In marketing, we don’t want to evoke je ne sais quoi. Specificity is currency. Be it the audience, be it the message, or the emotional reaction to our campaigns. In the age of data analytics as the backbone of marketing decisions, this relevance becomes more and more attainable. To say data science is a lot of hype is incorrect, but in the agency world, hubris abounds.

Major publications have written much about data scientists taking over the world, including a recent piece in The New Yorker called “How the Math Men Overpowered the Mad Men.” But as with all new accouterment, buyers beware. Just because your brand needs analytic capabilities doesn’t mean you should walk out and pick the first agency who tells you they have them. Data science is a complex and multi-layered discipline that requires rigor and experience to implement.

More Than a Name

We love our scientists. And anyone with a LinkedIn feed can tell you they are one. Marketers, adept at capturing the zeitgeist, have honed in on the nerd throttlehold on our culture. Not that all scientists are nerds, but the timing is ripe for independent marketing agencies to shout from the rooftops that they have data analysts ready to solve your problems. Heck, even The Harvard Business Review said data scientists are the sexiest title in the 20th Century. And, ahem, we know sex sells. But let’s step back a moment and make sure we are asking the right questions of any contender for our data analytics business.

Ask These Pointed Questions

  1. What is the difference between metrics and KPIs?
  2. Describe your experience working within compliance and regulatory issues?
  3. Do you have attribution media mix case studies you can share?
  4. Do you store and process data sets from digital channels?
  5. Are the reports you give to your clients’ screen captures from Ad Words, as opposed to reports that are being custom developed from raw data sources?
  6. Are your reports blocks of hundreds of numbers as opposed to critical visualizations?
  7. Does your reporting share actionable insights?
  8. Is your machine learning expert well versed in the step by step walkthroughs or tutorials or real-world application?
  9. Who manages your data? Data managers or the analysts themselves?
  10. Do you have analytics experts in the design of marketing tests? (If you’re calling in an analyst to look at a test that they didn’t help design, you’re calling them for a post-mortem.)

The Pressure is Real, The Talent Must Be Too

Marketing agencies with true data science capabilities will have an organizational structure that indicates they are seriously invested in this critical discipline. Acquiring and working with data is much more than numbers on spreadsheets and means a team of experienced pros who can navigate everything from different data sources to compliance issues. The pressure to find talent to address it all is very real. As reported in McKinsey’s The Age of Analytics:  Competing in a Data-Driven World, “most companies are capturing only a fraction of the potential value of data and analytics.”

As tempting as it is to fall for well-written web copy touting data analytic capabilities, homework is required. Just as you look at the portfolio of a creative person or the success rate of a media planner, due diligence in hiring the right data science team means asking specific questions. You want people not just with a title, but with minds that think analytically about your marketing challenges. Whether its driving more foot traffic to your store or more customers to your website or elevating a B2B brand to a new audience, partnering with true data science capabilities will help you succeed. Just be clear and don’t succumb to the hype.