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Wednesday, 15 March 2017 09:45

The analytical marketer – how to transform your marketing organisation (review and interview)


Adele Sweetwood, author of “The Analytical Marketer”, didn’t set out to write a book on marketing, rather to “write down” her 27 years’ experience at SAS into a practical book to help bring marketing departments into the 21st, data-driven, century.

The book, published by Harvard Business Review, is the pinnacle of Sweetwood’s journey of analytics understanding at SAS, rising through the ranks from an account representative, to marketing manager professional services, to vice-president and senior director, Americas Marketing and Support, to the role she has held since 2015 – senior vice-president of Global Marketing and Shared Services at SAS, a 40-year-old leader in the big data and analytics field.

SAS Sweetwood and bookiTWire interviewed Sweetwood after this writer had read her new book. It is aimed at chief marketing officers because in her words, “I couldn’t find a book like this that existed. As a marketing leader, I often needed guidance on the ‘how’—not just the ‘why.’ As a marketer, we all needed examples, realistic objectives, and inspiration. I was inspired to tell the story of some pretty fantastic marketers at SAS and I am privileged to learn from them every day.”

The book focuses on reinventing the marketing organisation in the analytical era. The five main chapters are supported by many sidebars, checklists, sample job descriptions, and it is well indexed – nine pages of keywords make finding something again easy. The chapter titles are:

  • The customer decision journey has changed – before customers formally engage with your company they are more than 60% through their decision journey;
  • Adopting an analytical mindset – from reactive to proactive;
  • Realigning your structure – from silos to convergence;
  • Building talent and skills – from traditional to modern;
  • Leading the analytical – from responsive to agile;
  • And What’s Next – your call to action.

In case there is concern that it may be SAS-centric, there are two responses. First, SAS must practice what it preaches, so as one of the world’s leading analytics and big data companies, it knows what works. Second, it has many contributions from eminent marketers like Thomas H. Davenport and major client organisations.

Sweetwood said, “As we were going through a lot of those changes — we were implementing different analytical techniques, cultural design efforts, structural changes — I saw it as an opportunity to give a voice to the people doing all the heavy lifting. It’s very important to me that the practitioners across the organisation had a vehicle to talk about what was working, what’s not working — sharing best practices, sharing examples.”

Q. Over the past 27 years how have you seen marketing change?

When I first started 27 years ago, analytics was a tool, something you ran on big computers. The phone rang off the hook – people wanted to get into the burgeoning field of analytics and it was a choice of some basic data-oriented tools, or our more analytics focused SAS suite including advanced analytics, multivariate analyses, business intelligence, data management, and predictive analytics. Not that we had all of that back then but customers could see our direction and a road map.

In fact, our strength is that we have always held strong to our core values and well mapped out directions and we led the charge when over that time when everything else around us changed. Competitors have come and gone or been acquired to build stronger skill sets, but SAS’s decision to stand alone, to build its own product set and support learning and development of analytics has paid off.

In a marketing sense customers now expect us to know what they want. They are more informed and in control than ever before. Understanding the value of the data and the power of analytics in terms of interpreting the needs of the customers has changed the way marketers design and proactively implement campaigns, promotions or advocacy programs.

Q. You said analytics was a tool – isn’t it still that?

 No, far from it. Analytics is now an everyday necessity. It is ingrained in everything we buy and everything we do even if the average consumer is unaware of that – it is part of the world fabric that impacts the whole supply chain.

Analytics has been enabled by technology. We mostly have an always-on mobile phone that creates a huge amount of data about us – where we have been, what we searched for, what we bought, and far more. We interact and engage over social media, the internet, cloud, hosted email, chat, and more. Online marketers have a huge database available to them if they need to use it – and they do.

The book refers to the customer journey and it is no longer cut and dried – identify a need, do some research, and buy. Customers of all types expect that the organisation they do business with knows more of who they are, and what they need, rather than the old “spray-and-pray” approach of mass media or email campaigns.

We have gone way beyond omnichannel where the customer expects the same treatment on the channel of their choice, on the device (or location) of their choice, at the time of their choice. They want us to know as much about them as possible, provide them with the right services, and make the right offer, regardless of what channels they use to interact with us.

It is simply not good enough to rely on gut feel anymore, “I know that half my marketing is working, trouble is I don’t know which half” just does not cut it. We need data to guide our instincts and to prove which parts of marketing are working.

In fact, it is now harder for a consumer (or business) to make decisions because analytics enables proactive marketing to fill needs they did not know they had.

Q. The term Customer Experience (CX) is often used as a justification to using analytics – is that right?

CX has been a driver but to many, it is all about making it easier for a customer to interact e.g. via omnichannel. I prefer to redefine CX as Customer eXpecations and how we meet them without being asked.

It is a subtle difference but when a vendor is competing with so many good opponents over so many channels the winner will be the vendor that has a 360° view of the customer and can anticipate their needs and tailor offers to what they want – cut out the copious background noise from marketing.

Q. It seems digital has become marketing’s next great challenge. What is the take-up like?

Digital has always been the DNA of marketing but business found it hard to collect enough data for it to be the driver. There is no excuse now – it is part of the marketing fabric.

Some industries – finance, banking and insurance – have been at the leading edge, not just to reduce risk but to offer more tailored products to customers. The more information you share the more you can get what you want. And these are some of the most competitive market segments so all are looking to analytics to get that edge.

Healthcare is also well down the path – not just for analysing medical conditions and treatments but in positioning providers in aged care, hospitals, and more – they are actually going after the right kind of customer.

Retail is starting to pick up and online operators look to what Amazon has done – it is the poster-boy of analytics and selling goods. The problem is that good on-line vendors have so many advantages over physical stores that the latter need to do something or risk extinction.

And they struggle with how to market to you without invading your personal space – omnichannel blast marketing has become akin to harassment.

Media is another big user to ensure that the content and ad serving is appropriate to the audience.

Let me be clear – every marketer needs a layer of analytics – it is just the depth that varies depending on the competitive market.

Q. One of the challenges to analytics and omnichannel [in the past] has been breaking down the data silos to have one point of truth – what does that mean?

Silos were all about protecting a department’s – marketing, sales, accounts, service, contact centre, etc., - “proprietary data”. Understand this – no customer-facing business can afford these silos. It is only when you can combine it into a data lake can you begin to use analytics to reveal trends, find sub-niches and links and become proactive, data-driven marketers.

Q. One of the challenges, especially from baby boomers, has been the willingness to divulge personal data to vendors – big brother. What are they missing out on?

Millennials don’t have the same “privacy” filter as baby boomers but the latter are changing, ever so slowly, to realise that the era of “Big Brother” is over.

Sure, vendors want to sell more but they are not forcing people to buy, they are helping to make informed decisions – a move from a channel, product, or message-focused approach to a behaviour- and preference-based customer approach.

In part, that is because the use of analytics overrides the one-size-fits-all market segmentation approach where because of your gender, socio-economic level, etc., the vendor assumes you want to buy product X. That is customer stalking.

The trick is to use analytics to make customers feel like vendors are not stalking them – if they do then its relatively easy to opt out and the vendor loses that potential customer.

And yes, we use our own products. Our evolution began about six years ago, as we moved from email blasts to more personalized messages. Our goal was to uncover the right mix of messages and channels to better align and create increasingly refined customer segments.

Our team gathered data on customers’ buying journeys (website, whitepaper, conference/event attendance, enquiry etc.,) – whether they resulted in a sale or not. That is harder than it sounds. We had lots and lots of data at varying levels of complexity and in multiple places in multiple formats. Being able to see how customer data moves through your organization is vital.

Sweetwood has published an article on this subject here. 

Q. What about Data privacy laws – how will they affect analytics?

Data privacy laws are evolving like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe that will precipitate in some form to other western countries. There is no universal declaration of data rights given that we have too many types of Government.

Anything that allows consumers to have control of their personal data is good and that will help drive even more responsible marketing as companies must comply with privacy laws. For the most part, these laws jut reinforce the need for analytics and data-driven marketing.

Q. Where does SAS fit into this mix?

The prime advantage of SAS is scalability – it can grow as your needs grow. Most organisations now have a mix of analytics technology and that is fine but when you implement SAS over the top of that you find it integrates very well with the other niche products and exposes the gaps you thought you had covered.

The issue is that individual apps may get you to first base, but SAS enables you to hit the home run.

Q. Are you as an analytics-driven marketing department there yet?

We are over halfway, and in some areas almost there. Globalisation for example requires different analytics, interpretations, and executions to the US market. If there is one word to describe the journey it is disruptive to become an analytical marketing organisation.

Q. Where do you get the right people?

One of the things included in the book is all our job descriptions. The prime quality is having a very strong comfort zone with all the digital and social components.

The other piece of the puzzle is to find people who have an aptitude for understanding analytics, for being able to take data and information, run some basic analytical techniques and then build out a story based on that.

It is about getting the right talent to harness analytics. There are still data scientist shortages and where we have been successful is in upskilling staff who know the business and product. The right person is in the middle ground between humanities and science.

If you look at some of the leading companies you will now find titles like Chief Analytics Officer, Chief Digital Officer, and Chief Data Officer, occupying C-level board positions.

But the modern CMO/marketer will need skills in a broad range of areas

  • Customer facing experiences—sales, service, etc.
  • Strong social media experiences
  • Storytelling capability
  • Process design skills
  • Data & analytics background
  • Collaboration and leadership
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Marketing Sciences
  • Data Visualization
  • Content Marketing

And it is not just what SAS does. We invest heavily in universities and education including free access to SAS software for student training and our SAS Academy for Data Science Certification is extremely highly regarded. We even call our headquarters in Cary the SAS campus reflecting our commitment to education.

Q. What messages do you want to leave iTWire readers with?

  1. Everyone, repeat everyone, needs a basic understanding of analytics, if only to know how it affects them because analytics are driving big change.
  2. My book – if you are a CMO, please read it. Amazon link here for e-book or hardcover.
  3. Change marketing process to digital quickly. You should already be a digital marketer. Analytics will improve it…
  4. Don’t forget that people are part of the new marketing structure. It is important to get them thinking about the analytics story or thinking about a new job (if they don’t get it).
  5. Analytics is now the foundation of everything we do, buy, see … or “For Marketers, Analytics is the basis of our storytelling, and brings life to the data”.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!