the day-to-day decisions that we will make, the tactical decisions we will make, will all happen inside of those solutions, okay.  So that’s very important to understand. But when it comes to presenting the data to our business leaders when it comes to our ability to go tell our business leaders what we should actually take, it is likely that we will give them a 40,000-row spreadsheet, it is not possible we’re going to do that. And that’s when I think a solution like Excel where we can create simple graphs, we can create simple dashboard versions and you can do very simple things, would be extremely beneficial. Or Powerpoint, that’s where Powerpoint is in need for and can do is. There is a lot of complexity in the data that we know and are aware of and need, not all that complexity can kind of hide behind the scenes and they present the simplest possible visualization about what actually to be taken, so for me, these two things co-exist.

In our day-to-day operation tactical scenarios, we will use directly reports from Google Analytics, I am a very big fan of their custom report and I share tons of them on my website. So you can just download those custom reports and they will be your backbone for day-to-day. Excel will continue to be a place where you’re not actually creating and craft your dashboard but by going out on a weekly or monthly schedule. When it comes to presenting the data that you need to make the most strategic decisions, most thoughtful, big, big, big decision, the most senior leaders inside your company for nonprofit, it is highly likely that you might change presenting the data in Excel, it might be tables, graphs, and charts, and it’s when you present the data using Excel or using Powerpoint, that you should be very cognizant of how to present it as simply as possible. Because the center of the discussion should not be the data, the center of the discussion should be what people should do. So for me, they all co-exist, it really depends on the person. Does that make sense?

George:  Absolutely. Yeah and it’s not blaming the tool, it’s the way it’s used in this case. And you know if it’s happening to BR35 point …our point is that it helps executives understand the impact, well done, but if it buries our leaders in row 1,007 it is not helping anybody.

Avinash: Exactly, one of the things I say is that when you see a leader discussion, so, by the way, George this only happens once a month or a once quarter. We are not talking about the day to day, where we don’t use the custom reporting feature in Google Analytics. In November I went out and shared five of my favorite custom reports (inaudible 19:16:00) I used that so custom reporting in Google Analytics continue to be our mainstay and will continue to be our mainstay but when it comes to your business meeting I often say that if you meet with the senior executive of a nonprofit and in that meeting they say “Wow, that was really interesting data” it’s a sign of failure. You failed in your analysis. What they should say at the end of that meeting is “yes, here are the three actions that we would take, let’s discuss these actions” and if they say that then you succeeded. It’s a tough thing for an analyst to grasp, to put, to come to terms with is, you are there to impress people with data. The reality in those meetings, the job is not to impress people with your data, your job is to present the data as simply as possible, to get in an argument is suicide, that would actually think, we start the suicide of what to do first, these people will start clawing at each other, no, (inaudible 20:19:00) that happens, as an analyst then you’ve done your job.

Always remember in meetings, “Wow, George that (inaudible 20:32:00). In that meeting George…

George: Only that meeting. I am not a lifetime failure. Basically what I’ve just heard is if they tell me it’s interesting, I just data puked on them, is that a correct assessment?

Avinash: That is exactly right.

George: Oh gosh. Oh boy. I have to now go back to my meeting notes, I don’t want to know how many people I may or may not have thrown up on. Alright, so, very helpful here. We’re talking about a great process here, we’re finding what we care about as an organization finding those things in a person, what do we do about it, and then finally the impact it done. But we’re talking to a lot of potential amateur analysts out there, what are some hacks or approaches you’ve seen worked for maybe the amateur in the audience here.

Avinash: Related to getting insights factor?

George: With regard to moving from the care about to the impact it’s done. How do I get to inside into the organization and then the change for the amateur?

Avinash: Okay. Very good. So, one of the most favorite tools you have to have is, when you have so much data it is actually really important to figure out what data to focus on and what data to ignore. This is really a very important. Because there is so much of it that you even the best analyst can easily drown in. It’s really difficult not to drown in it. So, one of the tools that I use is a tool I called the Digital Marketing and Measurement Model.

You can search for it on Google or Bing and you can find it.

It’s basically this 5 step process.

What it does is, it says in step 1 is work with this person to identify this, second, third, fourth, five steps. And what that does is for my unique nonprofit, what are the most important things that we are trying to get done in this time period. Usually, we look at 6 months and that’s like step #1, what are the business objectives.

Step # 2 what are the actual kind of goals we have? (Inaudible 22:44:00)

Step #3 is how do we know that there is data being met and you identify the Key Performance Indicators especially for the metrics that are very important.

Step #4 is actually going back to the objectives and we have four KPI’s that we have, or five KPI’s that we have, what does success look like? Because one of the reasons we don’t know what to do with data is we don’t know the success or failure looks like. And for them have to set targets, we get millions of visitors a month right now and we’re doing this big campaign with Christie Brinkley and we believe that it’s going to take us to 1.3Million visitors in a month. Okay great, now you got a target, right?

And the last one is what kind of segments are valuable for analysis.

One of the simplest hacks you can do George is you can create this one page, it actually fits on the page and as you spend a few days on it, work with people in the company and think hard this one page looks like. Assume you have that page you know that when you open Google Analytics and when you open Adobe Analytics exactly where to go and what to look for. And one of the other things is usually your digital marketing measurement model will have 6 KPI’s at most, usually sharp. Suddenly you have this sharp focus, so that’s the first step I want to share in terms of the approach you can (inaudible 24:06:00) now you know exactly what you are doing and will know how to get there, etc, etc, etc.

So, that’s one very important tool to use.

The other one is some of the things that I have found in Google Analytics. There is a feature called benchmarking in Google Analytics and how many nonprofits don’t know what is good and bad when it comes to them and under the audience folder there is a report called Benchmarking.

The benchmarking report is really great because what it does is it takes you and websites such as yours and it will say here is how you are doing in terms of acquiring traffic, getting visitors. This is how you are doing in terms of age, profession, and you can get that data by location, you get the data by source of the traffic and you can get data on the types of devices, 53% traffic every website is mobile. And the benchmarking is really hidden area and it helps you understand how in the context of other companies that are similar to your site is where you are doing better or worse. And helps you understand and influence what to do in terms of their measurement model that you have.

So that’s the second one to quick share.

My most favorite hack I would share is working with a nonprofit is I will actually go to the website which I know sounds really strange but honestly it is such a simple trick, I just go to the website like I am doing the Smile Train website right now, reach out in front of me before we got results, I identified roughly 9 or 10 outcomes that Smile Train website is trying to deliver. So, for example, email signups, donations, social shares and attending fundraisers, downloading things, connecting bureaus, so many different things. And my request to everyone is make sure that every one of these 10 things is identified as a goal inside Google Analytics, very very important. That is the measurement model of my work at all. By the way, because all the goals happened inside Google Analytics Admin Interface, you never need to touch the website itself, so you can set engagement goals, outcome goals, etc.

Once you have goals it will transform your life in terms of your ability to know what is working and know what is not working.

So initially, just identify the goals. Here’s a very simple one, how many email addresses are we able to collect from our website on a daily basis, very simple goal, right? For every single nonprofit.

One of the magical things George is after that we can make sure that we can track the people who are coming from our email campaigns and see if their behavior is different from people who come to our digital systems from Facebook or show up directly or show up from other places that they have. So, it’s a very simple thing.

My third sort of check if you will is to make sure that you use goal or feature in Google Analytics, without it you really have no idea how to focus on what kind of recommendations to make.

And then as many of the nonprofits we know are very active in social channels, they are very very active as they should be, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, and that case one of my last quick hack and we dive more into anything you would like to, is to use a tool called truesocialmetrics.com.

This is a tool that was created in a blog post I’ve written a couple of years ago, but the best social media metrics has four.

Conversion rate, amplification rate, applause rate and economic value.

This tool measures these four best social media metrics across all social channels. All of them for the channel world and we have it.

George: I want to jump in and talk through some of those metrics he just rounded off. Metrics Avinash loves for measuring the impact of social media. Conversation rate, amplification rate, applause rate and economic value.

Conversation rate is referring to the comments that may come with post makeup on Facebook, Twitter.

Amplification rate is a measure that choose to retweet or sort of copy and amplify your message on any platform we are talking about.

Applause rate are kind of the likes and favorites. Indications that people like posting.

Economic value takes a bit more calculating and tells if you are seeing traffic from Facebook to your website and if people on your website are then buying things, donating or signing up for your newsletters, there’s a higher economic value calculated for that.

Let’s jump back into it.

Avinash: So that would be my last quick tip there. But happy to dive in any particular area.

George: What we would be doing is definitely be adding a whole bunch of show notes for our audience listening with links to all these things. Because honestly, we could spend, you wrote some amazing blog posts, some ranging in the number of pages long, but it’s really amazing. We are talking about focusing the ask when we go in, the questions we are benchmarking and find singles. All of this seems to just come back to a simple idea of how do we tell if people are actually be it social media, be it on our website, how do we relate to what matters in our organization?

Avinash: Yes, this is why the tip number 3 which is to set goals for what you are trying to get done. So in nonprofits, we have to identify what our goals are and then one of the cool things that, once you have goals you will be able to tie the behavior of people on the website to get donations. Or whatever your outcomes are.

As an example, at the moment one of the things I was looking for I am in one of the charities I spend time with works with HIV patients in San Francisco and one of the things we were analyzing just the other day, last week, is actually we were looking at the location reports inside Google Analytics.

And we had tied it to donations because this time of the year that’s a big obsession for us. And we were actually diving deep into the sitting level reports inside Google Analytics and we surprisingly found a new cluster of issues we were getting from in Texas.

Its one of things that we have as contributing donations to us, again there is nothing interesting, there was a surprise in the data and then we were able to drill down to the city and then we were able to create a segment for the traffic that was coming from Texas. And then we were able to dive into the website to see what pages these people were visiting and what places online they were coming from. We isolated two campaigns that were being run by some volunteers of ours over in Texas that caused us to get a spike in donations.

And now because of that small investigative work we now had a completely new way to make money for our charity that we have not thought about and be as effective outside of (inaudible 32:52:00). The reason I am telling you this story George is it all started with us having our goals defined very clearly for our nonprofit, we had 6 in that case, our HIV/AIDS prevention nonprofit and helping patients who were HIV positive is six goals. Our starting point wasn’t “let’s see where people come from” we eventually picked raw numbers and then we started diving into the data. So if your starting point is a goal you are going to do really well. If your starting point is “I am not sure whats going on, let me see if I can find something fun,” which is a lot less fun when you get into it.

George: Two hours later your eyes are all bloodshot and going I found nothing, but isn’t it cool.

Avinash: Exactly. So having those goals is really important to have configured inside the Admin interface. But that doesn’t mean that I would deal with it. Goals are absolutely important and you can many different kinds of goals interfaced inside Google Analytics, is there. So much more interesting goals that I would kind of start there.

George: It is far too much to summarize here. But the big points that I take away from our conversation is the eccentricity sequence on setting goals and tracking what people are actually doing the best of our ability regardless of the platform and social media. You put some great energy in saying you can’t just have things be interesting, you can’t just data-puked on people. This is what sadly happens to people because of the amount of data that are available to us. And that role of data analysis and data storytelling, moving through that framework thinking about what we care about, what are we going to do about it and what’s the impact going to be when it’s done.

Lots to digest, wouldn’t blame you of you want to listen to it again. We’ve got all of the resources, sort of threads, things that Avinash has talked about, his writings and other resources that you can find on our website.

This has been episode number 45.

Hope you can join us next time on we are doing part 2 of Avinash talking about the future.

This has been Using The Whole Whale, story of data and technology in a social impact world.


Resources as always may be found at WholeWhale.com/podcast.


Thanks for joining us.


Music from today’s show came from the one and only GregThomasmusic.org.


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