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Review of Smarter Data

A review of Smarter Data Conference 2021: My first experience attending

It was my first time attending Smarter Data and I really didn’t know what to expect. I have always known about the Marketing Association and had previously seen several events that I wanted to attend, but for one reason or another, had not managed to take the plunge and actually buy a ticket – much to my loss, it turns out.

I had the pleasure of witnessing the planning of Smarter Data. The events team, content manager, external agencies and COO, really pull finger and work hard to make these things as great as they can be. Wrangling a lineup of expert speakers, all of whom have very busy lives, is no easy feat. But these guys at the MA seem to just know how to get stuff done.

Anyway, on to what my blog is actually about – Smarter Data! The conference was a buzz! I couldn’t believe the professionalism of the layout and activations, including the live streaming set-up. You walk in and can feel you’re at a great event, and you know you’re about to learn something valuable. The barista coffee as you walk in is a bonus too. The line-up of speakers really sets the tone of the event, they had two international keynotes, Torben Valsted, Insights & Analytics Director, former Nike, Nestle and Carlsberg, and Sean Stanleigh, Head of Global Content Studio, Globe and Mail – the largest subscription-based news publication in Canada! Not to mention Keryn McKenzie from The Warehouse Group, Matt Jarman from TRACK NZ, Sean Wiggans, GM Marketing, Turners Group, and many more which are worthy of mention, but we all know best practice blog post lengths are limited, so best get to it.

I was pleasantly surprised at the recurring themes that started emerging throughout the day – you know you’ve hit a home run on the speakers when they all unintentionally agree and speak on key themes. There really isn’t enough time to talk about all the speakers and all of the gems they talked about and all the funny moments. Brian Ferris from Loyalty NZ was a hoot! And gave an interesting presentation on left brain and right brain thinking. Sean from Turners Group talked about real results after partnering with Stitch and focusing on meaningful data. Jacqui Barratt, Founder of Salt, had some great opinions on the job market in New Zealand and how data skills are essential these days – even if it’s just foundation knowledge and skills. And much more!

But, onto the specifics of what I learnt, here are some of my key take-outs from the event, and how I believe I can implement the learnings to my marketing role.

1. It’s not about how much data you have, it’s about knowing what to do with it and forming a meaningful insight from it.

A lot of the speakers talked about knowing what you’re trying to achieve before you embark on a data journey. Understanding what data you actually need, and why, is more important than having a 150 Terabytes full of figures that you can’t interpret meaning from. I believe the exact quote from Sean Wiggans, Turners Group, was “we had a sea of data that we couldn’t even see.” Nice one Sean.

Insight is also a key word here. The key is to derive a meaningful insight from your data, that impacts and helps make better business decisions. One example from Torben Valsted was when he worked for Nike. They had stores all over the place and had collected enormous amounts of data over time. Yet, when he asked the simple question of which were the top 5 most productive stores, and which were the least 5 most productive stores, no data analyst or business C-suite knew the answer – go figure! So, think about what kind of data will help you make profitable business decisions, and then work backwards from there. Incrementally collecting data, take small steps, and then reflect!

2. Business translators.

This theory is new to me, and I love it! And once again, this idea came out a lot throughout the day.

Put simply, to get the most out of your data, you need the best of both worlds. You need the data guru, nowadays known as Data Scientists or Data Analysts, and you need the businessperson, Marketer, COO, whomever it may be. They need to work together and talk to each other in order to get the absolute most from the data. The business people who understand what they need, talk to Data Analysts so that the Data Analyst is collecting and collating the right data. Marketer – be a co-creator, not an end user (thanks Matt Jarman for that goodie). This is a Business Translator. Without some specific direction, a data scientist could provide you with pages and pages of data, all of which doesn’t help you achieve a better customer experience or makes your product more profitable. Work together. Talk to each other. Understand each other.

3. Keryn McKenzie, Chapter Area Lead – Insights and Data Science, The Warehouse Group

Talked about having business translators and needing the teams to be connected and spread out amongst each other. But it was a few other gems that she talked about which I’ve picked up on and want to share with you.

Keryn talked about removing barriers in a workplace in order to achieve your goals and free yourself up to focus on what is important. She mentioned creating a compelling case for change (I guess this also comes under having good stakeholder management skills), building an emotional connection, recruit for mindset over skills, and DIVERSIFY (another common theme throughout the day), diversity will unlock success! Remove “busy” work that is not necessary, fail fast, be agile, and decline meetings that are not relevant or necessary – I think we can all learn from this.

I’ve walked away from Smarter Data knowing I can apply something from all of the speakers into my own role. As Marketing Manager’s, we have busy work lives. We need to know a lot about a lot of topics – including data. And with marketers citing data unification and activation among their top five challenges*, this conference is something we could all benefit from attending. Where I work, we are on a digital transformation ourselves and one of the big things we’re working through is data collection and data management, so the insights I got from SD2021 are invaluable! Smarter Data has given me the confidence of knowing where to start, start mapping what I need to know, in order to achieve better results for the customer and for us, and it’s reminded me that taking small steps is ok! Done is better than none – (thanks, Adnan).

I would highly recommend everyone attending Smarter Data next year. There are definitely more technical talks for those who are data experts, but all the speakers managed to bring it back to real-life case studies and real-life events, and how you can implement the learnings in your own role.

I can’t leave without one last mention – Carmen Vicelich from Data Insight did a fantastic job as MC of the event. Her knowledge on the topic and her ability to keep everyone excited is key to the success of an event like this. So, Carmen, thank you! And thank you Data Insight for sponsoring such a valuable event.

See you next year!

*Salesforce research sixth edition state of marketing report.

Download the PDF version of Danielle's blog here


Photos from the Event

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