Data Strategist

Episode 41: The Data Strategist – A Conversation With Mark Schurtman

Mark Schurtman Data StrategistMark Schurtman is an experienced digital analyst & digital strategist with a proven track record of helping businesses distill digital marketing data into critical knowledge that enables them to operate more effectively online. As Campaign Analytics Manager at Zurich North America, Mark is known as a results-oriented, digital marketing professional. He is able to interpret, identify, define, analyze and derive business insights from digital metrics. Mark is passionate about clarifying the confusing and unknown, developing actionable solutions and driving improvement. Major brands that have benefited from his integrated, global search marketing expertise include Accenture, HSBC, Brinks Home Security, IBM (Smarter Planet, Cloud & Watson) Sirius, CitiFinancial, Skechers, Helzberg Diamonds and Black & Decker. He joins us from Schaumburg, Illinois to discuss the role of the Data Strategist. You can hear our conversation in iTunesStitcher or Soundcloud or below now.

While Mark works with data, it is also the fact that he works with people that elevates him from an analyst into a strategist. As he says, ‘an analyst looks at the information and reports on it with insights and findings…the strategist is (involved) even before you pull the metrics to sit with the business unit or the brand and asks why are we doing this, what are the objectives, what are the goals, how does this fit into the bottom line of the company, how will we define success? Then works to determine what data sets, what are we going to pull?’. For a business such as Zurich, that translates into questions such as ‘how can we tie brand advertising to premiums (for Zurich). For the strategist, this means getting into the business, asking the questions, setting up KPIs, THEN going into the data. Asking first, why am I pulling the report?’.

This makes the data strategist a multidisciplinary role; you need to be able to analyze, story-tell, and translate or be a bridge between groups. This need to be a storyteller comes from the recognition that the numbers in the data are based on behaviour. To an analyst, the data begins and ends at the numbers. For the strategist, the numbers merely represent part of the story. As Mark explains, ‘the story begins with defining success. For example, brand people might say they want to move the audience from awareness to consideration…on the web how do we translate that? We then look at all the tools you can use to pull together data points that help tell the story…remember that it’s still business, we are just using the Internet’.

Mark sees considerable opportunity for careers in data strategy now and in the future. This is due to the fact that ‘lots of people know how to use the tools but can’t explain in business terms the benefit of the work they do. Then you have the adapters who are hanging on from the Mad Men days and are a little scared of digital’. As the data strategist, Mark sits in the between these groups.

The key to success as a data strategist is to ‘be a curious person’. Mark gives examples on his team to illustrate this point such as Suzanne Wiggins, who trained as a neuropsychologist and is interested in how people work; or Sherrye Bolan, originally an accountant who loves numbers and what they tell. ‘If you have that, that’s the innate skill, everything else can be taught’.

In addition, it’s important to ‘remember that you are dealing with a business and to transfer that information so it makes sense to that business. Understanding and relating your message to the audience you are speaking to so they understand it’. This was made clear for Mark when he worked at BB&T, where the senior team were happy the site was receiving millions of page views, but he realized through his analysis that this was due to lack of usability on the site. This reflected a conversation early in his career that left a significant impact on Mark when a senior executive reminded him that they were ‘not in the business of visits and page views’ and asked simply, ‘are we going to make money?’.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

Listen to the podcast in iTunesStitcher or Soundcloud or below now.

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