5 key takeaways from the Data Storytelling Conference 2015

We present a round-up of the key takeaways from the Data Storytelling Conference, which was hosted by Marketing Week in London.

There is an urgent need to fill the data skills gap

There is “a real lack of really good data storytellers in the industry”, according to Shaun Pitman, head of data strategy at British Gas Business. He believes this is one of the fundamental gaps across the industry at the moment.

He said: “Before you go on a data science mission you need to have a good data storyteller who can walk into a board level room and talk the talk.”

Finding great data scientists and great marketers is key to any data strategy but it takes the right skills set for analysts to communicate that data in a way that marketers can understand and take to board level.

Simon Kaffel, head of information management at O2 believes the challenge lies in brands knowing what the data means and what the story behind it is.

He said: “There is an interesting balance at the moment where the marketing clients have more interest in data and the data practitioners are waking up to the fact that they have to get closer to the business, they have to add value.

“It’s not just about telling me the number is seven, it’s about saying the number seven means this and this is what you should do about it.”

Get the basics right

When it comes to data storytelling it’s vital, regardless of the size of the business to get the basics right, according to Kaffel at O2.

Speaking at the conference with fellow Data Storytelling Awards judges, the panel discussed what it takes to create a first-class strategy for data-driven marketing and what trends they had seen from this year’s entries.

On returning to basics Kaffel said: “It’s an area that so often gets lost because everyone talks about data scientists and big data but actually it’s about getting the basics right and governance. Ensuring that you’re operating from both a legal and more importantly an ethical perspective.”

Nick Bonney, head of insight at Camelot, believes that the entries this year show that data strategy is looking beyond the headlines.

He said: “While a lot of press is about technology, tools and the world of big data in actual fact people are making real impact through people and processes.”

“It’s about real pragmatism – people looking to how they can pull that data together to deliver business impact.”

Nick Bonney, head of insight, Camelot

A question that came up repeatedly is where data sits in the business. Shaun Pitman, head of data strategy at British Gas Business, said: “While there is a return to the basics, there is also a challenge in terms of where data sits – does it sit in marketing.”

“It’s becoming more of a central function. If I look at who I interact with today, yes it’s the marketing team but it’s also the finance teams. I have a lot more different constituents under my umbrella than I had previously.”

Brands should look externally for support

Organisations sitting on huge amounts of data often think they are best placed to manage that data for marketing and storytelling purposes. Yet Crispin Rogers, director of targeted marketing solutions at Visa Europe, said Visa had recently enlisted the support of external agencies for a new consumer segmentation project targeted at retailers.

“Rather than having all that data sitting there flat, you need to find ways to operationalise that data by turning it into a customer experience.”

Crispin Rogers, director of targeted marketing solutions, Visa Europe

“You need an injection of creativity, innovation and vision,” he said.

The segmentation project, which is being piloted in the UK, involves helping retailers identify shopper behaviour and uncover insights about how to retain their most valuable customers. This includes developing 10 different consumer profiles based on anonymised Visa payment data.

“We can see from the data whether people have a car, or pets, or a family, or whether they live in the countryside or a city,” noted Rogers.

In many cases 60-70% of a retailer’s sales come from 20% of its customer base, but a high proportion of these valuable customers tend to drift away from a brand over time. In order to help retailers retain these customers, Visa is developing an algorithm that provides instant cashback rewards when they continue to shop with brands involved in the pilot scheme.

“The multi-segmentation approach that has been developed over the last 10 years is only going to get richer and richer,” said Rogers. “We can tell a story at a total market level or at a sector level.”

Personalisation is a delicate balancing act

Defining and executing an effective personalisation strategy remains hugely challenging according to Tania Seif, head of social marketing at betting brand Coral. She noted that companies risk appearing creepy or annoying if they fail to use personal data in the right way.

She cited Amazon, Netflix and Twitter as three brands getting personalisation right. In the case of Amazon, for example, Seif noted that users can adjust their settings to show that items they bought were gifts for others rather than for themselves – thereby facilitating an even more personalised experience.

Coral uses data on its social media followers and their behaviours to rigorously plan its own messaging. This includes promoting its physical betting shops on Saturdays, when digital users are most likely to pay a visit, and tailoring promotions to different sporting events.

The brand has also moved into programmatic buying in order to target its online and mobile display adverts with a greater degree of personalisation.

“We’re starting to use data to talk on specific devices about specific products,” said Seif.

Data should be used for retention more than acquisition

Every brand likes to acquire new customers. But it’s a well-known fact that it is cheaper to retain your existing custom.

As brands within the automotive industry are all chasing the same people, Land Rover decided to face this challenge by adopting an attrition model that could be used across all channels .

The brand’s customer experience manager Andrew Sutton said the brand aimed to contact customers before they start thinking about buying their next car. That way, Land Rover could put the brand back in touch with the customer and re-engage them with the product.

To do this, the brand used customer, transactional and demographical data to identify when consumers would likely start thinking about buying a new car.

The model was trialled for the new Discovery Sport model to create a number of target segments and consequently keep those customers informed about the launch.

“We looked at the people who were in our cars today and who we wanted to come back to us tomorrow. That’s where the attrition model really showed its worth,” he said.

The brand achieved a 40% uplift in sales and an 81% lift in email open rate.

“While Jaguar Land Rover managed to increase awareness, it was the timing of the communication that really made a difference,” Sutton commented.

For businesses that are keen to use their data more effectively, Sutton recommends continually assessment of their attrition model and using external data.

“It’s important for brands to keep analysing the results and purchase data from external sources. Be prepared to make mistakes and continually refine your model. It’s all part of the process,” he concluded.



There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Alex Balan 17 Sep 2015

    Skills and organisational structure are the key to businesses transforming data into fantastic commercial value

    If a business intends to become more data driven then getting the basics right begins with getting the structure of the organisation established first as well as ensuring their staff acquisition policy is up-to-date.

    Short term this means aligning the technical IT staff (the programmers) closer to marketing teams, to create a more centralised, fluid unit. In the long term it could mean reviewing who you employ by looking for a broader skill set in new marketing staff – skills like HTML, understanding APIs and data analytics, that were once the preserve of an IT professional are now required.

    For example, 123ContactForm has reduced the level of programming or coding expertise required by businesses to create highly sophisticated web forms used for collecting consumer data. However, skilled staff are still required to manage the up-front architecture and integration work and the user also needs a creative and enquiring mind – to ask the right questions, to be able to understand the results and spot patterns, to articulate what the results mean in real-terms and then decide on what actions should be taken to leverage results.

    A mix of coding skills, data analysis, marketing creativity and business nous will be desirable skills for the future marketing professional.

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