When Parsing Data, Know Your Goals

Nancy Smith founded Analytic Partners in 2000 with the vision to turn data into expertise so that brands can create closer connections with their customers and drive growth. Nancy gained a deep understanding of advertising, branding and the power of data to fuel decisions through her experiences as an analyst at ASI (now, Ipsos ASI) and delivering actionable intelligence as a business manager at Clairol. Nancy had a vision for a different kind of analytics provider that partnered closely with brands to deliver an end-to-end solution from data to analytics to decisions. With Analytic Partners, Nancy is proud to lead the world's largest independent global marketing analytics solution provider. The company has 15 global offices servicing clients in more than 50 countries.

I had the opportunity to interview Nancy recently. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:

Jill Griffin: So Nancy, can you tell me a bit about your backstory. More specifically, what specifically led you to your career path?

Nancy Smith: Of course, so I grew up in Queens, New York.I’ve always had an affinity for numbers.My mom suggested I get a job at a local bakery, which was a repetitive job with customers coming in and out, but I got accustomed to understanding the weight of the pound cake or other pastries. I enjoyed “guesstimating” how much something would weigh and when customers would buy a whole host of items, I would add it up in my head and always play with numbers that way. Doing this process again and again gravitated me toward math and economics, which I then pursued my MBA in economics and marketing.

Griffin: Good for you! Did you work before you pursued your MBA or did you go straight through?

Smith: I worked in between for a year where I was actually a flight attendant for American Trans Air. We didn’t really use numbers there, but I loved traveling and I never traveled before then. I paid for my own college through loans and working, so it was great to take a year off and travel in-between. Because it was a charter company, they would send all of the flight attendants to another country like Ireland and we’d wait for the plane to come home. Staying in different parts of Europe and Asia helped me understand different cultures, which played out in my future story.


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Griffin: I love that. So, how many employees do you have right now and where are they located?

Smith: We have close to 300 team members from technologists to scientists to analysts and I like to say “change agents” around the globe, including the US and Europe. We opened an office in Dublin in 2006, well before Google or Facebook went there. We’re also across Europe in France, Germany, and the UK, along with China in Shanghai and Singapore, in addition to a great presence in Australia. So, quite diverse and quite global, which I’m really proud of our global team.

Griffin: Because my readers are going to want to know, what is it exactly that Analytic Partners does?

Smith: We help brands grow by better understanding their business and dynamics that drive their business and we do that through data, science and our technology. We have solutions that turn data into expertise as I like to say it, but really understanding why customers buy in terms of marketing activities, so advertising, etc. and what marketers and brands can do differently to connect more closely to their customers to fuel their growth in terms of how they spend their money on media, promotional activity and pricing.

Griffin: So, through your tracking, you can guide customers on where they should invest – is that correct?

Smith: That is exactly right. We call our technology, “GPS” which stands for guiding, performance and strategy, GPS Enterprise. It’s a play on words that we created over 10 years ago, when the GPS we all know wasn’t even on anyone’s phones just yet.

Griffin: I love that with your analytics, you’re not guessing, but rather you know based on the data, right?

Smith: Yes, and the numbers don’t lie. There’s a wonderful opportunity even if consumers and marketers aren’t bought into the numbers, it can be proven through experiments, and tests. This is a true validation and testament of the analytics. One of my biggest things I am excited about is how we can democratize analytics and make it so much more accessible, so more individuals can make better, faster decisions with data. While our technology allows companies to do this, my goal is to make the data that much more accessible and make it less of a learning curve to understand it. It’s like having a FitBit or any fitness tracker – it’s about getting more comfortable with data and understanding data to make decisions.

Griffin: How do you feel about challenges with data and privacy currently? Do companies like Analytic Partners have a moral responsibility to protect consumers and their data?

Smith: Yes, we all have a moral responsibility with our personal data and what a business collects and uses to support decisions and other companies. We work with clients that collect personal data with the goal to drive deeper personal connections. In order to do that well, there needs to be transparency and a value exchange and we work with our clients to help them understand the value to their brand and the customer. I love that because as a customer myself, it’s so important to me to have that connection. If we’re able to measure the experiences that customers value especially in today’s omnichannel world, those experiences can be measured in data, though you don’t need to intimately know everyone. That’s the bridge we need to get to and help our brands measure and create that connection more effectively.

Griffin: Can you give me an example of that?

Smith: Sure, so you may have a store you go to often where you may also have a loyalty card. We may understand from our analysis that if you purchase certain types of items like high-end makeup from your favorite beauty store, you’re going to be a customer that will likely purchase across other departments and benefit from offers within the loyalty program.With this learning, the store may offer some gifts or other value to their customer on their birthday. The beauty store collects personal information about the customer, and uses the customer’s birth date to suggest products that match the customer’s profile, and the store uses the birth date to delight the customer with a real gift on their birthday. This deepens the relationship, and provides a value exchange that, ideally, benefits both the customer and the retailer. Unfortunately, friction may be created if the customer doesn’t want to share their data and/or the offer is too confusing or it is too intense of a push to get your data. That’s the challenge to ensure a seamless positive experience while responsibly capturing data to further strengthen the relationship.

Griffin: Great, what I really want to ask you too is what advice do you have for women that want to go places?

Smith: I think women in general may be a little more risk-averse, so my advice is to be bullish and don’t be afraid. There are great lessons to be learned from failures that are going to only make you better and if you approach life that way, you’re going to always grow and adapt. “Adapt, evolve, thrive” is actually my mantra and for Analytic Partners too. I can’t steal from Darwin who said, “If you can adapt, you can survive,” but I can say I do believe that you can thrive in the most challenging times if you can adapt. When I founded the company, Facebook didn’t exist and Google was just in its infancy.The world has changed in our ability to connect with customers and the data has exploded. Technology and its processing power have changed so much. I was able to be successful because I wasn’t afraid to take risks, but I also had wonderful support around me. It wasn’t all smooth sailing and I did face some challenges, but I have an amazing team and support network and I would encourage everyone to start early. My 10-year-old daughter is in a business entrepreneurship class now and I’m so excited for her.

Griffin: Let’s talk about adapting for a moment. What are some of your tips to do that?

Smith: You need to listen and absolutely be open to others. I learned some great lessons from those who are brand new to Analytic Partners because they have fresh eyes and a fresh perspective and looked at the business from a different lens. We were able to learn from them and adapt. We benefit because we are independent and have seen what you can do with technology and growing it over time. Through COVID-19, we had many clients who faced challenges like a brick and mortar retailer who dealt with most of their customers being under quarantine at the start of the pandemic. They then needed to think about if they could do delivery and how well-developed their ecommerce site was. Because of our adaptive technology, we were able to pivot and look through different lens and see different regions across the globe that were in different states of quarantine to adapt and learn. Analytics helps you adapt because you can measure and understand how well you’re doing, change and adapt then change as an effect of that.

Griffin: In closing, is there something I didn’t ask you that I should have asked you?

Smith: I’d love to tell you why I founded Analytic Partners. It’s interesting because it was 21 years ago, but I saw a need in the marketplace. I worked for the hair company Clairol and I had difficulty getting what I needed from my management to support our decisions. Making decisions with data was very important because hair color only has a certain shelf life – you have to make enough to get it to the shelf on time and advertising was a big piece of their budget. We needed to understand how advertising drove sales so we could produce enough. I knew there was a great opportunity to unlock the power of data, but when I was working with different companies to support us, I found it was difficult because I was talking to a client service person who had to translate my needs to a data or analytics person. There was so much lost in translation that really what was needed was an end-to-end solution where the folks that touch the data and do the analysis also communicate the results. I founded Analytic Partners with that vision that the folks who touch the data and do the analysis also communicate the results.

Then 12 years later, Harvard Business Review announced that the data scientist was the “sexiest job of the 21st century.” I like to think we were well ahead with our “value creation” scientist. We still have that end-to-end solution, but now it is in our technology. There is so much more complexity and a plethora of data that we’ve benefitted from the science and technology. Our team have adapted as well and have become the true change agents that are driving the democratization of analytics and adoption of analytics for decisioning.

Griffin: So, if someone is just getting started with analyzing data, what advice do you have for them?

Smith: I would tell them to stop and think about their goals and what question they want to answer with this data first. Don’t just jump into the data and try to uncover answers without defining the question. Think about what questions you want to answer and prioritize them.

Griffin: Now, what is the number one question you’ve seen that needs to be asked or answered?

Smith: One of the key questions that needs to be answered is, “Is there an opportunity for me to change what I’m doing to fuel more growth.” More specificity around that is asking if you are spending your money around the right channels, on the right offers, on the right messages, to reach that right customer at the right time. Advertising is wonderful, but so much of it goes wasted, so getting it to the right person at the right time is critical. At Analytic Partners, our focus areas are to diversify to harness innovation,

to deepen our science and magnify to lead in our industry and drive the adoption of analytics. To this day, the potential of leveraging data and science remains untapped.

Griffin: What is the number one question a leader specifically needs to ask?

Smith: What are you delivering and what are you getting for your spend? It’s important to dig into how accountable is that spend, how many customers did you get from that and what is the ROI and what are we going to do differently as a result. Once you have that, the best question to ask yourself is, “How can we adjust our strategy and tactics to achieve our goals.” Analytics is used as a report card which is okay, but it’s just a check-in. Brands need to use it as a learning tool to look forward for planning, learning and fueling growth. That’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of the power of analytics.