Monday, May 12, 2014

Strategists and Data Analysts: Make the Deliberate Connection and Really Excel as Data-Driven Strategist


As data analysts and strategists, being data driven and strategic is really two sides of the same coin, the key is to make the deliberate connection. Being told you are not strategic or data-driven really stings, but despite thousand hours we spent on drawing up detailed plans and investigating data, all too often thy matter every little to performance. As an IMC graduate student in Northwestern's Medill School, I have been focusing on bridging strategic planning with data-driven analytics and I found two insightful articles from Harvard Business Review and McKinsey Quarterly that will help to tear down the Great Chinese Wall between the art and science of marketing communication. 

Being strategic is fundamentally making deliberate connections. In Strengthen Your Strategic Thinking Muscles, Liane Davey argues that sometimes we are just too busy to be strategic. Under the guise of productivity, we have probably squeezed out thinking time, thus the decision is based more on reflex than reflection, more on what has worked before instead of making meaningful connection. Every one has opportunity to be strategic, simply by being more deliberate in our thoughts and actions. Down to the execution level, being strategic also requires making choices and connect things and domains that is currently separated or segmented.

Big Data is now the buzzword everybody is uttering, but few people realized simply collecting Big Data does not unlock its potential value. In Big Data help wanted (badly): How to win the war for talentMcKinsey on Marketing & Sales argues to true tap into the analytical power of Big Data and form data-driven strategies, strategists and analysts should aim at being “translators” who are capable of connecting different business functions and effectively communicating between them. These strategic connection making process is really the prerequisite of being strategic under the Big Data context.


Image Source: McKinsey on Marketing & Sales

Based upon these two articles, I realized there are three action items that could really help to be strategically data-driven: Strategy and Big Data are the most misused and overused words in our business, but instead of being isolated, they are actually complimentary. As the author of Predictive Analytics Eric Siegel once criticized, "big data often means small math", big data can also means meaningless strategy. Being strategically data-driven is really the benchmark for strategic and analytical talents, and that requires strategists really reflect on the true meaning of being strategic and make the deliberate connection between different business functions. 

1. Make more time to reflect before making decisions. 

2. Be courage to make choices and embrace the uncertainty.

3. Create connections between analytics, technology and business decision making.

To be strategic and data-driven are among the biggest expectation of today marketers, all too often they are referred as the “art and science” and seen as hard to reconcile. However, I believe they are actually complimentary and symbiotic. Being strategic is fundamentally about making deliberate connections, and it is even more so in the Big Data context. Marketers to seek to be more strategic need to actively bridge and communicate with different business functions. They can thus become “navigators” and “translators” and truly empowering strategic decisions. 


Aaron R. An is M.S. candidate of integrated marketing communication at Medill School, Northwestern University, specializing in Marketing Analytics and Brand Strategy tracks. Aaron graduated from Peking University with bachelor degrees of Economics and International Relations. Prior to IMC, Aaron worked in Caterpillar’s China strategic development department, Ogilvy PR’s China Outbound Strategy Practice, and Northhead Consulting, helping Chinese companies to form their outbound marketing strategies and US companies to form the localization strategies. 

Any questions or comments? Contact him on Twitter at @Aaronarpku

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