Blending the art and science of marketing at Best Buy


I had a chance to attend a moderated panel discussion at the last SAS Global Forum Executive Conference with executives from Best Buy, Seminole Gaming and Office Depot, and each speaker offered their own unique story about how applied customer analytics makes a difference in marketing. I captured some key points in previous posts about the Seminole Gaming and Office Depot stories, and here I'd like to share my learnings from the Best Buy part of that session.

As you may know, Best Buy is the world's #1 consumer electronics retailer, with over $50billion in annual revenues, a physical presence in 4,000 stores in North America, Europe and China, and over 180,000 employees. Our panelist from Best Buy was Scott Friesen, the Senior Director of Analytics in Consumer Insights, and like the other speakers, he punctuated his story with points about their own best practices and vivid examples of how customer analytics makes a positive impact on the way they conduct their marketing.

As I listened to Scott, what struck me was the degree to which the art of marketing is still very much alive and well, even in places where marketing has become quite scientific, such as in sophisticated data-driven marketing organizations like Best Buy.  Let me explain.

Scott highlighted how they have boosted the ROI on their email campaigns by focusing on the right offers and simply sending fewer of them. Of course, knowing the right offers comes from the insights made possible by analytics, but you still need a talented marketing team to interpret the data and one that knows how to execute it for the biggest impact. Data-driven analytics is highly scientific and enables confident decision-making, but it's the interpretation of the data and how its acted upon where the process becomes more "artistic." And the artistic part is as important as the scientific part. Scott made another major point about the need to make the insights actionable, which expands on that idea.

He described how putting the data into action takes more effort than leadership often sees. He referred to the importance of recruitment and training, and translating business problems into an analytic approach that his business colleagues can grasp. Those factors are very much the domain of the human elements of marketing, or the "softer side" which I consider part of the "art of marketing."  The analytics are important, but so is the ability to interpret, to make the judgment calls, to execute the best possible campaigns. And without a doubt, it's critical to build and train the teams that become part of the well-oiled marketing machine.

Scott shared his view of analytics as being like mineral smelting. In smelting, you take relatively useless ore (iron, for example) and turn it into something valuable (steel). Taking his example further, it's knowledge about the inherent qualities of the steel and the need at hand that determines whether the steel becomes a construction beam or a stainless steel knife - both are more valuable in different ways than either steel as a material or the raw iron ore.

So it's not just about the ore - it's knowing how to make the material valuable, and then to maximize the value by turning the material into something useful. In that regard, taking ore and turning it into "Ginsu knives" (and those crazy "info-mercials" to promote them) requires a combinaton of science and art simlar to what's needed for effective marketing in today's digital world - taking raw data, applying analytics to gain the insights and then applying them in ways that makes your marketing something your target market values and is open to. That's a tall order to be sure, and it can't be done with analytics alone - but it's increasingly more difficult to do it without the analytics.

And that's how I concluded that great marketing today is still an art, while also being scientific. For another interesting perspective on the lessons from Best Buy's presentation, I encourage you to read Five marketing best practices from Best Buy, posted by my colleague Kelly Levoyer on our thought leadership site.

As always, thanks for following!




About Author

John Balla

Principal Marketing Strategist

Hi, I'm John Balla - I co-founded the SAS Customer Intelligence blog and served as Editor for five years. I held a number of marketing roles at SAS as Content Strategist, Industry Field Marketing and as Go-to-Marketing Lead for our Customer Intelligence Solutions. I like to find and share content and experiences that open doors, answer questions, and sometimes challenge assumptions so better questions can be asked. Outside of work I am an avid downhill snow skier, hiker and beach enthusiast. I stay busy with my family, volunteering for civic causes, keeping my garden green, striving for green living, expressing myself with puns, and making my own café con leche every morning. I’ve lived and worked on 3 contents and can communicate fluently in Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and get by with passable English. Prior to SAS, my experience in marketing ranges from Fortune 100 companies to co-founding two start ups. I studied economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got an MBA from Georgetown. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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