The analytical marketer

Business, Technology | Tue 22 Nov | Author – Business & Finance
data charts graph results marketing

How the art of analytics is changing the way marketers work, by Adele Sweetwood.

When you add analytics and visualisation tools to your marketing toolbox, you can begin to tell stories from the data that you have worked so hard to cultivate and harness.

Essentially, you have created “the art of analytics” or the art of analytical storytelling—the perfect blend of art, science, marketing, and math. You can begin to see connections you had missed otherwise. You can also see how the story changes when you make changes. You can then begin asking what-if questions to see what kinds of new stories you can begin to tell.

That’s how you can shift from being reactive to proactive, to create the future rather than just being weighed down by the past. The better you begin to understand how to tell the stories, the more you become empowered to ask additional questions and to see if you can find even more data to expand on the themes you’ve uncovered.


We’ve also seen this lesson in companies we work with. Take, for example, the credit card company Visa. In a company that size, it’s obvious that there’s a sophisticated marketing machine behind its portfolio of digital advertising, television commercials, sporting event sponsorships, and credit card offers.

Maintaining a position of leadership in the financial space requires complex processes, critical and creative thinking, and, according to analytics executive Ramkumar Ravichandran, a pervasive, analytical mindset.

As director of analytics and A/B testing at Visa, Ravichandran supports executives, leaders, and decision makers in product, marketing, sales, and relationships. He explained to me that “we are the custodians of the data, so our responsibility is to enable our users to have confidence in the decisions they make using that data.” One of the biggest changes the analytical era of marketing has brought about is that things need to happen much faster than before.

“We used to have a very linear approach,” Ravichandran told me.

… it still comes down to marketers using their gut feelings to make the best decision possible

“Now when something is going live, there’s already an immediate need to respond. We need to be able to take action on the fly.” Because of those changes, marketers can no longer think about analytics as something that support them or a function that just one person, like a chief digital officer, would perform. Rather, analytics is now an integral part of marketing’s value chain.

Ravichandran said that numbers by themselves are historical.

That’s why, while data is needed to inform campaigns, at the end of the day, it still comes down to marketers using their gut feelings to make the best decision possible. “And we can use data and analysis to inform and guide us in the right direction,” he told me.


Because data and analytics are now so intertwined with marketing strategy, expectations for leadership on the marketing side have changed. “It’s no longer acceptable to say you’re a marketer, but you’re not a numbers person,” Ravichandran said. “Executives are demanding more data literacy as a precursor for being a good marketer.” And it’s not just in the marketing space.

He added, “All of our chief executives are comfortable with numbers and data-driven approaches.” Ravichandran was quick to clarify, however, that a focus on data, numbers, and quantified measures should not replace the value of vision: “I have an enormous respect for data, but I also believe all of it has to be driven by strategy, the business case, benchmarking against the industry, all those things that provide a broader perspective.

… the value of information expands exponentially when you start to evaluate the aggregate

You have to understand what specific metrics you’re trying to impact with your actions.” He advocates the importance of understanding your company’s business model, applying and measuring the right metrics, and truly understanding your competitive position and your customers’ needs.

The big mindset shift we need to make, therefore, is recognising how our intuition is now informed by data and analytics. When someone comes to a marketing manager or leader with a proposal to spend, say, $250,000 on a campaign, she had better come armed with data, analysis, testing plans, and expected outcomes, as well as what her gut is telling her.


Of course, marketers have always relied on a variety of metrics for measuring their campaigns. One prominent example is the response rate to a specific campaign. Those kinds of metrics give us something to react to. Metrics tell us where we have been, where we are now, and how we performed compared to a previous year. They paint both a historical perspective and a current status, but they fall short in revealing what’s next. The new reality is that reacting to metrics isn’t enough.

Customers now have greater expectations about what they expect us, as marketers, to know and how we interact with them.

By contrast, a sustainable marketing analytics strategy needs to be equipped with advanced analytics, so we can begin answering questions such as:

  • Where is the opportunity?
  • Where should I invest next? Or differently?
  • What needs to change?
  • What is the full story that my data is telling me?
  • How do I stay ahead of the customer’s expectations?


Today’s analytical marketers need the kind of data they can use to become proactive, predictive, and agile enough to make changes quickly and easily (already used on the fly). We need to employ better tools that allow us to talk to our customers and prospects based on their location in the decision journey. We need to interact differently with our customers, to better personalise how we respond, when and how they find us.

Advanced analytical capability and approaches enable marketers to make fact-based decisions about design, audience segmentation, channel optimisation, inbound marketing, and nurturing efforts. Unlike in the past, marketers are now able to deliver valuable information about trends and the digital dialogue of customers and prospects.

For example, if a sales lead comes from a live event we host, we need to have more information on that prospect’s behaviour, such as:

  • After the conference, what web pages did he or she view?
  • How long was each visit to the website?
  • What assets did he or she download?
  • What other activities did he or she participate in – webcasts, other conferences, sales calls?

Maintaining a position of leadership in the financial space requires complex processes, critical and creative thinking

With this data, you can start to assemble a picture of how every part of the marketing spectrum affects a sale. The figure shows a snapshot of a contact at an individual company, but we could look at similar metrics for everyone in the company and beyond.

The value of information expands exponentially when you start to evaluate the aggregate behaviors of hundreds, thousands, or millions of contacts. With this level of data, you can build a better picture of customers’ behavior and start to assemble marketing programs designed to anticipate their demands.


adele sweetwood

Adele Sweetwood, SAS

But it’s essential to note that the element of art in marketing isn’t going away. The opposite is true. “Data is definitely not the answer 100 per cent of the time,” Shawn Skillman, a senior marketing data visualisation analyst at SAS, told me.

Data is definitely not the answer 100% of the time

“It’s just a mindset shift where we can use the numbers to help us make better decisions than when we relied simply on our gut.” Science or analytics has actually enhanced the art elements of a campaign by empowering marketers with fact-based decision making and insight beyond what they ever imagined.

Another important aspect to this shift is that the more we rely on the facts that analytics helps us uncover, the less biased we become about the kinds of campaigns we run as well as who we target with them. In other words, we don’t want our gut to cause us to go places we could have avoided if we had first looked to the data for clues about what might work well and what wouldn’t.

“We have become outcome agnostic,” said Scott Sellers, a segmentation analyst at SAS who exemplifies the kind of analytical marketer we are grooming.

“From an analytical standpoint, we don’t have a dog in the fight. Our job is to show someone how we got the data and how we interpreted it. My whole goal is to give logical reasons why we reached a certain conclusion. You may reach a different conclusion based on your interpretation, so  let’s have a conversation about that.”  

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. From The Analytical Marketer: How to transform your marketing organization by Adele Sweetwood. Copyright 2016 SAS Institute Inc. All rights reserved.