Rob McLaughlin, Head of Digital Analytics at Sky explains the importance of a data-driven approach to modern marketing
Q. You recently moved from agency DigitasLBi, to join Sky as their Head of Digital Analytics. Why the move?
It has been a great experience working with my colleagues and clients at DigitasLBi, the breadth and depth of our engagements ensured interesting and challenging projects which really helped me continue to develop myself. I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career to have been given the opportunity to work with some fabulous brands and high -growth businesses, DigitasLBi continued to add to that but the human aspect of that agency is something special. The agency is a collection of exceptionally bright and diverse individuals and one can only benefit from sharing space and time with them, I highly recommend the experience! More than any other role I have had I feel that I am leaving with a substantial network of trusted colleagues and friends whom I look forward to working with in future.
I am excited to be joining Sky for several reasons. Firstly, they are a business which is in constant change and act within industries which continue to dynamically react to the needs of the customer. I see a huge opportunity for the application of digital analytics within the Sky businesses and they are genuinely excited about how we might evolve things as the business continues to grow and mature.
Secondly, the diversity and richness of Sky’s customer data and the prospect of leveraging it across the business was highly seductive for me. Anyone who has spent time with me in a meeting/cafe/bar/lift knows that I’m obsessed by the marriage of the explicit and implicit in customer data and Sky has a wide variety of both, from customer profiles, viewing data, customer service through all channels the potential in staggering.
The multiple business needs at Sky further makes me excited to join. Broadly, Sky has the needs of a customer acquisition, service and retention business, a product development business and a media business. This will undoubtedly be part of the challenge in my new role but I know that I need this diversity of requirements to keep me engaged, in fact an aspect of agency life which I have always enjoyed.
Q. We would expect that Sky already has an advanced Digital Analytics team and Business Intelligence team. What are the main opportunities you see for making further improvements to their approach to creating actionable insight? Any highlights so far? value from customer data?
Sky does already have a powerful ‘Insight & Decision Science’ division which I will be joining as part of. This team has pulled together econometrics, big data, research and several other disciplines to meet the needs of the Sky business.
However, their approach to digital analytics appears to have been somewhat less structured and, whilst they do already have a team of talented and experienced individuals, there is the need to create a strategy for how best to realise the opportunities within natively digital data for the Sky business and fix a course for delivering.
Central to the challenge will be further enabling the use of digital analytics alongside its offline data and building processes and operations to do this at scale for the many purposes across the business.
Within the sphere of Digital Analytics we often talk about the ‘democratisation’ of data, that the data and the ability to manipulate it can be in the hands of all. I believe that as businesses mature in their needs and aspirations for being data driven we may need to challenge this belief and look to more nuanced models. Whilst providing open access to purely digital statistics, website performance etc, is of course valuable we should not expect medium to heavy weight analysis to emerge. A business such as Sky has a multitude of needs and I fully expect a major part of my remit will be understanding how best to deliver and at what level.
Q. How are you finding the switch from agency to client-side? I know you have switched before - any thoughts on the best path to follow based on your career?
As I mentioned earlier, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunities dealt to me so far, however I think having a nose for where to gain the most relevant experience is key. I am a firm believer in the concept of the ‘portfolio career’, with the key dynamics being depth and breadth.
Depth can only come from an investment in thought and time with or within a business, truly understanding how it operates and how it ultimately makes money. A natural place to gain such experience is client-side and at Barclays and Canon I was very lucky to be engaged in wide-reaching initiatives which questioned the very essence of the role of digital within the customer relationship.
Breadth is an aspect which I have found thoroughly exhilarating throughout my career. Agency and consultancy life is often a great ticket for gaining this type of experience and at DigitasLBi I particularly enjoyed this. I am passionate about the role of data in business and the daily influx of briefs across my desk looking to transform or inspire a wide variety businesses through the use of data has been key to growing my thinking.
Q. Two of the key challenges I hear when discussing analytics with clients and vendors are creating a ‘360 degree’ or ‘single customer’ view and making attribution actionable. What learnings do you have to share based on your work on these?
The pursuit of customer intelligence and attribution remains admirable and as a discipline we continue to push the boundaries of how we can integrate available customer data to achieve the results. However, I strongly believe that the concept of a ‘360 degree’ or ‘single customer’ view is dangerously misrepresentative and often fuels a distraction which ends in failure to support business objectives.
I feel that the ‘360 degree’ view concept appeals to the vanity of big businesses and marketing planners. There are few to no businesses which have information about the complete interests and actions of the customer and even fewer who could genuinely claim a right to pursue such a view in the customer’s interest. Perhaps within financial services such as retail banks and pension providers there is a valid claim to such interest in the name of ‘value exchange’, where information on general lifestyle can assist budgeting and product choice, but the regulatory environment within this industry requires thorough appraisal first.
A ‘single customer’ view has firmly established itself at the heart of CIO and CTO thinking over the last 10 years and I believe it has been a convenient distraction from truly supporting businesses in their operations.
We have seen an explosion of technologies which have efficiently joined together tactical data sets to fuel marketing activations of various types. These technologies have naturally lived outside of the CIO & CTO’s responsibility, often finding a home in Marketing and presenting a significant challenge to the primacy of the ‘Information’ & ‘Technology’ divisions. A regressive reaction to this scenario has been the creation of huge ‘single customer’ view initiatives which appeal to the seemingly logical need to bring information together but fail woefully at doing it in a manner which allows the action systems of today to use it against business objectives. They also represent titanic line items within capital expenditure which I have often find block other more nimble and valuable initiatives.
It is perhaps in retail that I have seen the most painful failed deliveries of ‘single customer’ view projects where they have promised for much and delivered so little. A failure to see the flaw in the ‘single customer’ view concept for a customer base which provides so few connections between their transactions consistently delivers an anaemic view, a sub-set of customers who slavishly utilise loyalty cards and ultimately represent one of the lowest value segments due to their price sensitivity.
I would much rather see a focus on initiatives which deliver against a set of defined use cases and can be judged against these within relatively short timescales. What I really want to see is the re-configuration of the Information, Technology and Marketing structures to deliver more effectively for organisations.
Q. We're big advocates of optimising digital media and online customer experiences through structured experiments and tests. Yet they're not a panacea... What would you advise marketers looking to apply these techniques.
Well of course, optimisation is an honourable aspiration, the pursuit of betterment etc…
The common vernacular however can sometimes be counter-productive, and I have found it quite illuminating to take a step back from our tried and tested modes of optimisation in some of my recent work to question our approaches. My key takeaway is that a focus on the drivers of success can in some cases be dwarfed by the drivers of failure, especially in acquisition activities.
There is a tipping point in optimisation scenarios where there is a cost/benefit trade-off to fixing failure vs. driving success. This is the case due to, in many cases, the cost of driving demand and how far through the funnel media is actually delivering. Most simply put, should we be looking at optimisation of the audience mix or the process itself.
This often leads to an expansion of scope for a given optimisation initiative, pulling in marketing channel leads to consult and act on the audience drivers. This can create challenging conversations and necessitate senior individuals collaborating on media planning and as a result is something best planned into campaign cycles, rather than ad hoc activity.
Q. Many of the analytics techniques we use today aren't new. What do you see as next for our discipline?
My natural reaction is to say that I do not expect anything ‘new’ but I do foresee increasing focus in certain areas which are perhaps either currently nascent or are borne from related fields.
Managing audience and customer data from multiple sources and enabling it to co-exist or colour each other will continue and will become part of our common analytics approach. Data Management Platforms (DMPs) are bringing our established achievements in customer intelligence closer and closer to our activities in media and most businesses are or are about to begin a rapid benefits realisation from programmes which have sort to do this with audience targeting and engagement set to benefit rapidly.
In a similar vein but from a different angle, I see Adobe’s work within their Marketing Cloud and their core services around the ‘Adobe Marketing Cloud Visitor ID’ service and the profile manager showing a major step forward in how we use marketing technologies collaboratively, affecting the same customer through multiple channels. Whilst most of what these core services deliver has always been possible, it came at significant resource costs to the enterprise and were far from reach for the small and medium size. I see this as a native and more flexible attempt to create a ‘single customer’ view.
More broadly I see our discipline and it’s followers embracing the wider aspects of the businesses we work with or within and becoming more closely fused into their decision-making processes. We have several generations within our discipline making their way in their careers and up through organisations and we should reasonably be expecting to see CMOs, CIOs and CEOs appear from within our ranks in the coming years. I’m proud of the transformation that our kind have delivered to date and incredibly excited about what we will achieve in future.