Shadow Architects: The Collaborative Data Team

Every marketer knows that data-driven customer experiences are the best way to reach an audience—but have you ever wondered about where the data behind campaigns comes from?

Data lakes. Data warehouses. Floodlights, pixels, page load tags. Such is the language of the hidden world of data architects and engineers—the people who create and execute the datasets that fuel media campaigns and measure the way audiences respond to them. As it turns out, the culture of digital data architects is as lively and robust as any sub-culture, with its own individual language, courtesy guidelines, and practices.

It’s easy for a person working in digital data architecture to spend an entire career hidden from any client contact, deep within an agency’s walls. Though their role keeps them behind the scenes, they’re responsible for the media experiences we come across every day, and the responsible for the successful data capture of our responses to media efforts. Very much like stagehands in the theater, data engineers’ work is most active before the show starts—while creative pieces are still being developed and dollars assigned to various media publishers, data engineers are busy arranging the data agreements between one technology and the next. They’re building the large, flexible, transactional end-to-end datasets that make campaigns—and campaign measurement—possible.

 Unearthing Buried Treasure

What’s surprising, even today, is how easily siloed these data professionals can be from each other, even when they’re working on the same campaign. This is because typically, advertising and marketing tactics for a single branded campaign can fall to several different companies. It’s not uncommon, for example, for a brand manager to hire one company to build her brand’s website, another company to execute her CRM, and even another to purchase media space and execute digital media campaigns.

Having multiple agencies working on a brand is a natural fact of the marketing world, but it’s not very good for creating quality, end-to-end data ecosystems. To make sure that a brand’s data assets are in the best possible shape, it’s critical to break down the barriers between agencies, locate the data engineers, and build new, collaborative teams.

Assembling an Integrated Data Team

Anyone can start to connect the dots between data engineers with some discipline and some simple frameworks. The first thing to do is, of course, get familiar with who’s working on managing data at a particular firm, locate them and make an introduction, and tell them you’re looking to build a team charter for the data engineers and data architects at each company. Chances are, they’ll be open to this idea, because frankly it makes technical sense, and makes for a better product.

Marketers sometimes like to have visibility into their data teams, and so a team charter can sometimes help. Team charters will specify which engineers are responsible for specific types of data—be it media pixels, web analytics implementation, omnichannel marketing business rules, or anything else that could be at play for a given brand. This can be very helpful for those times when quick meetings are needed.

Having regular status meetings between data architects and engineers is critical to the health of end-to-end data sets. Even when there is not much to discuss, the mere discipline of having dedicated time together is often the difference between “cool under pressure” and “mass chaos” when problems arise to shock the system (and they often do).

On a personal note, celebrating contributions is an important part of the emotional currency of integrated data teams. Everyone loves a sincere compliment, so why not give credit where credit is due? When someone, or a group of people, create something truly new and spectacular, it’s important to celebrate that innovation. A simple “that was awesome, because now we can achieve something really cool with this campaign” is always appreciated.

 Hidden Talent—But Talent, Nonetheless

The world of marketing is full of shining stars. Every agency has them. The “rockstars,” the “innovators,” the “she/he is going to go far in this industry.” Stellar skills and scintillating client presence are definitely key aspects of a successful marketing firm, but let’s not forget about the talented innovators working behind the scenes. No, they might not make it to the Cannes Lions award ceremony, and it’s likely that they might not even be part of a pitch team winning new business. But these teams play a role that is just as important—they make the thing go—and when they find each other, become teams, and innovate, amazing achievements can occur.

Written by Allegra Mira

I lead the Data Strategy practice at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, where I ensure strategic business insight for my clients by focusing on a balance of technical leadership and the subtle art of asking the right questions. As a data steward and a close partner to my clients, I am responsible for leading inter-agency efforts and building active teams. I pride myself in being able to bring out the best in the datasets *and* the technical teams I work with, to ensure a consultative level of insight which I bring to my clients. In the technical sense, my career path has taken me through leadership positions in digital analytics, media analytics (including paid search and SEO), business analytics, CRM & deployment rules, social media analytics and social listening, and primary research techniques based in survey design and harvesting customer-level data from the web.

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