Turning Insights into Big Ideas:

Tips from HackerAgency CEO

Spyro Kourtis, HackerAgency CEO
Many consumers may not think about the data trail they leave when shopping online after seeing a magazine ad, a banner on Facebook, or even a direct mail piece in their post office box. But that digital footprint is a gold mine of information for marketing professionals charged with creating campaigns that result in sales.

To help future marketers and data analysts understand the process of transforming data into insights that guide marketing efforts, Spyro Kourtis, chief executive officer of HackerAgency, gives annual guest lectures on the Pullman campus and hosts students for company networking tours at HackerAgency, a Seattle direct/digital marketing agency.

“Spyro generously gives his time and brings a wealth of examples of a new style of market research that is analytical and data driven,” said Andrew Perkins, associate professor of marketing. “He has hired several Coug alumni who accompany him during presentations, giving our students a glimpse of what a professional marketer does every day.”

Humanizing data

Sales success stems from understanding behavior and what people value, Kourtis said during his November presentation, “Data Driven Storytelling.”

“How do you turn data insights into big ideas?” he asked. “It starts with putting humans first.”

Kourtis said human behavior is a much more valuable tool than demographics when trying to establish a relationship with consumers. It is important to analyze consumers’ data to determine their likes and dislikes so that relevant, targeted communication pieces may be developed. Individualized marketing creates loyal customers, he said.

Data should always drive creative efforts, Kourtis said, explaining that HackerAgency creates custom communications such as online banners, embedded video, and emails with key offers—all based on where people are on their consumer journey. He recommended marketing professionals consider using personas in data when telling a story or providing a recommendation or hypothesis. Personas for families, millennials, and senior consumers “help the creative come to life because it puts a face on that segment,” Kourtis said.

“Try to segment your audience into buckets whenever possible, and create personas for those segments. Make sure you are following through on the emotional element and use it to inspire storytelling,” he said. “Technology is ‘magic,’ but so is inspiration.”

Value of direct market testing

Kourtis said success also depends on producing provable, repeatable results, using stringently controlled direct marketing testing. As one example, HackeryAgency worked with the web search engine Bing to determine what search performance users needed. The team tested consumer data and tried sending a monthly newsletter that contained only the tiles users found most relevant. Completely customizing every email increased engagement while reducing the number of emails that had to be sent, he said. Bing created Ads Dash, a monthly e-newsletter to share accounting health, encourage optimization, and celebrate the achievements of each recipient.

“By leveraging data from individual user accounts, Bing Ads Dash delivered highly informed insights and put customers where they wanted to be on top of search results,” he said.

Leo Castellano (’14 Humanities, ’15 MBA), HackerAgency data analyst

The art of storytelling

Alumnus Leo Castellano (’14 Humanities, ’15 MBA) co-presented with Kourtis, sharing tips with the mix of marketing undergraduates and MBA students in the audience. Castellano was hired on at HackerAgency as a data analyst before he graduated with his MBA.

Castellano shared advice on how data can be used to tell a story to answer clients’ questions. He said data analysts must first establish a foundation by gathering crucial information from clients, including the sales and profits over time, and what is needed to create a business impact and increase the bottom line.

Castellano recommended ranking the questions and using software tools like Tableau to build a report with visual layers that convey the information in a simple way. Techniques such as shading can be used to describe when clients are selling, when they are most profitable, and what the trends are, he said.

“The key to turning data into something intuitive is keeping it simple,” he said.

Kourtis reiterated the importance of the ability to develop insights into big ideas, suggesting that in the next 5 to 20 years, agency roles will change as human execution becomes replaced by automation. “People won’t be creating for production anymore,” he said. “It will all be automated, and bots that collect and share data will become commonplace. But big ideas will always be driven by humans, and insights that drive business will always be critical.”