Data Analytics – Bringing Sexy Back

It’s in high demand and has even been referred to as sexy. I’m not talking about being the editor or photographer for Surfer magazine’s swimsuit edition. I’m talking about being the next Big Data Director or Digital Interactive Marketing Manager.

Yes, you heard correctly: Data Analyst is the “it” job.

I used to think my hipster product designer was the team’s greatest asset and the guy in the sales department whom I could count on for ad hoc sales’ reports, was just a friendly guy who loved Excel. As it turns out that guy (or that girl) is valuable and hard to find. According to a study surveying over 700 executives from Fortune 500 companies identified that one of the largest talent and hiring gaps is online marketing candidates who possess analytical skills and a passion for data. Whether they know it or not, their finance skills and their endless curiosity is critical in today’s digital market.

As a marketing manager or product director who’s working in multiple seasons, sometimes 12-18 months in advance, we have about a nanosecond- or in Standard Pacific Time, a week to research product category initiatives and annual marketing campaigns. All proposals must be validated and backed by several points of data or face the inevitable Conference-Room-Induced-Stutter (that’s a real medical term) and the dreaded stakeholder doubt and fear. If you’re lucky enough to work for a brand with a 3- to 5-year vision, you might have 2 weeks to work on a longer-term plan. But let’s face it, the pressure to be closer to market and to have an intimate, almost personal relationship with your consumer is so immense, that well, we’re back to one week of research making quality not quantity (8 stapled pages of 17×11 paper in 8 point font makes us blind and frustrated) highly valuable.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

When there is a need for historical sales information or a trend analysis, we typically head to a Sales Planner. After being provided a spreadsheet too large to view on our monitor, we might discover 2,500 Steller BP GRY/BLK were sold. Wasn’t that the backpack without the side pockets? Everyone said it was a dog at the sales meeting. Drop down, dig deeper… there it is: “Value Channel”. It was a close out. Keep dropping down… it’s a rep who’s worked with Burlington Coat Factory for years. One more drop down: the net margin was 29.2%!!

Data can be insightful and is essential to business decisions but raw data, well that’s just confusing, misleading, and in some cases downright dangerous. If you don’t pivot yourself into the coal-like data mines, you might be telling everyone that pocket-less backpacks were trending. This is only the simple task of analyzing your product sales’ history. While most of us depend on sales history, there is now simply better information.

The more complicated yet insightful data is coming from online data. What is quickly becoming the fastest growing channel presents us with a new world of oversized spreadsheets and metrics. This is data that we only recently started paying attention to and if we know how to demystify the statistics, we can truly speak more directly to our consumer and actually hear what they’re telling us.

Whether it’s wholesale or direct, online data provides infinite information on our consumer; their buying behavior, brand loyalty, and their social interactivity. We have direct access to an over-informed, socially influenced, and technologically advanced consumer base. Not to get too panicky, but the consumer has become the analyst/researcher. Honestly, we need to say goodbye to the days of Sales Planners providing ad hoc reports.

It’s not enough to hire an ex-buyer or rock climber with an accounting degree and stick him in the sales department.

In the tech world, they’re referred to as a Data Scientist. Now that’s sexy! In the index of historical job titles, it puts Inventory or Sales Planner next to Secretary. A big data scientist asks questions, a lot of questions and uncovers information decision makers never dreamed they had access. If that position sounds a bit lofty and maybe a bit pretentious for the likes of sporting goods and outdoor industries, take it down a notch.

Cobra Puma Golf recently posted a Digital Marketing position. It took them several months to fill it-much longer than expected. According to Bob Philion, the president, the candidate they found is a “stud”. He comes from a direct competitor so he knows his market and enjoys golf regularly. That’s just the bonus-what makes him a real stud is that he’s landed in one of the more traditional industries and has several years’ experience in ecommerce, digital and social strategy planning, Pay-Per-Click, SEO, display advertising, and social media analytics.

More and more companies are adopting analytics as part of their culture. Devoting resources and budget to these positions not only reveals what’s happened in the past, it’s now personalizing the online experience for your consumer. For those of you who are looking at the bottom of the spreadsheet, it’s helping to optimize sales in real time with online promotions and product pricing and testing.

The benefits of online sales can be overwhelming and create a new portfolio of metrics. The first step is to carve out the necessary budget to create the data analytics positions; the next step is to search long and hard, providing a long enough lead-time to hire slowly (always a good approach).

I’m a major supporter of internal development and believe that the eager and devoted Sales Planner could be reinvented if trained appropriately. They already have the financial background and understand your brand. Investing in Google Analytics and SEO training will be worth the time and budget. I also recommend searching in aligning or similar industries. I believe that our digital resources who interact with sales, product, and executive teams need to know the industry jargon and have a passion not only for research and data but for the sport and lifestyle your brand lives and breathes.

We make critical business decisions daily in a fast paced, competitive market. Without data-driven decisions, our competition will inevitably make discoveries we will overlook. It’s time we staff appropriately.

By Guest Blogger, Bridget Walsh Hope.

Bridget has 20 plus years of experience in apparel and accessories product management. Including notable successes in assessing strategic direction, researching and determining global category opportunities, delivering profitable and productive product line introductions, and leading large cross-functional and dynamic teams throughout the process.

She has worked in a variety of industries including fashion, sport lifestyle, outdoor, and action sports. She’s currently working as a consultant in business planning and product team development. In addition, Bridget has returned to her journalism roots and has a found a comfortable spot in front of her laptop writing industry news and digital marketing content.