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By Georgina Lewindon, incoming Events Ambassador

On 19th June, over 50 professional marketers attended the third in the CIM Wales Marketing Masterclass series at the fantastic Sophia Gardens Cricket Stadium; the theme this time, Analytics.

With marketing professionals under increasing pressure to be accountable and demonstrate return on investment, this one-day event offered a timely opportunity to learn about data visualisation, business intelligence (BI) strategy, attribution modelling, segmentation and the hotly debated, sometimes feared, impact of machine learning.

As always, it was packed with practical ‘how-to’ tips, insightful speakers and entertaining anecdotes. Here are some of the stand-out messages:

Excel didn’t eliminate the need for accountants - machine learning is not about to replace marketers.

Sameer Rahman, Chair of CIM Wales and Group Director of Data Science at EDIT, kicked off the day by busting the myth that Machine learning will lead to marketing robots. Machine learning will, in fact, augment human analysis and open up opportunities to marketers that have not previously been practical (cue a collective sigh of relief across the room!).

Sameer explained that, technically-speaking, machine learning isn’t all that different to what it was 20 years ago – what has changed is the volume and pace at which data is being processed. In that respect, it’s made it essential for marketers to understand and utilise its capabilities. But, if it doesn’t improve customers’ lives, it’s not worth doing.

Sameer also recommended some free/ low-cost tools in the early stages of development, such as Data Robot, Concured, Audiense and Phrasee, which can be used to improve marketing channel performance, optimise marketing spend, reduce manual efforts, support planning and streamline targeting.

For all their potential, machines aren’t fool-proof. Humans will always be needed to solve problems, so creating a culture which embraces and encourages machine learning is vital. In short, machine learning is less about machines, more about learning.

Focusing on the last click in the funnel is like giving all the credit to the midwife when a baby is born.

Sam Roberts, Digital Consultant at Liberty Marketing followed Sameer’s talk with a baby-making analogy in his quickstart guide to becoming an ROI marketer. Data is the oxygen businesses breathe, he said, but it has caused an identity crisis for marketers. How can marketers keep up? By recognising and assigning a value to each touchpoint in the customer purchase journey.

The proof is in the attribution model. This is what will help you align budgets, improve projections and prove your strategic value. 

From linear, position based, time decay to custom, to the purported data driven model in the pipeline, attribution can be difficult to get right - but we have to try.

Infobesity: In a world of information obesity, the human eye is much quicker to recognise visual data over other forms of data.

Following a quick break of pastries and coffee, Paul Laughlin, Owner of Laughlin Consultancy, took to the mic to talk about the power of data visualisation when communicating analytics.

Don’t feel pressured to make your visualisations all-singing, all dancing was one of the key messages; Excel is perfectly capable of producing good visualisations. What’s more important is the type of chart you choose - that depends on the nature of the data, but it should always be simplified as far as possible. Lesson: think before you design.

One message which really stood out to me was the importance of graphical integrity; because of the impact it has, marketers have a responsibility to present visual data authentically.

Paul ended with a short #BadDataViz quiz in which attendees had an opportunity to critique others’ questionable chart choices.

Business intelligence must be connected with and focused on delivering your business goals.

Next, Kevin Crowley, Head of BI at Julian Hodge Bank, took us through the key steps in developing a business intelligence (BI) strategy.

The purpose of BI, explained Kevin, is to collect business data and turn it into information that is meaningful and –this part particularly resonated with me – actionable against a strategic goal.

Kevin explained that BI is as much a cultural process as an operational one, and that having the right people, strong KPIs and a non-burdensome reporting structure is also essential.  

It was then time for lunch and, as with all Sophia Gardens Cricket Stadium hosted events, the food did not disappoint!

The most valuable audience segments aren’t always the most profitable ones, but those with the most potential.

Tim Wyatt, Head of Data Science at Sonovate, brought the graveyard shift to life with talk of dynamic segmentation. Instead of residing in defined segments, he explained, customers should move in and out of them as their circumstances change. By constantly resetting the boundaries, you’re better able to understand each customer’s position in relation to others.

Using a ‘data science hierarchy of needs’, Tim explained that before attempting to make your segmentation dynamic, you need to make sure you’re collecting, storing, transforming, analysing and optimising information efficiently.

Quality of segments is more important than quantity and the focus should always be on how you will turn the data into insight.

Data allows you to be the disrupter within your own business. Without it, you’re just another person with an opinion.

Forget knowledge and intuition, data is power now as far as marketing is concerned. That was my main takeaway from Richard Pickett’s talk.

Drawing on his own experience as Head of Digital Analytics at Royal Bank of Scotland, Richard rounded off the day by outlining how analytics obtained in split testing helped him to build a culture of test and learn to justify website improvements.

He explained how ensuring people have the capability to measure what they are doing, encouraging sharing and collaboration, and frequently reinforcing a the data-driven approach, can dramatically improve customers’ digital experience.

Data is elevating the status of marketing.

The overarching premise behind all the day’s sessions was the huge potential data analytics has not only for improving marketing performance, but for recognising the importance of marketers at the strategic level too. For marketers, data really is power.