Successful businesses have a common trait—the ability of their people to make strategic decisions that drive impactful results. There are a variety of quantitative and qualitative factors that guide thought processes; however, it is up to the business leaders to make the final call. We sat down with Anne Gherini, Vice President of Marketing and Partnerships at Affinity, to talk about her deep experience with early-stage startup growth and the smartest marketing decision she made: to question the numbers.
RampUp: What’s the smartest marketing decision you ever made?
Anne: One of the best decisions I made was not to follow the numbers blindly. Years ago, I was brought in to help revamp a marketing team. When I was evaluating their email program, I noticed that performance numbers had led to a handful of decisions that I did not agree with as they were in direct conflict with credible marketing trends.
In this case, one of the glaring issues I saw revolved around mobile optimization. The A/B tests steered the campaign to position mobile as ancillary to desktop for content consumption, yet we knew our persona was more glued to their phone than desktop. We deconstructed the templates and built them to be mobile first instead of just mobile optimized.
Evaluating the data is essential. However, after you’re finished evaluating, it’s important to step away and look at the bigger picture by asking what the end users—the people behind the numbers—truly want. When you look beyond the data, the result can prove transformative.
RampUp: Were you unsure or confident about this decision?
Anne: The rest of the team was initially very skeptical about my decision. However, after I outlined my rationale and dove deeper into the consumer persona, the decision made more sense. Data can be incredibly powerful in helping us learn more about our users, but merely setting campaigns on autopilot can prove detrimental.
The art and science of marketing live in coupling data with our human intuitions. Stepping into our user’s shoes and applying some level of empathy can enable us to see what the data alone cannot reveal.
RampUp: How did data guide that decision?
Anne: Data was an essential component of the decision. While the ultimate course of action steered away from the solution revealed by the data, the data was closely scrutinized. Additionally, the data was immensely valuable in the context of tracking data and justifying the decision. Finally, data was an integral part of building out robust personas to target. It helped us answer critical questions such as: Who are our customers? Who are our prospects? How do their days unfold? What challenges are they facing? How do they prefer to consume content?
RampUp: Those sound like great psychographic questions to ask that may not necessarily lead you to a statistic like, “Seventy-two percent of our persona wants this type of messaging.” How do you evaluate data coming directly from talking with people or surveying them versus what an analytics platform might generate?
Anne: I think qualitative and quantitative data are imperative to understanding and building your personas. Hearing directly from your prospects about what really matters to them, how they consume content, and the problems they face in their job can lead to better strategic decision-making.
RampUp: What were the results of moving to a mobile-first email program?
Anne: By leveraging data to construct more robust personas and steering away from merely focusing on past results, my team saw a 34% increase in engagement. Also, negative KPIs like unsubscribe and spam rates decreased.
RampUp: How did that affect the bottom line and company goals? Was there a significant shift?
Anne: The results were a clear reminder to everyone, from product to marketing, to never lose sight of the fact that there are people behind the numbers. From that point forward, we continued to question decisions based on our personas as opposed to solely focusing on existing data and lagging indicators.
RampUp: What was the feedback from the company? Did it affect company culture in any way?
Anne: Shifting a company to adopt a people-first mentality is not something that transpires overnight. In tech, we are often more comfortable in making decisions and building strategies around numbers. It feels less risky. Often these metrics do hold water. They tend to be reliable and easy to forecast. The problem is that that we tend to forget the human side of marketing. It’s not that we completely ignore the data, but instead, we must opt for a healthy balance. We must marry our understanding of who is behind the numbers with the data.
RampUp: Do you wish you had made this decision earlier?
Anne: Yes. The sooner your company can become people-based, the better able you’ll be to increase your odds of success.
RampUp: What advice do you have for other marketing professionals looking to make a big, impactful decision?
Anne: Focus on people, not just the numbers. Build a culture that relentlessly reminds your team about the importance of understanding the user and catering to their preferences. It is easy to double down on programmatic efforts and congratulate ourselves for leveraging technology. But if we take our hands off the wheel completely, we’ll miss out on a tremendous opportunity to better connect with our customers. Instead, leverage data and automation to save time and apply those time savings towards better understanding your personas and establishing stronger connections with your users.