Alex Wright is the Head of Insight at location data and intelligence specialist Blis.
For our regular Day in the Life feature, Alex tells us about what ‘insight’ is and isn’t, the skills he needs to be effective in his role, and why print advertising has still got it.
Hi, Alex. Please describe your job: What do you do?
Alex Wright: As Head of Insight probably the most important place to start is how ‘insight’ is defined – particularly bearing in mind how ravenously the word has been adopted by the industry, albeit not always with consistent meaning.
In fact, it’s possibly easier to start with what insight isn’t: insight isn’t data, and nor is it research – though it seems they are often conflated to mean as much – but both can certainly help in its pursuit. However, from a Blis perspective, it’s the layering of context and a specific client or industry challenge over the analysis we can perform on the data we have available – it’s very much a human interpretation of the data.
Less philosophically, our day job is to identify growth opportunities and competitive advantage for our clients: Data –> Analysis –> Observations –> Implications (–> Actions).
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Alex Wright: Originally Insight served as the munitions store for Sales – sitting just behind the front lines, but with an explicit commercial focus. As the business has grown and evolved, Insight has become an increasingly external-facing presence, engaging with client and agency stakeholders, speaking at industry events, and being a source of new material for our own Marketing team.
As some of the primary users of our data, we also work closely with our Engineering team to help guide the development of new tools – whether for internal or external use.
We have Insight representation in our key global markets, because there is no substitute for authentic local knowledge when working on specific local challenges – Insight at Blis is a central discipline (in the way we exchange ideas and best practice), not a central function. As such, I report into the MD for Europe.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Alex Wright: Is it a cop-out to say ‘a bit of everything’?
Of course it’s important that you’re not intimidated by a spreadsheet, but the number-crunching is just one element of what’s required. Being able to translate the numbers into a coherent set of observations that support or subvert received wisdom, and generate tangible applications is where insight separates itself from pure research or analytics.
There’s an alchemy to it: being able to transpose a concept or framework from one industry onto what you’re observing in another; knowing when to question whether what we’re seeing is indicative of an emerging trend or a faddy blip: knowing what to latch onto and dig into, and what to discard is a skill that’s hard to define, and just as difficult to find.
As such, it’s not just the skills you need, but the input of others to bring alternative points of view, to challenge the interpretation of One, and to crowdsource a more rounded version of the ‘truth’ (whatever that may be). We have been piecing together an international team of curious minds to enable this pursuit.
Tell us about a typical working day…
Alex Wright: Getting the most stressful part of the day (getting two children up, dressed and to nursery) done before 8am gives me an early sense of well-being and personal liberty, so everything after that is a relative breeze.
Even the Thameslink ride in is pleasant by comparison, and grants me the chance to sift through the various industry (media, advertising, tech, plus general news and gossip that qualifies as topical, if not always relevant) newsletters in search of content to praise, bury, paraphrase or plagiarise for a weekly internal blog.
A typical day from thereon in can find its emphasis in education (location data is no longer ‘new’, but there remains understandable confusion about how data is collected, and therefore how it may be used most appropriately – and it’s our obligation to disseminate this information faithfully), inspiration (taking the conversation about location data beyond the ‘proximity targeting’ pitch of five years ago, and demonstrating its usefulness in understanding real-world behaviour), investigation (hypothesis testing, study set-up and analysis) and interpretation (what do all those elements mean when they’re together?).
There might even be time for a bit of pitch work, proposal writing, client debriefing, webinar or podcast recording, and catching up at the coffee machine (never underestimate the knowledge that can be gleaned from an otherwise inconsequential two minute chat).
What do you love about your job?
Alex Wright: Working with a team of smart, earnest, keen-minded people who genuinely want to learn more and apply themselves to these problems – the sincerity with which the work is approached generally means there is always some value in what we, as a team, can bring to the table.
Alex Wright: Being asked for ‘an insight’. You know who you are…!
What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Alex Wright: That depends on what success means for that campaign and for that brand – the metric should reflect the objective, and the measurement should fit the media.
I should be pushing ‘footfall-to-store’ here – but not if that wasn’t the objective in the first place!
Unfortunately, some of the most meaningful outcomes are often the most difficult to measure, which means that marketers should consider everything from online quant to intercept interviews, in-home ethnography to neuroscience, implicit association to passive location tracking. But don’t be bewitched by novelty, and don’t be afraid to seek the thoughts of those who work outside media and advertising, because it’ll be their opinions – or indifference – that are an unreconstructed measure of campaign success or otherwise.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Sometimes there’s a reason why old solutions have lasted so long; for me a sketch on a piece of paper can help disaggregate a problem, or structure how to test a hypothesis, or communicate a concept better than words.
Then it’s horses for courses (see answer above).
How did you end up at Blis, and where might you go from here?
After stints at various ‘traditional’ media businesses in Radio, Print and Cinema (all in relative states of flux as each was adapting to the changing nature of content consumption in the digital age), I completed a rite of passage at a media agency, before Blis and I took a mutual punt on one another.
Allowing someone with zero digital experience (let alone mobile or the location specialism within that) into their business to build the Insight function was a bold move – and one I’m appreciative of.
It turns out data is data wherever you go, just with a different dialect to get attuned to – not a whole new language to learn.
Which campaigns have impressed you lately?
I enjoyed the Vegemite vs Marmite tit-for-tat during the Ashes test at Lord’s. The spiky yet good-natured barbs offered a neat caricature for the spirit of the tournament. Print media’s still got it.
Do you have any advice for new marketers?
Keep the big picture in mind – long term, brand values and identity, must exist alongside performance.
Remember, you’re an actual real-life consumer yourself. If you think the campaign is disappearing in a cloud of industry guff, you might be right.
What would you think if you were on the receiving end of your own activity? Would you notice? Would you care? Would it be funny, interesting or useful? If not, what would you change?