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03 March 2013

Own it: Data scientists just do marketing

I went to Strata (the "big data" conference) this year and had a good time.

What most surprised me were the titles the presenters used to identify themselves:
  • Data scientist
  • Analytics engineer
  • Statistician
  • Researcher
You'd think their sessions were about complex math or academic topics. It turns out that people with these titles are just doing marketing. From the Etsy engineers it was funnel analysis. From the Facebook researcher it was forecasting. From the Birchbox CTO it was product recommendations. Etc.

Why would you spend 30 minutes talking about marketing without calling it that? You don't write code all day and proclaim yourself a designer. It's programmer, software engineer, coder, hacker. Similarly, if you spend all your time trying to understand your customers you're doing marketing, not data science.

Let's define marketing:

"Marketing is the science of choosing target markets through market analysis and market segmentation, as well as understanding consumer buying behavior and providing superior customer value."

The only nuance is these folks do quantitative marketing. When most people think of "marketing" they recall branding, communication, and customer outreach. That may be why most programmers I've known seem allergic to "marketing" and disparage the concept.

But in the last few years we have more analytical data about our customers than ever before. Storing the data is cheap and easy. We have great tools for data processing and deriving insights about our users. And we have seen the power of small changes leading to big improvements.

It has legitimized marketing as an engineering field.

So let's own it, people. Just own it! You are doing marketing and there is nothing wrong with that. Call it what it is. Marketing is what makes companies successful at scale. Viral marketing is a wonderful phenomenon of the web. Marketing is leverage. You should be proud of the impact you make.

(PS: I realize there are many people doing bioinformatics, econometrics, etc who also self-identify using these titles. Perhaps they really are scientists. Maybe that's why Strata was split.)
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