Listen to the full episode on marketing data and analytics below, or wherever you listen to podcasts!
The Real Intelligence team spoke with Anna Banks, SVP, Personalization and Performance Marketing, Sephora North America. Anna leads the data-driven side of Sephora North America Marketing including market research & insights, lifecycle marketing and paid media. In her career, Anna has held marketing leadership positions at Walmart.com and Fair Trade USA and spent over 15 years at top marketing agencies. She is also part of an angel investing network focused on funding and empowering under-represented entrepreneurs.
In this episode, we talk about Anna’s career journey, being a woman in a technical career, marketing analytics tips, career advice, and much more!
[Anna Schultz]: Thank you for tuning in to the Real Intelligence podcast. You’re on today with Katia Sausys, SVP of Business Intelligence at RXA, and Anna Schultz, Marketing Coordinator at RXA. Our guest today is Anna Banks, SVP of Personalization and Performance Marketing at Sephora North America.
Anna Banks has spent the last 30 years designing and launching consumer marketing experiences that drive business growth. She blends an ability for strategy and creativity with a mind for process and execution. In her current role, she leads the data-driven side of Sephora North America marketing, including market research and insights, life cycle marketing, and paid media.
Anna earned an AB in Sociology and Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. In her career, Anna has held marketing leadership positions at walmart.com and Fair Trade USA and spent over 15 years at top marketing agencies. She is also part of an angel investing network focused on funding and empowering underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Welcome to the show, Anna!
[Anna Banks]: Thank you.
[Anna Schultz]: Absolutely! So, we like to start off the podcast by getting to know the real you. So, I have a few questions that we might not find the answers to in your professional bio. The first one being, what’s an interesting fact about you that isn’t on the Internet?
[Anna Banks]: Um, it is that I used to be a martial arts practitioner. Actually, Katia would know this, but it is not on the Internet. So, I practiced martial arts for about 10 years, and I hold black belts in two different styles of kung fu.
[Anna Schultz]: Oh wow!
[Katia]: Be careful with Anna!
[Anna Banks]: I’m harmless now. I’m old and harmless now.
[Anna Schultz]: Well, I won’t be messing with you! My second question is, what’s the last thing that you were excited to learn outside of work?
[Anna Banks]: Yeah. So, it actually is a practice that I took up, like, deep in the pandemic, when I was like, struggling with balancing like, mental health, being working at home, kids at home and trying to work at home, and I started to do yoga. I actually started working with a yogi who is in Los Angeles and doing zoom yoga every week.
And so now for two years, on Friday morning, at six in the morning, I get on and do yoga with him. Recently he has been teaching me some really interesting meditation and breathing techniques, about thinking about the center of energy that runs from the top of your head down through the center of your body. And so, some of these, sort of, unusual things about how to become more grounded, have become super important in the sort of, really challenging time we’re in right now.
[Katia Sausys]: Martial arts also focuses on that as well, right?
[Anna Banks]: Yes, yes in different ways. I don’t get to beat stuff up anymore to, like, expend that energy. So, I have to like, figure out how to be more calm other ways.
[Katia Sausys]: Channel in different ways. Wonderful. I’m glad it helps you.
[Anna Schultz]: Absolutely, it’s something you learn outside of work, but probably affects your work life as well. So… Great.
Anna’s career journey in marketing analytics
[Anna Schultz}: And so, I know I gave you a bit of an introduction before, and some of your career highlights, but I kind of like to have everybody tell us some of their career journey and some things about themselves in their own words. So, if you want to give us some of that, that would be awesome.
[Anna Banks]: Yeah! I mean, I’m someone who has always been interested in marketing. Like, even in college, I wrote my senior thesis on the image of the African American woman in print media and did some analysis around how economic trends influence visual trends, and how those impact perceptions of confidence in young women.
So, I’ve always been… It started off, kind of, more as a sort of, social impact piece around marketing, and decided I wanted to get into marketing because I was like, you know what? I don’t see a lot of people who look like me in marketing. I don’t see a lot of images of me in marketing, and I really want to influence that, and that’s what led me to jump into marketing in the first place.
So, I started the more, sort of, visual interest. The role that I wound up taking first, wound up as a more data focused role. My first role was actually at a direct marketing group at a tech company. So, Lotus Development corporation, which, you know, before they were acquired by IBM, had a little mini direct marketing team internally. And so, by working in direct marketing, that led me to be a marketer who’s always been focused on things that are more data-driven and results-driven, and I was exposed to things like modeling really early on.
And so that also led me to see this transition coming with like, the Internet. So, I’m old enough that, like, when I started working, there was no Internet marketing. There was no email marketing. People were like, oh, yeah. That Internet thing… What is that going to be? But one of the advantages of working as a tech company, they’re often a little bit further on the edge than a lot of other companies. And so being exposed to that very early on, made me want to transition from just direct marketing into what we now call digital marketing. And really focus there in business school. So, looking for professors who were on that edge of, like, where do we think this is going to go? What is this going to be?
So, keep in mind, this is now in the mid-90s. So, it was very new. Very much started to look at agencies who are starting to capitalize on this trend and area, and then went on my first job out of business school, to look for an environment that would allow me to learn more about the digital space, learn more about strategy and companies who were looking to move into that.
I thought I would only spend a couple years on the agency side. I stayed fifteen years on the agency side, because it was just such a fascinating environment to be in, I’m super interested in consumer insights and it gave me a chance to really dig into the data behind how people make decisions, what influences them. How do they consume their media? Where do they go with their media? How does it influence how… The decisions they eventually make?
And then take that insight, and for many of the companies the agencies work for, translate that insight into programs that we would put together for them, for their marketing ecosystems. What does that mean for their brand site, what does it mean for their CRM program, what does it mean for their social? Many of the brands that we were working with were sort of scared about dabbling in social at that time, and we designed some of their early influencer programs.
So, after a bunch of years on the agency side, so, agency is fun because it is… You know, it’s an idea factory. Your life is… I get go sit in a corner and think about stuff. Like, what do I think is going to be a really cool thing to develop? And then go pitch it to companies. And so that’s a lot of fun. But after a certain point, you’re like, okay…
[Katia Sausys]: And very demanding.
[Anna Banks]: And very demanding! And you can turn, you know, work with really amazing cross functional partners. Like, so, Katia and I were like, kind of joined at the hip. I was like, the strategy side, she was my analytics arm. So many… Taking really awesome insights to clients, and then sometimes watching them like, not really implement them the way you would have hoped that they would. And that starts to get old after a little while.
And so that’s why eventually, I decided to jump out of the agency side and move over to the client side, and that’s how I wound up at walmart.com. It was actually a former agency friend who is the head of marketing at walmart.com, and said, hey, I have this role that I think would be great for you because it, you know, Walmart sells everything under the sun, and this role has a team of marketers that market all of the things that Walmart is marketing.
So, it was category marketing. Suddenly, I was like, marketing electronics, and apparel, and toys, and health and wellness, and beauty. And so that was a really exciting adventure.
From the data perspective, I mean, there’s nothing more data driven than e-commerce because everything is by the numbers. It is definitely like a model driven business. And so that was a really exciting kind of experience to understand how the components of, like, the marketing component and the merchandising component and the site experience component all come together and have to be firing together in order to drive the, really, the best results for an environment. So that was actually really cool.
Working for Walmart was like getting another MBA. But it was a really challenging environment and coming out of there, I decided I wanted to give back. Like I’ve had, you know, been blessed with so many different experiences and learned, you know, so much across my career and worked on so many really cool brands. I decided, you know what? The description of the role I want to do next is, is kind of a passion role.
And so that is how I wound up at Fair Trade as their Chief Marketing Officer. I said, I would like to work with a company that is focused on driving equity and giving back to the world at large. And Fair Trade really fell into that. And it also had the bonus of allowing me to really exercise a lot of the skills that I had, kind of, gained along my journey and my career.
So, I spent a couple of years there. That was a really, very fulfilling kind of an environment where I suddenly, I was like, I’m doing B2C marketing, I’m doing B2B marketing. I’m doing brand-building. I’m also helping them, like, drive their marketing automation. You know, you’re working with really tiny little budgets compared to Walmart. Like, I mean, I think my entire budget at Fair Trade was spent in, like, about 15 minutes at Walmart. But it still was super satisfying and it’s really exciting to work in an environment where any kind of company or partner you show up with and say I’m working with Fair Trade they’re like, “How can I help? How can I even donate my time or my energy?” So, that was very cool.
But, working for not-for-profit is very challenging, and with the pandemic became even more challenging, and I think about the third or fourth time, I had to give, like, 20 or 30 percent of my marketing budget back, I said, you know what? I think I need to transition to something else. Because the value that I feel like I could give to this organization, I think that it’s… That’s sort of run its course at the moment.
And around that time, Sephora actually showed up at my doorstep and said, “Hey, we have this role that we think you might be interested in.” I had actually interviewed for another roll at Sephora a while back, and obviously not wound up getting it, but apparently made an impression. Because their CMO showed up and said, hey, we have this role that is over all these different pieces. It’s over marketing analytics, it’s over media, it’s over what was then called CRM. And would you be interested, and retention, which includes email and mobile, would you be interested in, kind of, checking it out?
And there you go. That brings us to today. I’ve now been at Sephora coming up on two years. It has been a really exciting journey. I joined the end of 2020, which is during the pandemic, I do not recommend doing that. My entire first year, so, so difficult. Like I didn’t even meet my team, I think for my first six – in person – for the first six months of my role. But, I’m really excited to say that, like, now that I’m coming into my second year, I feel like I’m getting my stride and really excited with the progress that we’ve made over the course of the couple years.
[Katia Sausys]: Wonderful, congratulations. Really. What a fascinating career path. Thanks for sharing it. That was a great way to catch up with you, a little bit.
Representation in data roles
[Katia Sausys]: You’ve definitely been a role model for me. And I wanted to ask you, why the topic of women in data is important to you to discuss?
[Anna Banks]: Yeah. So, I started looking when you guys at first asked me to do this. I started to look up some stats, because I was like, I know the stats are going to be crappy, but I want to, like, really dig into it. And so, I think that… You know, I should have pulled them up again right before we start talking but I think only about, like, 20 percent of data scientists are women. And then when you look at what percentage are Black or African American, it’s like three.
It’s just ridiculously small, the representation in this area. So that was part of this, of what’s really important to me, is because who tells the story about the data makes a really huge difference. It really matters, because we all bring our biases to all of these. And as much as we try to be objective, there’s always going to be a bias in the storytelling.
And so maybe that’s not as important when it’s about sales revenue. But when you’re counting things like, you know, mass incarceration, or rates of poverty – the perspective that the people who are doing the analysis bring to the table makes a really huge difference. And so, representation is phenomenally important.
[Katia Sausys]: Mhm. That’s a great point. That’s why don’t kill the messenger exists. Because people… Yeah. We resonate with what people are saying, and how they say it and how they deliver it.
[Anna Banks]: Yeah. Definitely.
Advice for careers in data
[Katia Sausys]: Definitely. And so, what career advice would you give to a woman who is just starting her career and aspires to be in data?
[Anna Banks]: Yeah. I mean, I’m not sure it’s any different for data than it is for other areas. It’s always about understanding what you are really good at. What are the gifts that you bring to the table? And then the second piece is understanding what gives you energy, and gives you joy, and makes you happy. And find the thing that is the intersection between those two points.
Because when you find that intersection, like, that is where you’re going to be unstoppable. Right? Because you will bring passion to your work, you’ll bring energy to your work, and people will see that. And so, you know, that applies to data, that applies to anything. So that’s… I mean, that would be my you know, that’s a perspective.
I often get asked that. Because I try to mentor some of the young, younger employees at Sephora as well, and always, that’s part of my message.
[Katia Sausys]: Wonderful, wonderful message. Totally resonates with me, totally.
Tips for marketing analytics projects
[Katia Sausys]: I remember fondly our time at Organic. Where we would brainstorm solutions to some challenges on measurements, analytics, perspectives, for existing clients or for new business pitches. And I still think that the most important questions that we women, or humans get asked, is how do you prove that my marketing dollars matter? Or how would you prove that my marketing efforts work?
What, in your experience, are the most challenging aspects of this? Is it that we don’t have the data that we need? The type of data, the way we collect it, or even the way we frame that question?
[Anna Banks]: Yeah. So yes, to all of those. I think the first one that I start with is, there’s not always clarity around, like, what success looks like. So even defining the goal in the first place because you can’t… You won’t know what to measure if you don’t know what you’re trying to get to. So, I think that’s the first thing. And I think I’ve run into that a lot.
Even now here at Sephora, we’ll run a campaign it’ll be like, did it work? Like, well, you know, we got a lot of traffic, which was great. It’s like, okay, but maybe the metric was these particular SKUs over here that we wanted to drive sales. And we drove a ton of traffic, but we didn’t drive the sales. So, was it successful? So having real alignment around what the key goals are, I think is the first thing.
Then the second thing obviously, is like, did you set it up to actually measure what you think are the important things in the first place? Because that often is the challenge. We’ll get to the end or people will think about what they want after something is running, and then you’re like, well, it’s too late. We can’t… You know, you need to tell us that at the beginning, or we couldn’t have set it up so that we can measure that. So that’s the second one is actually setting it up to measure it in the first place.
And then, yeah, I think those two are some of the biggest ones like goals, and then actual, you know, setting it up to measure, so you can actually measure it on the back end. And then maybe even giving folks the time to actually do the analysis on the back end and then setting it up so that there is time for whatever, learnings there are actually can go into whatever’s happening next.
So, I don’t know how many times we have set something up where we’re like, okay. We now finally have the analysis, and they’re like, actually, we started the next one, three months ago. So, it’s kind of too late! Like, thanks for the insights, but it’s too late to influence the next thing. So, I would say that’s, that’s another really critical like, make sure you’re setting up the cycles so that you actually can take, like, give folks the time to do the analysis, and then actually have the time to take the insights to put them into the next cycle of the work.
[Katia Sausys]: Pause in between. Yeah.
People vs process
[Katia Sausys]: Is that one of the topics people come to you more often or are there others? Is it more on the HR side and managing the team? Is it on analytics? Is it on strategy? Because you’re so well versed on all.
[Anna Banks]: You cut out for half a second, I didn’t catch the very beginning of your question.
[Katia Sausys]: What are the… The most… topics that people come to you more often?
[Anna Banks]: Oh, what do people come to me for? Oh, I used to joke at Walmart that I felt like I was, like, the marketing therapist. So, the things that people come to me the most. They are usually around, kind of, people dynamics, that are meant… things that seem like process problems, that are actually people dynamic problems.
And so, some of it is a bit of the kind of, diagnosing of helping people talk through what is the challenge that they’re seeing and helping them kind of solve for themselves, what steps they might need to take next. Is it like, oh, I actually need to go talk to this person and tell them that you know, this step in this order isn’t working well for the team and that’s how we would fix it, or whatever the thing is.
So, you would think that it’s more around… What is that, like, functional expertise? But I think the more senior you become like, less and less of it becomes functional expertise and more of it, more and more of it becomes around like organizational orchestration.
[Katia Sausys]: And birds-eye view, to be able to go above and really discern that it’s not the process usually it’s the people… How people’s dynamics get applied to that process issue.
[Anna Banks]: Yeah.
[Katia Sausys]: Wonderful.
[Katia Sausys]: I mean, I have to ask. What is the quality that people admire most about you? Being the therapist?
[Anna Banks]: Well, in order to be a good therapist, you have to be a good listener. So, I’d say that I usually try to call that out as one of my first and most important qualities to me is in any environment, doing a lot of… more listening than talking.
It can get me into a little bit of trouble, right? Because people are like, we want to hear more from you! We want to hear your perspective! We want, sort of, more aggressive. And that’s just not… That’s not the energy I bring to things. It’s more around listening and then being thoughtful with contribution.
[Katia Sausys]: So wonderful. Thank you. And I’m going to ask you just one last question. If you could be a fly on the wall of a C-suite marketing company, any company. What company would that be?
[Anna Banks]: Any company… Oh, Twitter! Yeah. I want to be a fly on the wall at twitter right now. Because that just… That’s like a marketing nightmare… At least at this moment in time. That’s just such a difficult environment just all around. So that’s kind of like the hard one.
I think, what’s one that I think is more kind of warm and fuzzy? I’ll have to think about that one a little bit more.
[Katia Sausys]: Okay. Always come back to us. We’re happy to continue chatting. Thank you, Anna.
[Anna Schultz]: Yeah. Thank you, Anna, so much for giving us your time to come on, give us some of your advice, and talk us through your career journey. I think hearing you talk about kind of that intersection of where your skills are and where your passion… Where your passions are, and the kind of, you know… Is really the best place to be, and it really sounds like you found that. And I think that’s really inspiring and great to hear.
[Anna Banks]: Oh, thank you!
[Anna Schultz]: Yeah, absolutely. We really appreciate it. I know you’re probably so busy. So, taking the time to kind of share that with people, I really appreciate it.
[Anna Banks]: Anything for Katia. When she reached out, I was like, oh, my god I haven’t talked to her so long. So amazing to connect with, like…
[Katia Sausys]: Amazing to connect, we will, we will. And our CEO Jason Harper is super, super sad to have missed you, but he will be catching up with you.
[Anna Banks]: That’s right, I’ll catch him in the next go round.
[Katia Sausys]: Have a great rest of the day, Anna
[Anna Banks]: Alright, thank you! Thanks for thinking of me. Take care!
RXA is a leading data science consulting company. RXA provides data engineers, data scientists, data strategists, business analysts, and project managers to help organizations at any stage of their data maturity. Our company accelerates analytics road maps, helping customers accomplish in months what would normally take years by providing project-based consulting, long term staff augmentation and direct hire placement staffing services. RXA’s customers also benefit from a suite of software solutions that have been developed in-house, which can be deployed immediately to further accelerate timelines. RXA is proud to be an award-winning partner with leading technology providers including Domo, DataRobot, Alteryx, Tableau and AWS.