5 skills you should build if you’re an aspiring data-driven marketer

By Isabella Patton

The decision to go to the Startup Institute was an easy one.

As my senior year at Wellesley College was ending, I had to weigh my options. I could commit the next two years of my life to a consulting company, where my future would be relatively secure, but my role would be small—or I could attend Startup Institute, where I could build the marketing skills that would make me a high impact employee on day one

Although the latter option held greater risk because I would still have to find a job at the end of the program, I didn’t want to be another cog in the wheel. I wanted to find a position that I loved waking up to, and a company that I believed in. I also knew that I wanted to be a marketer, so why not start now?

As Paris Wallace, CEO of Ovuline, said in a fireside chat, “If you want to be a professional baseball player, you don’t spend two years practicing free-throws hoping those skills will translate through osmosis—you start playing baseball”

This same concept is taught at the outset of Startup Institute, except they illustrate it by telling us to “draw the f***ing owl.” The idea is that if you want to accomplish something, you don’t spend six days planning out the details and one day implementing them—you jump in and start doing it the first day.

Although I developed a strong conceptual statistical background in college, I was never taught how to utilize my background in a practical way. It is one thing to run an experiment in a controlled environment—it is an entirely different thing to test a hypothesis with thousands of uncontrollable variables, analyze the results, and come up with immediate actionable insights.

The best advice I can give to aspiring data-driven marketers is to build these five skills:

1. Marketers need to know their statistics

You need in-depth conceptual knowledge of the different possible statistical approaches. In order to make optimal decisions, understanding when and how to a run anything from a linear regression to a chi-squared analysis using SPSS or R (the better statistical package) is key.  Otherwise, you are just using your intuition, and your probability of succeeding is only fifty percent.

2. Marketers need to know how to run a campaign

Startup marketing generally relies on advertising. In order to be successful, it is important to understand the process of creating an advertisement, testing it, and tracking it. This is commonly done with Google search and display advertising or Facebook advertising. The more familiar you are with the different analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, the more precise your advertisements will be and the less money you will waste targeting the wrong people.

3. Marketers need to know how to conduct an A/B Test

Learn to test everything. As a data-driven marketer you should have all the necessary tools to measure everything—whether it is the wording of one of your campaigns, a feature of the product, or the design of the website. First, you need a control group (e.g. landing page) and a second group with your independent variable  (e.g. landing page with a different title). Then you launch both to the public and track whether or not they get different conversion rates with analytics. In order to determine if your results are significantly different, you can run an analysis with R. Your job is to optimize every detail—it can make an exponential difference.

4. Marketers need to know how to pull a query from a database

How are you going to analyze the data when you don’t know how to extract it from a database? The first step is to familiarize yourself with SQL—you have to be able to navigate the data as well as extract it, add to it, and re-organize it.  Then you should connect your SQL server to your statistical package R or Python, so when you’re running an analysis you can easily access your data.

5. Marketers need to learn to code

It never hurts to understand the basics of different programming languages, whether it’s Python or Ruby. When I needed data for a blog post, instead of relying on the developers (that I didn’t have), I built a web scraper. There is an abundance of free online resources (codeacademy, codeschool, etc.) and Meetups in the greater Boston area that will help you master code.  Marketers should rely on the developers as little as possible.

The technical marketing skills I gained throughout the program were invaluable. I didn’t just add new tools to my tool belt, but I learned how to be the best marketer in a constantly changing startup environment. Startup Institute felt high-risk when I entered the program, but building these valued skills ultimately lowered my overall risk as an employee.

I am truly excited to join Ovuline this fall as a Marketing Analyst. Ovuline uses big-data and machine learning to help couples conceive faster and have healthier pregnancies. I look forward to putting the skills I learned into practice in a real-world setting where detailed data analysis and hard work combine to make a difference in people’s lives.