Data-based Marketing: Human Intelligence is Indispensable

Diana Degraa, Managing Director of Plan.Net Hamburg, talks about her technological experience, her tips for female talents and what role big data and business intelligence will play in the future.

The interview (in German) was originally published at the blog “Frauen und Technik”.

  • Diana, you actually had experience with online marketing very early on – what was it like back then?

    In my agency career, I indeed had early contact with the Internet and new mobile technologies like “WAP”, and had already moved into digital marketing by 2000. I helped develop the first website for a chocolate coconut bar, for example, centred on the theme of “holiday on the island”, which suited the product. The technology was still in its infancy, but we successfully led our clients to their first websites.

  • You came to the Plan.Net Group at the Hamburg location in 2013. Since then, your team has grown from four to 40 people. What’s the reason for this marked increase?

    The trend in the market is that companies are preferring to get all their actions from a single source. Digital marketing is still growing, and we have the ability to marry media and digital communications. And we have a lot of backing from the entire group, for example, when it comes to business intelligence – which we can use specifically for customer development and pitches.

  • Why is digital marketing growing?

    In some industries, companies are actually still a little hesitant in terms of digitisation. For certain consumer products, TV, for example, is still an important hub for reaching customers. However, if I can directly measure a channel digitally, based on a test drive being booked at a car dealership for instance, the clients are much more open. If I have a purely digital product and the conversion is purely digital, then we are clearly dealing with an entirely different type of client. So it really all comes down to the segment. Overall, we can see that there is more “digital” in the marketing mix the more digitally a company operates. The importance of digital channels for marketing is obviously growing – and digital marketing has grown more mature.

  • What do you mean by “mature”?

    We are witnessing a generational shift. More and more marketing decision makers see business intelligence, that is, the evaluation of data, as the most critical basis for their decisions. I went to Plan.Net because there was so much experience in business intelligence there. It is becoming increasingly relevant to derive the right decisions from technology and data.

  • So in the future, will algorithms take complete control in digital marketing too? Or has that already happened?

    Artificial intelligence and big data are not enough to approach and win customers in a targeted way. You need much better and broader analyses, which always take the context into account. Human intelligence is indispensable for the optimisation of campaigns and other measures in the analysis.

  • A buzz word in digital nowadays is “content marketing”. Is this a new development in your view?

    There are good examples of the predecessors of today’s content marketing. For example, when a manufacturer of cleaning products or household appliances has been offering tips for daily life to the customers for years and is well prepared in terms of content. For a long time now, there have also been brand ambassadors who tell their personal story about the product. From my experience, I advise companies on content marketing if they a) truly have something to tell, and b) have the infrastructure within the organisation to make this content available as the basis of our work. As an agency, we can provide them with perfect support, but if a company is not able to identify its own stories and motivate its employees, it won’t work.

  • You have already developed many technological solutions in your career, for example, in showroom concepts for the automotive sector. How important is technological knowledge for your job?

    In a lot of projects, I actually used to have to deal with technical and functional requirements specification sheets. Today, this helps me to better evaluate technical implementation possibilities or to advise clients on which technical infrastructure is right for them. Solutions are more and more often “customised” for the client – tailored to the individual requirements since these experiences are important.

  • What do these developments mean for leading your team?

    We are working in an increasingly agile way, thereby becoming more efficient and flexible. One person’s digital-technical expertise meets another’s communication strength, which is very exciting, but doesn’t always go off without some tension, so the various ways of working are actually too different in some ways. But the mutual understanding within the team is growing with each new project that we successfully work out together.

  • So has the issue of leadership changed from your point of view in recent years?

    Yes for sure. For example, younger employees would definitely like more flexible working environments. There are also more career-changers than before. For me, this also means that I have to continually adapt myself to the team and to give the individual employees room to develop. Of course, this is only possible if the agency also creates the framework for it.

  • How would you describe your leadership style?

    I am still human and lead intuitively. My many years of experience help me assess people and make the best possible use of them. For my colleagues, I am definitely a good regulator and a quality checker. I am not some kind of pit bull, who does everything for her career. My family is far too important to me for that. In my career, I’ve worked a lot with men, which has shaped me and taught me a lot. Apart from the fact that some of them were important mentors to me, I have learned that a casual word is often the best solution – provided you know what you’re talking about. At meetings, I like to let the others do their “dance” before I jump in.

  • That sounds admirably self-possessed and self-confident. What advice would you give younger women on their way up?

    Many women have the tendency to identify with their weaknesses and supposed mistakes and are prone to intense self-criticism. Female talents should begin to believe in themselves earlier on and not be dazzled by the self-assurance of their male interlocutors.

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