Path to power
I started as a graduate at a direct marketing agency called Identex in 2004. We were a small, self-sufficient office where one of my first tasks was to spec and build the SQL tables which integrated loyalty data to the Best Western Hotels single customer view. In. At.The.Deep. End.
I’m a kinesthetic learner, so knowing how data was stuck together really helped when I used it to stretch the capability of campaign management and email tools. In 2006, my boss took me and another grad from our Leeds office down to our parent company HQ in London – then called WWAV Rapp Collins – where we set up a data function in the creative and media agency. Within two years, we’d grown from three to 19 people, Identex and WWAV rebranded as RAPP and we had started to operate as a truly-integrated agency.
I became a digital consultant at RAPP and started connecting the data, systems, creative and planning dots for incredible clients like Race for Life, Barclaycard, Open University, Dixons Retail and LOVEFiLM. In 2012, the CEO of LOVEFiLM left to start the turnaround of Mothercare and ELC - a couple of months later, I got a phone call to come in for a chat…
Deals and deeds
Last year, we put electronic receipts on every till in every Mothercare in the UK. It’s a great service which basically means customers need never lose their receipt – quite handy if your £5 top is the wrong size or your £500 pushchair needs fixing. Inside three months, we went from a test-rig demo to a national rollout in 200 stores, 1,000 tills and 5,000 staff, making us the biggest provider of the service in the UK. Six weeks later, stores became a bigger source of customer data than the website for the first time since the business put in e-commerce.
So - why data?
I’m one of those people with no imagination whose degree is directly related to their job – BSc Information Systems and Management at Leeds University. I mentioned before that I was a kinesthetic learner. You can never take me on a date to go and see Paul Daniels, because I’ll just sit there and not enjoy it until I understand how he does his tricks (and gets Debbie McGee to fancy him.) I am fascinated by how things work and can be connected - mechanical or digital. I can’t build steam locomotives, so I do this instead.
What is the best thing about working in the data industry?
With all the chat above, you would be forgiven (and correct) for thinking I’m a bit of an emotionally-stunted geek. But, actually, my favourite thing about data is how it can facilitate an emotional connection between the customer and the brand that is so much more powerful than a generic campaign.
If you were granted one wish to change something about the data industry, what would it be?
Client business structure. We came up with some incredible, game-changing customer experiences at RAPP when creatives worked with data guys, technologists and planners, and they never saw the light of day because these ideas required client-side alignment of IT, e-commerce, marketing and store operations. So, anyway, here I am as a client to address that.
Share something you have learned that could benefit your peer group
The most inspiring work I’ve been involved in has come from putting humans first. Go and draw out your customer journey - how do they find out about you, become visible to your systems? What do you say to guide them through researching, buying and using your products?
Now go and highlight the points where you should be making that journey better, smoother, more engaging, more sincere. Now look at how connecting or enhancing data could support that. And remember that nobody owes you anything. Be brave, go and earn it, go and prove you were right.
And what was the toughest lesson?
Push back when you should. Years ago, I did a campaign for a big new client. The HTML file they sent was totally unfit for purpose, I spent hours fixing it, got to 7pm Friday evening and, in my haste, I sent the “welcome back” email to the lapsed customers. I made an error because I tried to fix somebody else’s.
What’s in your data toolbox?
It’s not a toolbox, it’s the McLaren Formula 1 Technology Centre. One of the handy things about joining a turnaround was that everything was old and broken, so we just started again using technology built with real-time connected data in mind. We built a new SCV database, piped in e-commerce data in real time, implemented digital receipts on every till, integrated that in real time, built mobile apps, integrated those in real time, fixed our web tracking, integrated that in real time, and put the real-time Adobe Campaign cross-channel marketing platform directly on top. Our internal CRM team is fantastic and has grown with the project, we work with RAPP and yReceipts as partners, rather than vendors, and - most importantly - if I need more data, I’ll just go and flirt outrageously with 200 store managers on email, then they’ll get our 5,000 staff on the case.
What’s on your wish list?
I’m good at vision, bad at organisation. At Mothercare, we had this incredible program manager to help us with all the systems development – he was contracting, so didn’t care about internal politics, he just cared about delivery and had no problem going to the top to get stuff done.
Your social network
I don’t really have business friends, so will just list people I get drunk with. Cathy Roberts was my first inspiring boss and now runs international CRM at Just Giving, Russell Marsh was another inspiring boss who is now chief data officer at IPG Mediabrands, the RAPP senior team of Marco Scognamiglio, Sam Nolan and Carolyn Stebbings are lovely (but that might be because I’m a client now), Chaten Uberoi is doing big things at LVMH, Ben Salmon is a brilliant guy who went and founded his own consultancy called Attributely, I did some great work with John Markham (RAPP CTO) and Matt Heffer (now at DBG), Alex Kayser at yReceipts is fantastic to work with, Simon Calver made the Mothercare CRM project possible and is now chairman at Moo.com.
Killer fact - something that would surprise or delight people if they only knew about it...
I don’t know about surprise, but I have a secret that will probably dismay: I am obsessed with trucks. When I was a kid, my dad ran his own massive wagon and I’d spend all my time going out in it. Still love them now.