Digital analytics insights: Nancy Harhut interview


Nancy Harhut, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of HBT Marketing, has a lot of experience in digital analytics. She’s famous for applying scientific approaches to digital marketing strategies. Nancy has won an Andi Emerson Award and has been named NEDMA Direct Marketer of the Year, an Ad Club Top 100 Creative Influencer, and an OMI Top 40 Digital Marketing Strategist.

Photo of Nancy Harhut

She knows how to apply behavioral science to marketing and predict customers’ actions, and her advice is sought out. Nancy kindly agreed to share her views on marketing analytics with Mariia Bocheva, Business Development Executive at OWOX BI. We have broken down the interview into these categories:

Hard and soft skills of a great analyst

Mariia Bocheva: Could you tell us about the hard skills you consider the most important for analysts? 

Nancy Harhut: I’d say that the most important skill is critical thinking. Other skills are obviously important too. However, the numbers are nothing without critical thinking. It’s true that numbers show you new data. But numbers should be interpreted properly. Being a middle analyst means analyzing numbers. A good analyst can think critically and is able to distinguish true and false numbers. You can have the numbers, but you run the risk of misinterpreting them.

MB: What about soft skills? Are they important for being a successful analyst?
Which is the most significant? 

NH: Obviously, it’s communication. Good analysts should possess the ability to communicate well. Analysts always dig deep into data, and sometimes it’s not clear for them that people from other departments can’t understand the data they receive. Through developed communication skills, they can translate “shockingly obvious” things to those who don’t understand the data and analytics perfectly.

MB: I’ve heard from a lot of people that misunderstandings among analysts and marketing teams can lead to bad outcomes. Do you agree?

NH: Yes, it’s common, and I suspect it happens more often than anyone would like. It causes many problems. How to overcome it? The answer is easy but important: you should double-check what you think you heard. Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand what an analyst or marketer means exactly.

MB: What is the role of an analyst? 

NH: Analysts should understand the goals of the team by asking questions. What is the team trying to achieve with the help of marketing? What are the barriers that stand in the way? After answering these questions, you can focus on the data that will contribute to marketing strategies and communications. Marketing strategies should be as targeted, relevant, and effective as they can be.

MB: Do you upgrade your knowledge by visiting marketing events?

NH: I’d recommend visiting some marketing industry events such as Digital Growth Unleashed and ANA Masters of Data Marketing and Technology. These are terrific resources for analysts and other members of the marketing community who want to stay abreast of new insights and trends. But that’s not enough for sure. There’s also the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association (NMSBA), which offers excellent insights into how humans really behave.

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Challenges we all face

MB: Could you name some barriers to market development? 

NH: One impediment for implementing analytics is the status quo bias. This is the hardwired human desire to keep things constant. We all feel comfortable and safe with what we know and how things have always been done. As a result, we often resist changes, even when intellectually we understand that change leads to progress. 

MB: What obstacles do you see on the market today?

NH: Organizations are more and more interested in implementing AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning — and rightfully so. The problem we need to be aware of though is the potential for biases to be built in without people realizing it. 

MB: Everybody makes mistakes. What mistakes do you consider the most significant for analysts? 

NH: The first big mistake is assuming that the information you receive is true. Often, blindingly obvious information for an analyst is not so obvious to their colleagues in other departments. 

Another big mistake is to be focused too much on data that simply cannot be used at the particular time due to resource restraints. This mistake is partially related to business maturity. It’s obvious that an enterprise company has more tools and resources to work on data. So take into account the type and size of your business and data that really matters.

Evaluating marketing analytics

MB: What do you think about the future of marketing analytics? What trends are coming and what’s in demand?

NH: I think that marketing analytics will continue to play a major role for companies and brands who are looking to establish or maintain a competitive edge. As a result, skilled analysts will stay in high demand, as will those who are familiar with social analytics. I believe that greater collaboration between data scientists and behavioral scientists is coming soon. Data scientists will reveal who should be targeted with what message at what time and place.
Behavioral scientists will inform how the particular message should be best served up in order to attract attention and trigger the human brain’s decision defaults.

MB: How do you evaluate the current maturity of marketing analytics?

NH: I see that the field of marketing analytics is growing exponentially. It is more robust than it has ever been. But there are still advances that will be made.

MB: What are the most important things analysts need to do at different stages of business maturity (startup, SME, enterprise)?

NH: I think that business maturity isn’t necessarily the most important factor here. What is really important is to make sure that analysts interact with the right people at each stage and level. Great insights that are delivered to the wrong person won’t be acted upon. There can be different quality data at different stages. Therefore, it’s reasonable to focus on the most appropriate data for each business stage.

OWOX BI bottom line

In this interview, Nancy Harhut gave many valuable thoughts. We thank her for contributing to our research for the OWOX BI blog, and we hope this interview was useful and encouraged you to upgrade your skills. 

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