This week’s ‘day in the life’ interview is one of my favourites.
Michael Brown is insights director at UM. Here’s how he fills his time, and what makes his role so enjoyable.
(As usual, a quick reminder to look in on the Econsultancy jobs board if you’re looking for a new digital marketing role yourself.)
Econsultancy: Please describe your job: What do you do?
Michael Brown: Our team answers our clients’ big business questions – the type that can’t be answered with guesswork. Before our clients spend millions of pounds on advertising, we help ensure they know their target market inside and out, that their messages will resonate, and that their investment will generate the most effective ROI.
Our mission is to deliver better outcomes through better art and science, so it’s my team’s responsibility to make sure that insight and analytics fuel all our comms thinking.
E: Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
MB: My team delivers full-service insight to all of UM’s UK clients (we take creative charge of every part of the project, from questionnaire – in the case of quant projects – to the debrief report).
At UM, Insight works shoulder-to-shoulder with our tools and analytics teams. The value of having joined-up teams is enormous. I report into Claire Spencer, head of insight at IPG Mediabrands (UM’s holding company).
E: What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
MB: For me, two key qualities make a great researcher. First, you need to be excellent at your practice – thorough at delivering methodologies, with attention to detail and, above all, a good analytical instinct that guides you on where to look in a data-set in order to find killer stories.
The second, equally important, skill is communication: you need to be able to turn those insights into actionable recommendations that clients can develop into profitable strategies.
E: Tell us about a typical working day…
MB: Day-to-day, I work as a direct consultant to our clients, with my head in a range of different brands and categories. At any given time, there’s also usually some broader project underway that requires closer thought.
A fair part of the past couple of years, for example, have been occupied by thinking about The Economist on a series of insight projects we’ve delivered for them. This is one of my favourite parts of my job – I get to work closely with colleagues and friends like Neil Peace, who leads the business, and to sit at the table when the newspaper makes big decisions. Great work comes from intelligent and open-minded clients and a smart and collaborative team.
E: What do you love about your job? What sucks?
MB: The best thing about my job is how focused it is on relationships. With our clients, these are based on years of delivering a strategic and actionable kind of insight (which is why I choose to work at a media agency rather than a research agency). I count many of our clients as personal friends through our years of working together. Similarly with our supply partners.
Internally, I love working with the team and the broader agency feels like a kind of home to me (possibly too much so – our head of facilities is always telling me off about my ‘shoedrobe’!).
I also adore the thought-leadership aspect of my job. ‘UK by UM’, for example, has looked at the role of ads in creating, challenging and breaking identity stereotypes in society. This project still has lots more to come, but we can already look back on it proudly.
The toughest part is juggling commitments, but an ex-boss taught me to banish the word ‘busy’ from my work language as it’s too easy to use as an excuse. So I won’t dwell on that too much.
E: What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
MB: My performance is measured on keeping clients and team happy. The best KPI for our output is business benefit on our clients’ bottom line.
E: What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
MB: Although my background is in quantitative or survey-based research, there’s nothing quite like a focus group. Meeting people in person and sharing a cup of tea with them provides a deeper, more human level of insight.
With such a (rightful) focus on data in global business, I think there’s never been a more important time to meet people in person and understand the attitudinal and emotional context of their behaviours.
E: How did you get into customer insight, and where might you go from here?
MB: I moved into insight when a very dear ex-client of mine asked me to go and work for her at a research agency where she was managing director. Looking into the future, I think I’ve got more to learn here at UM and I feel happy here. I’m half-Colombian, so I’ve harboured the dream of one day moving to work at one of UM’s offices in Latin America or Spain.
E: Which brands do you think understand their customers well?
MB: Spotify. It has a huge amount of data – and uses it to deliver users a personalised experience that is second to none. If you don’t believe me, go to your Discover Weekly playlist, which uses your past listening behaviours to help unearth new tunes you’ll love. I defy you not to love its suggestions.
E: Do you have any advice for people who want to work in customer insight?
MB: If you find your mind tends to wander towards the ‘why’ in life, then go for it! People joke in research that nobody intended to work in this industry, we tend to just fall into it. I absolutely love it – it’s full of interesting and lovely people and it’s very social.
One of my favourite things about this industry is the Market Research Society. It runs &more – a network for young researchers with evening events with guest lecturers and parties. These are a great window into the best aspects of our industry.