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Having Big Data is one thing. Making sense of it is another. It's the CMO's responsibility to ensure the right people are in place to do so. An effective Big Data team requires experts in areas including advanced mathematics, predictive analytics, high-performance computing, and economics. And those people must work well with traditional creative and business analysts, as well as the larger enterprise. Here's what you need to think through before, during, and even after the team-assembling process.
Building Big Data expertise must start at the top. “Hiring for ‘Big Data’ or ‘Small Data’ is all about being bilingual. CMOs need to [understand] where data is being generated and how it is managed in order to understand capabilities, challenges, and opportunities,” said Erin Bartolo, head of the data science program at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. “[CMOs] also need a deeper appreciation for and an ability to be conversant in real-time analytics and reporting.”
“Tomorrow’s CMO doesn't need to have a Ph.D. or be devoid of creativity, but they must be forward-looking and appreciative of the balance between the art and the science that is now possible,” said Wes Nichols, co-founder and CEO of cross-media analytics provider MarketShare, in an interview with CMO.com.
“The biggest mistake CMOs make is jumping in too quickly,” said Manu Mathew, CEO and co-founder of cross-channel marketing intelligence software maker Visual IQ, in an interview with CMO.com. “They must first define what they are trying to accomplish. A company can hire very smart developers and scientists—rocket scientists, if you will—and develop a beautiful user interface whose back-end processes huge datasets and produces near real-time response, but if the company lacks the ability to execute on and gain value from the data points that the solution delivers, it’s all for nothing.”
The CMO must first identify the role Big Data will play—not just in marketing, but also in the business as a whole, said Tim Barker, CMO of social media analytics company DataSift, in an interview with CMO.com. Only then can marketing leaders define the roles and responsibilities required for the Big Data initiative.
One of the first—and most important—roles to fill is that of a solution architect who will create the Big Data blueprint based on business objectives. CMOs need “someone who can help the company understand the capability of Big Data and how it could be applied to the core business model,” Visual IQ’s Mathew said. “Big Data is such a new concept for many companies, and its use could manifest itself in many different applications that aren’t immediately apparent. It is essential to have someone help identify the business question, the availability of both internal and external data to answer the question, and the best method to complete the process of providing the answer.”
Software developers are critical to the Big Data team. But the real magic comes from those with advanced training in experimental design, statistics, and machine learning, McKinsey & Company partner Homayoun Hatami said. They will design the algorithms that turn data into executable actions and key metrics into predictive models, Mathew said. One hot spot for these data magicians is Wall Street. “The banking industry was one of the first industries to realize the benefits of Big Data and data science, [and became] a breeding ground for the skill set required for both the technology skills and the quantitative analysis skills needed to analyze and understand both data trends and business impact,” DataSift’s Barker said.
These Ph.Ds. can also be found in tech startups, government agencies, defense contractors, aerospace, oil exploration, and universities, to name a few. “Anywhere that there are complicated environments being analyzed, probed, and poked you will find experts in the craft of Big Data,” said Russ Lange, founding partner of marketing consultancy CMG Partners, in an interview with CMO.com. “And you may just benefit from the cross-pollination effects of having similar problems already solved, just in a different application.”
You can also find some great Big Data talent straight out of grad school “if you can afford the training and break-in time and expense,” Lange said.
“Data scientists, rocket scientists, and developers see and engage in a world that is very different than a marketer's world,” CMG Partners' Lange said. “Their worlds are more binary and less nuanced.” Ideally, CMOs should seek out those rare gems who can also gel with the rest of the marketing team—and the company.
“Traditional marketing values still hold: Listen more than you talk, be an effective communicator, and balance team players with strong leaders,” said Ian Williams, Imation's vice president of global marketing and product development. “These new participants will be asked to justify what they are working on and quantify success. It will take time to create their seat at the table. These new teammates must feel comfortable leading and being patient with those around them who may not be as comfortable in their analytical or digital world.”
Look for candidates with a track record of innovation and agility, “This area is changing quickly and needs people that can adapt and learn new methods quickly,” MarketShare’s Nichols said.
The work of data scientists must be fed with insights from traditional marketing and sales. “Great things can come from Big Data, but the output can be even better when paired with seasoned business veterans—business translators whose experience and knowledge base can be used to both feed Big Data models on the shades of gray that exist in the real world and interpret the findings for relevance,” CMG Partners’ Lange said.
McKinsey & Company’s Hatami calls them “data hunters”: those professionals who understand how to use data and have the sales credibility and experience to make them effective in the field. These subject matter experts will define the set of questions that marketing should be asking and the key performance indicators to be sought.
“Focusing just on the number crunchers and ignoring the integrators—the ones who understand the business goals, can make sense of the data, and deliver clear insights that teams can act on—is a common and fatal error,” Hatami said. These marketing lieutenants can provide important checks and balances as you build out the Big Data strategy.
“They supplant data with judgment in the service of the marketing performance,” said Nick Vaidya, managing partner at The 8020Strategy Group. “They are not tied to data or methodology or even solutions.”
You know how hard it is to do more and more with less and less. Your IT support organization is in the same boat. “And that means less time for marketing just when we need more help,” said Imation’s Williams, who opted to move some IT staff into the marketing group. “This allows programmers to work directly for and with the digital marketing team. It avoids marketing being forced to queue up with all other internal functions vying for IT's attention.”
CMOs may consider hiring a dedicated CTO. “The role of the chief marketing technology officer is emerging as a leadership role to help wrangle the multitude of technologies available to marketers into a strategy and technology solution for the business,” DataSift’s Barker said.
Big Data experts will be hard to keep. “Folks that have experience in these new disciplines are going to be in high demand,” Imation’s Williams said. “Be prepared to think through unique strategies around retaining subject matter experts, or fail fast. If you bring in a new expert and it isn't working, move on quickly. Otherwise that individual will be occupying a critical seat, and it will impact the team’s success.”
Competitive compensation is just one piece of the puzzle. “To attract data scientists, companies need to put Big Data at the heart of the organization,” McKinsey & Company’s Hatami said. “If the analysts are nothing more than backroom number-crunchers, they are unlikely to feel valued and will bolt for some company where they are.”
Challenge them with big problems that are core to the company. “The trick is making sure that these types of people will be well-utilized and that their work will be valued,” said Jennifer Pockell-Wilson, vice president of marketing and demand generation for marketing solutions provider DemandBase. “Many times they are brought on and are not made privy to planning and design; then they just become fancy reporters who are looking in the rear-view mirror instead of providing predictive information.”
Not even the largest or most sophisticated corporate marketing organization can harness Big Data alone. CMOs will need to supplement their in-house staff with external specialists who can partner in leading-edge research and development. But to partner most effectively with outside consultants, marketing has to open up. “The keys to kingdom are giving us keys to kingdom,” said HyperMarketing CMO Michael Miller. “If you allow us to see what’s happening and model directly from data, we’ll be able to be 10 times more efficient. That sounds obvious, but it can be difficult dealing with brands where their data is their gold.”
Marketing’s Big Data staff and strategy cannot survive in isolation. “Make Big Data a focus of not just the marketing function, but the whole company,” McKinsey & Company’s Hatami said. “CMOs need to demonstrate the value of Big Data analytics to their peers in the C-suite.” And their Big Data hires need to collaborate and work side by side with their partners in other business functions.