Friday, June 7, 2013

How I Became a Data-Driven Digital Marketing Specialist

Who I Am

This is my first blog post for my new Data-Driven Digital Marketing blog and I wanted to introduce myself.  My name is Debra Zahay-Blatz (publishing as Debra Zahay) and I am a Professor of Digital Marketing, the co-author of the leading textbook in Internet Marketing, Internet Marketing, Integrating Online and Offline Strategies and the Editor of The Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing. I also have had my own Data-Driven Digital Marketing consulting firm since 1993, Zahay, Inc.

What I Do

With my co-authors, I have published widely in the area of customer information management. I currently writing a book that I hope will help companies understand how to organize and manage customer information.  You can read more about me on my company website or come here me speak on this subject at eMetrics next week on "Organizing for Customer Data Management."

Although I have a strong statistical and analytics background, my primary research interests are the managerial side.  I research how customer information can be managed for competitive advantage and recently I have been exploring the role of data quality in this process.  The above graphic illustrates my personal journey in customer data management. I can saw I came by this professional  pursuit honestly and, like many of you, through direct and database marketing. I teach Internet Marketing, including search and social media, as well as database marketing, analytics and data mining.

How I Began

The journey really began with receiving my Master's in Management from the Kellogg school at Northwestern University. (I should say that I went to the greatest marketing school in the world and studied Quant Methods and Finance, figuring if I knew something about statistics, numbers and the computer I would always get a job; who knew how marketing would evolve?).

This background eventually led me to a division of Dun & Bradstreet where we sold data and software to the investment community, banks, brokerage firms, investment advisers.  There I learned about software development and implementation, data cleansing and management.  We used direct marketing techniques and customer databases because we marketed B2B and it was the most cost-effective approach and produced the best results.  I was promoted from support, to sales to marketing management and eventually back to the field for sales management.  Along the way we always used customer information to inform our sales and marketing plans. (I always say if I had a nickel for every database I have created I would have about $1.50 right now.  Data drove many of my decisions).

What I learned about customer databases I employed in my next company as Sr. Manager of Vertical Marketing programs in the Central Division for MCI Telecommunications (now Verizon).  I got the job based on the success we had in the Teleconferencing division with targeted vertical campaigns.  For the division, we developed and implemented a targeted, integrated marketing communications campaign for our insurance vertical using multiple channels and integrating sales force communication.  Critical to our success was the development of a customer and prospect database, which involved integrating five different databases across the company.  It was a classic case of data silos and no consistent way to map customer data through a single identifier.

Our efforts paid off and we made millions on a $15,000 out of pocket investment and our staff time.  I presented the results of the campaign at my first global marketing conference, ESOMAR in Europe, and started thinking from that point on that I wanted to know more about customer information management and the link to profitability.

The Big Question

So for several years after that experience I would go to practitioner conferences and ask people, "What is the link between managing company information well and performance and do you have any information on that link?"  Long story short, I never found anyone who had answered this question to my satisfaction.  I was teaching at DePaul University by then and the department chair encouraged me to get a Ph.D. and the answers to my questions.

The Ongoing Answers

So I enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received my degree in 2000.  My thesis was on the role of strategy (positioning, customization and personalization), customer information management and ultimate firm performance. My econsultancy guest blog "Why Doesn't Everyone do Big Data?" summarizes some of this research.   I got the answers to my questions and have been sharing them with the academic and professional world.  I look forward to sharing my ideas on my new blog, listening to and interacting with my readers.  I have found specializing in Data-Driven Digital Marketing to be a wonderful career, rewarding intellectually and professionally and I look forward to giving back to our great community through this blog.

By Debra Zahay-Blatz.
You can find Debra on  and Twitter as well as LinkedIn.