Interview: Exploring Data Science at Brandwatch with Hamish Morgan
By Olivia SwainAug 23
Published February 25th 2019
Our interview starts with a sneeze and a short conversation about both our recent experiences with flu symptoms. “Anyway, boring, boring, boring!” declares Michelle – she’s keen to get chatting, and there’s a lot to talk about.
Michelle has led a varied career path through the agency world, working on a whole bunch of UK digital marketing firsts, from the first ever web chat to the first TV show live-streamed online.
She worked on early big brand events and sponsorships within Bebo and Myspace and even Second Life, before heading to Econsultancy where she’s still a lead trainer and content writer, as well as working with her own client set.
With a wealth of experience in the ever-changing digital landscape, she’s a pro at helping her clients adapt to new challenges and trends.
One of the biggest challenges marketers face, she says, is the overwhelming amount of data.
“A lot of marketers are simply overwhelmed by how much data is available. What actually is and isn’t useful to them, how to structure that data to make it meaningful, and then how to generate useable insights from that data.”
Taking a step back and looking at this practically is the way to begin to tackle things, Michelle says.
“For me it’s a really good opportunity for marketers to be honest about what they do and what they don’t know about data. To go back to basics and figure out what data actually is, what it can be used for, what provides the most value and then to look at the sexy stuff or the ‘art of the possible’.”
When Michelle speaks to marketers from organizations of all sizes about how data can be used for incredible things, she’ll use examples from data-rich businesses like Netflix and Spotify. It might seem lofty, but when almost every industry can be disrupted by the likes of Amazon or Alibaba, it’s important to preach a level of data maturity that brings organizations up to date.
“Lots of organizations, particularly traditional and heritage organizations and brands, have been really slow to adapt to today’s connected consumer and the data they generate. The question ‘will we even exist in five or 10 or 15 years time?’ really does play on the marketer’s mind,” she says. “It will take years for many organizations to be as smart as Netflix or Spotify with their data, but it’s really important to understand where potentially you could get to and the steps you need to take to get there.”
Throughout our conversation, which covers all kinds of challenges, Michelle always returns to one thing – what’s actually important?
Marketers have all this data, some of it valuable, some less so. On top of that, access to the data that actually matters can sometimes be blocked.
“They’re not always able to pull in the data that’s really important within the organization. And actually a lot of that data is often useless unless you have a way to structure it correctly in order to derive information and actionable insight from it.”
Finding out what those business-vital stats are and focusing marketing efforts around bolstering them can help teams show immediate value. Michelle gives the example of social as a space invaded by “pony metrics” – a term that I am totally adopting into my vocabulary.
“Far too many brands focus on the fluffy stuff, especially on social. The opportunity in social is focusing on the role that social plays as a temperature check on things, to look at the behavioral shifts that are happening in front of our eyes, and to be ahead of the game in terms of reacting to those shifts.
“It’s not about jumping on the bandwagon, it’s about foundationally taking it back and thinking what do we stand for, what values do we have, what commercially are our needs and requirements, and what do our audiences really value from us? Smart data collection and analysis can help us answer that ‘value’ question.”
When teams are looking for executive buy-in on their social efforts, Michelle says leading with the fluff is a bad idea.
“Take the jargon out of social media. Executive teams are super-smart people – they know how to make decisions. But actually for far too long social media teams have given them pony metrics, jargon, and have failed to connect reach, sentiment, and engagement on social to meaningful business metrics.
“Talk like a boss. Frame what you’re doing in their language. Efficiencies and retention are as valuable as acquisition and conversion. A lot of social teams measure the wrong things.”
Whether the social data relates to reach or consumer insights, tying those efforts to measurable business objectives is key.
For Michelle, widespread changes in the way data is handled and regarded is another reason to step back and take a more basic view of what data really means and why it matters.
“For me, GDPR is a massive opportunity. It’s got us really to think about what’s right and what’s ethical. What is our relationship with our consumers and their data? It’s about quality rather than quantity.
“We’ve devalued the word community, but actually there are so many great things we can do when we stop thinking about reach and the numbers and instead think about individuals we can have a really meaningful data relationship with.”
This focus on consumers and what’s important to them, as opposed to masses of data and the myriad useless ways it can be applied, is the way to tackle overwhelming data abundance.
Big thanks to Michelle for speaking with us. You can find her on LinkedIn here.