Merkle: Finding a way for marketing and analytics to work together

CMO and head of data and analytics discuss the importance of their working relationship in building a successful data-driven culture

When you are the head of marketing or analytics for a company that offers marketing and analytics solutions, you need to be at the top of your game.

Thankfully for Erin Hutchinson and Shirli Zelcer, they have had almost two decades to nail down their working relationship and master their domains.

Hutchinson is the global chief marketing officer at customer experience management company, Merkle, an organisation she joined in 2001. Aside from a period when she stepped out of the business to look after her newborn daughter, she has gone on to hold several senior marketing posts, leading to her becoming global CMO in January 2021.

Zelcer meanwhile is Merkle's head of analytics and data, having joined the company more than 17 years ago. Having both come up together through the organisation, Zelcer and Hutchinson have witnessed the evolution of what has come to be known as data-driven marketing.

"The fact Shirli and I had a relationship and a mutual respect and interest in what the other was doing fostered that," Hutchinson says. "When we were building out the marketing function at Merkle, we put time and focus into how we could work together best, then started rolling that out across the other capabilities. Our entire leadership team is built like this, so hopefully we are a pretty tight unit, and that shows in the work we do."

Hutchinson says this approach is reflected what Merkle now offers to its customers.

"Merkle, in the essence of what it is and what we do for clients, is very routed in data, and very routed in analytics, and very routed in technology," she says. "Because of that, our marketing and all of the functions across the business are very connected to those things. Our marketing program is very routed in data, very routed in analytics, and because of that Shirli and I spend a lot of time together.

"We didn’t want to be like the cobblers' children who have no shoes. Our clients have very high expectations from us in what we put out from a marketing perspective at Merkle, and the work we do hopefully lives up to that."

Zelcer says one of the critical learnings that applies to all would-be data driven organisations has been that marketing and analytics need to work hand-in-hand.

"That is something we have been talking about for years, internally and externally, and the closer analytics and marketing are to each other, the better," Zelcer says.

Hence she and Hutchinson are constantly utilising data for tasks such as customer segmentation and determining lifetime customer value.

"More recently, it has become about personalisation as well," Zelcer says. "Those are the things we have always been connected with, internally as well, and we believe should be ongoing."

Hutchison says this dedication to data has created a culture where everything is measured and assessed.

"We measure everything we do," Hutchinson says. "We are looking at the specific value of leads coming in and as they are nurturing through the process, so from a business perspective we are speaking the same language with the commercial side of the business as well.

"At Merkle, there is an expectation we are using these things because they are important."

Now as Merkle's clients look towards an uncertain world in 2023, Zelcer says adherence to data-driven practices is more important than ever.

"There is a lot of uncertainty within our clients," Zelcer says. "It is not that their budgets are being cut, it is what happens next year if they are? Everyone is very much in a wait and see mode, but there are a lot of things we are recommending to get ahead of that. It is really trying to make sure they have a good plan if they do need to pull back.

"That is where analytics shines, because knowing how to do more with less is really the power of analytics. Having a variety of data and having the ebbs and flows and the ability to understand what impacts consumers during different time periods actually makes us able to predict a lot better."

One of the key areas of investment will be channelled towards is artificial intelligence (AI), to be able to create better signals from the sea of data many organisations now find themselves in.

"Data is power, and you should always take advantage of the data you have," Zelcer says. "Whether it is for building better models, or social listening and understanding unstructured data, all of this very rich data we weren't able to use in marketing in the past is now something that we are able to use through AI."

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