Our second Real Intelligence podcast guest is Mary Carse! Katia Sausys and Anna Schultz sat down with Mary to discuss her career in marketing data and analytics, learn how she tells stories with data, and share her perspective on the industry. Mary is a seasoned, results-oriented marketer who has held senior positions at a variety of agencies and brands across the globe during her over 30 year career. Her experience covers both B2C & B2B marketing strategy, planning & implementation. In her current role, Mary is a Global Marketing Strategy & Planner within HP Inc’s marketing organization. She is responsible for driving brand and initiative portfolio strategy for HP’s Commercial PC Marketing.
Listen to the full episode on marketing data and analytics below, or wherever you listen to podcasts!
[Anna]: Thank you for tuning into 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 Mary Carse, the Marketing Strategy and Planning Lead within HP’s marketing organization. She is responsible for driving brand and initiative portfolio strategy for HP’s commercial personal computer marketing. Mary is a seasoned, results oriented marketer who has held senior positions at a variety of agencies and brands across the globe during her over thirty-year career. Her experience covers both B2C and B2B marketing strategy, planning, and implementation.
Mary’s background in marketing, data, and analytics
[Mary]: Thanks very much for that introduction, Anna, and welcome to everyone who is listening. So, yeah, it’s been a great pleasure to be talking with Katia, an old friend of mine and we’ve reconnected very recently, so good to see you, Katia, too. Congratulations on your new role. And that’s the beauty of having been around the marketing and advertising world for as long as I have. You get to keep on bumping into old friends and old faces that you haven’t seen in a long time.
So, I’ve been working in this industry since way back in the eighties. So initially, when I first started out in the advertising world, I was working for a small agency, and they were a branding agency. So, a lot of what we did was, you know, big brand, big production about really brand perception and storytelling. And to be honest, there wasn’t that much data associated with that. We did a lot of research, market research in those days, but there wasn’t a lot of data being captured around, how the campaigns were actually working. It was more around gut feel and how well the agency could sell the idea into the client rather than any data substantiation.
So when I look back at the evolution of my career in marketing, it’s amazing how now it’s kind of gone from that initial situation to now, where we sit today, where data is everywhere, you’re drowning in it. It’s wonderful but we still have some of the same challenges. You know, how do we wade through the data, cut through the noise? And actually understand what’s working, what isn’t. And do that in a way that doesn’t stifle creativity, because at the end of the day, we humans, respond to emotion. And I know some of the challenges with data is people think that it’s all kind of very formulaic and the accountants are taking over the world, isn’t necessarily the case. So lots of experience around that.
In fact, one of those stories I kind of had mentioned to Anna and Katia earlier on was, in one of my early days, I think it was when I was at FCB Direct. We went to their incredible data center; yes, there was a data center, and this had been in the late eighties. And it was based in Paris, and it was this incredible underground room that was probably the size of a large warehouse. And it was all air-conditioned, and you had very careful about going into the room, and all you could see was this bank of computers, big computers at that time, and it was like whirring tape machines. I mean I’m that old. So I’ve gone from paper, tape, to now everything being available in the cloud, digitized and at your fingertips. So, it’s been an interesting journey and a really fun journey. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world, that’s for sure.
So that’s kind of really where I’ve come from a career perspective, but what’s been interesting for me, bearing in mind where I started in terms of, as I mentioned, you know, not really focusing that much on data in terms of substantiating what we did. The topic of data has become much more important to me over time. And initially I’ll admit, I was very intimidated by data and, you know, the data-based jargon that goes around it, particularly early on as I transitioned from brand into more of a direct marketing role where, you know, data was much more front and center of everything. I remember being given these computer sheet read outs. It was on computer paper, which is a bit of an oxymoron when think about it, how can computer have a paper? But anyway, it was printed paper and it would literally come in a big stack of books and this was the results, and there was, it was like, oh my god, this is a different language. How do I interpret this? How can I read it? And it’s all figures and I wasn’t very good at figures at school anyway, I didn’t really like math or anything like that, so this was just like very overwhelming and very intimidating. But then I didn’t let that intimidation stop me, I’ve always been a very curious person.
So, I started to kind of just ask myself, “Well, what are some of the questions that I’d like to answer?” And slowly but surely, I then began to realize that’s all data is. Data is helping me answer the key questions I need to answer in order to do a good job, and that’s really kind of it. I boiled it back down to what I felt comfortable with. And I remember telling somebody a few years later in another agency when they were chastising me for coming up with all this data substantiation for what they should be doing, and as I was doing a creative brief they turned around to me and said, “You know but Mary, you know you inhibit creativity” and I said, “No I don’t, I use data like a copywriter uses words and I build my story around what the data is telling me.”
I don’t get bemused by the data, and I question, continually question the data, so I’m not willing to accept the data until I’m really confident about its value and whether it really is telling me what I think it’s telling me. And in that way, I hope, because I’m still around, I’ve been doing something right, I’ve been able to help bridge that gap between raw data and then interpreting that in a way that can drive success and help us in the marketing and advertising world to understand, as I say, what is working, what isn’t. What should we fine tune? You know, the guidance on where we should go to do a more efficient and effective job. So that’s kind of where I come from. Any questions Katia?
[Katia]: No. You’re definitely uniquely qualified to discuss the topic of women in data.
[Mary]: Oh yeah, and one other thing. I’ve been around the world as well, so as you can probably tell from my accent, I’m originally from England but I’ve lived in Singapore and around southeast Asia for a time. I’ve spent some time in Australia, moved to the States about twenty years ago, started in Dallas and then moved. Now, I live just outside San Francisco, so global view as well. Which has been really useful for me, because I think spending time overseas, not just in a vacation mode, really helps you kind of understand a little bit more about culture and dynamics, and perspective. And trying to be empathetic about the dynamics that happen in a marketplace can be very different, you know, across the different parts of the world.
Traveling and learning across the world
[Anna]: Absolutely and having those different perspectives is really important, just given that, you know, a lot of, you know, what happens in the data world is influenced by the person that visualizes it, that is telling that story, so being able to have all those perspectives really allows you to tell a complete story. So I think that’s really interesting. So, kind of to start us off with a few of our questions. We like to kind of get to know the real you. So, I have a few questions that we might not find the answer to you in your professional bio and in the bio that you gave us earlier. Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself that might not be on the internet?
[Mary]: Yeah, I think one of the most interesting facts that, you know, I will admit to but don’t necessarily document, we’ll put it that way, is that when I was in my late twenties I had a pretty good start with my career, working with a couple of agencies, but ever since I was a student, I loved to travel. And I was very fortunate when I was at college my second year, I managed to get on an exchange program. So, I went to Australia, and I spent some time working in Sydney and then went travelling afterwards, and that didn’t scratch the itch. So, you know, with my late twenties it was like, I still need to travel, I still haven’t seen enough of the world. So, in those days it wasn’t about tapping on a keyboard, I had to pick up a phone and ring around a few travel agents. I gave myself a goal, which is what I tend to do when I’m going to do silly things. If I could find an around the world ticket for under a certain amount of money, I would buy it and then I would face the consequences afterwards. And five phone calls later, or roughly that time, I’d bought the ticket, I’d written my resignation letter.
Handing in my resignation was one thing; trying to explain to my parents why I was throwing in a good job in London, just, you know, bought a new flat, so they were like, “You’re throwing your life away!” Yeah, I knew I could prove them wrong. They were convinced I would never find another decent job if I went traveling around the world. I challenged them to that, continued along my path, had a fantastic year away, learned so much about myself, and I did this all on my own. So I wasn’t going with a group of friends or anything this was just me. I just literal got on an aircraft and pointed west and kept on going west. So spend a lot of time in the States and Canada and Hawaii, then back into Australia and then back around.
And I did learn a lot, not just about myself but about other people, other cultures. Because it’s very interesting when you’re travelling on your own. You have two options. You can literally hole up, you know, at night in wherever you’re staying and just be this little, you know, hermit. Or you can go out and start meeting people. But the other thing is, as a as a lone traveler, people come to you. And I remember very distinctly I was on a Greyhound bus, and I just got talking to family behind me. The next thing I know, they’re inviting me to their home for barbecue and I ended up, you know, seeing them for a couple of days during my visit. They introduced me to friends and so it goes on. So, I always say to anyone – travel does broaden the mind. And I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t gone travelling so much to my parents’ chagrin, as I said. When I came back and back into a working mode, even they later on did admit, “Actually, that was a really good thing you did Mary.” So, got my goal!
It also helped me, I think, because I was getting in a little bit of a, you know, rut in my current role. And it gave me an opportunity to just break away completely, move right away from everything that I knew, and really think hard as I was travelling and enjoying myself, but thinking about, “Well, what do I really want to do? What’s going to make me happy?” When I got back it was yeah, I really do enjoy what I do in the marketing advertising space. But I just want to do it with a slightly different spin on it and approach. So I was very open to new ideas. So, when I came back, I got the opportunity to start up with a small startup agency, and that was fun as well. I don’t think I would have, well I know I wouldn’t have, entertained that having come from a big successful agency to go to a startup, you know, at that stage was not necessarily the right move for me at that time. But the overseas travel definitely helped me.
[Anna]: Wonderful, that’s a really cool story! Given all of your travels and everywhere you’ve been, if you could choose to just live anywhere in the world – not tied down by a job or anything like that – where would you choose to be?
[Mary]: Honestly, I’m exactly where I want to be. I spent, you know, when I came to San Francisco which is now where I live just outside San Francisco, I fell in love with the city straight away. And that was thirty years ago, I guess now, I’m still in love with the city; despite all its problems that, you know, are widely written about in press. It’s, to me, it’s the best place to be. I have this wonderful combination of a great city, vibrant community, beautiful nature. So, although sometimes I would say oh yeah, I’d love to be – I visited the Maldives last year – like, “Oh I’d love to go back to the Maldives, and be sitting on a beach, and you know being somewhere else on an island” but I think long-term, I don’t intend to move from here.
What makes a good data storyteller?
[Katia]: That’s awesome, Mary! You’re definitely a good storyteller, and storytelling is a skill in strategy and in data analytics. What skills do you think makes a good storyteller?
[Mary]: I think it’s about listening to people to begin with, because in order to get your story across you need to resonate well with the person you’re talking to. So having empathy for their situation, and empathy for their point of view. And I think that’s part of the interesting thing that we do a lot of the time in strategy, is we’re providing guidance to people who may not necessarily think that they need our guidance, let’s be honest. And so, helping to understand their situation, and then to be able to clearly explain to them how the strategy does fit with what they’re looking for, and it’s not necessarily set in stone. I think that’s the other thing, is being able to illustrate how there’s flexibility and modularity in everything that you do. You know, data can often seem to be black and white, but really it isn’t, it’s very gray. So that’s… And I guess as well, I come from a background – my father was a writer and prior to that my grandmother and grandfather were an opera singer and a lyricist – so I guess it’s in my DNA a little bit. But I would say listen to people, absorb, take in, be open-minded. Come in with a point of view but also park your ego at the door, and listen to other people’s point of view so you can weave that in to what you’re communicating as well.
Advice for women starting a career in marketing data and analytics
[Katia]: Very well said! And you have a long career…
[Mary]: Don’t remind me, look at the look at the gray hairs
[Katia]: How about young women who are just starting their career in data what kind of career advice would you give one of them?
[Mary]: I think this is a great time to be a woman in data. Apologies to all male listeners to this podcast, but I do feel that historically, data has been a very male-dominated world. Certainly, it was in the eighties and nineties. The data geeks on the male side are great, as are the women, but I think there was a challenge in again the data interpretation. I feel as though the more I look now around me, where I am now at HP, friends and colleagues in other companies and agencies, there’s so many women now in the data field. Because I think we do a really good job of being able to take raw data and bring it together, consolidate it and build that story, so that we do resonate better with the people that were trying to sell in a proposition or explain the last quarters activities.
I think we are able to flow that much, in many respects, in a better way, because I think there is a female empathetic gene that is in our DNA. So sorry, I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of push back on that from our male friends! But the fact that so many females now are in that data analyst role, strategist role, I think says it all.
And also, for today, I mean my goodness! If I was starting today with everything that’s available to us, I mean wow! What a plethora of information we have at our fingertips, vs when I was starting, and I’m going to sound really old now. When you’re trying to, you’re literally sitting with a calculator working out things from pieces of paper, it’s very, very different. The volume of information that you were able to get, the type of information was extremely limited, and what you were then able to do with it was extremely limited. I mean when I think about my early days in direct marketing, it was direct mail – that was it. So it was all about, ‘how do you personalized the direct mail?’ It was like, Dear Mary Carse, you are one of… So it was very stilted. And so the beauty now is that you can incorporate the intelligence of the data in a much more empathetic and relevant way, in how you communicate that to your consumer as well.
Showing results with marketing data
[Katia]: Thank you. You’ve been in startups, you’ve been in agencies, you’ve been on the client-side so-to-say, a long career. Within kind of the data marketing strategy and analytics realm of things, what is one topic or a few topics that people always come to you looking for advice on, or looking for you know questions to be answered?
[Mary]: A lot of the time, it really is, “Mary how can we substantiate the marketing investment we’ve made? How do we explain how our campaign has worked to stakeholders in the business?” And particularly in the business-to-business environment – to sales teams, who don’t necessarily believe in marketing, they believe marketing is being a cost center, not part of the revenue generation and growth engine. That is the most often-asked question of me, and that’s what I spend most of my waking hours trying to help articulate. And work with our data science teams to help build models that are credible and trustworthy across the organization, so when we do say, “Yes, marketing has contributed this amount of revenue to the business,” we’re not laughed out of court.
[Katia]: That’s right, that’s right. And even in one of your more recent roles, you were responsible for architecting the measurement framework for the attribution philosophy of account-based marketing, so you can prove its value. And this is, like you said, one of the most important questions, “Do my marketing efforts work?”
[Mary]: I think a lot of it comes back down to what we were just talking about – having honest and transparent conversations along the way. I think the danger is, people get frightened about what the data seems to be showing them, and they try and gloss over if it’s not looking as good. I don’t think… I always say, you know, progress not perfection. So, we can continue to improve. We learn, we don’t necessarily fail.
I think that’s part of the culture that I’ve been very fortunate, most recently with HP, to be in. It’s about a culture of learning, that it’s not about you succeed or you fail, and if you fail there are bad implications. It’s about we tried it, we learned a lot, just don’t repeat the stuff that doesn’t work very well and double down on what is working and find additional ways of amplifying and broadening that success. But that’s tough conversation to have when you’re sitting in front of, you know, the ELT, you know, the executive level branch of the organization, who are wanting to pick holes in everything you do because some of them want to cut the marketing budget.
[Katia]: Yeah, and what are the most challenging aspects of… What makes answering this question difficult, do my marketing efforts work?
[Mary]: Because despite all of the data that we have, there isn’t any one way of pulling this together. And you might have a lot of data, but have you got the right data? Have you got it constructed in the right way to answer the questions you need to answer? I think that’s where the interesting thing comes in. Because there’s always gaps in the data, you know, the data’s never perfect. And understanding what those gaps are, and how they affect your ability to substantiate what you’re doing and explain what you’re doing, is absolutely critical. And then you can talk about, ‘Okay, how do we address and plug those gaps collaboratively, so it’s not seen as a them-and-us situation?’ That’s the way I always try and look at things. Is we’re all, ultimately, everyone’s here for the same reason.
We want the business to be successful, we want our clients to be successful, we want them to be profitable and growing. Nobody’s going in there going, “I want to sabotage their business.” But sometimes when you’re in some of those meetings, sometimes, as a marketer, you can feel as though that’s the opinion that is being given. So, start from your early conversations with explaining, you know, we don’t know everything. We believe we’ve got some good guidance and, you know, we’ve built statistical models that seem to be proving out and helping us to determine what is good and what is bad. But there isn’t a clear right answer, and I think that’s the challenge. Because we all think because we’ve got so much data, we must be able to go, “That’s right, double down on that.” Not necessarily the case.
[Katia]: Yeah, in my experience, even setting the business objectives is very important. And that’s sometimes challenging, because we’re not answering to the same question, “What are you trying to prove,” right?
[Mary]: It’s also, I think it’s even, there’s a layer back there as well – what is the role that marketing can play and should be expected to play within those business objectives. And I think that is also a really tough nut to crack and articulate. Particularly in, you know, we’ve seen it in the last few years. Everything changes so dramatically all the time. You know, you can never be clear. I don’t have the crystal ball to forecast definitively what’s going to happen. So, we’ve got to be willing to be flexible and to be able to be agile enough to move, you know, with the market conditions. Which is where data can also help us. But again, it’s not going to be a crystal ball.
Other interests and topics
[Katia]: That’s right. If it wasn’t for data and marketing strategy, what would you do?
[Mary]: Oh, what I’d love to do? Was what I was doing yesterday evening. I’m a big tennis player, passionate tennis player, and I still play. And last night I had the pleasure of playing with a guy named Julian Cash – check his name – he’s one hundred and third in the world at the moment, in the men’s ATP ranking. He’s a Brit, and he was visiting our club, and so I actually got a lesson from him along with two of my other girlfriends. And so if I could do anything, I would be involved in tennis in some way, shape, or form. Would not be good enough to go on tour that’s for sure, but maybe be part of the membership committee of a club or even be the pro or something like that. But yeah, love the tennis world!
[Katia]: Congrats on that! Well, talking about that, what is one company perk that you would love to have?
[Mary]: Gosh, that’s… One company perk… Well actually, you know what, I think thanks to the pandemic, I have that perk. In that I have the ability now, to work from home pretty much all the time. And I have to say, I have to give a big shout out to HP. They’ve been very good about managing the whole situation with COVID and, you know, the mental stress that that’s put on people. The flexibility to be able to work from home and also help us to set up our home offices so we are able to work productively and professionally within a home environment. No, I’m very happy!
[Katia]: I’m very happy, very happy to find you that way.
Final words of wisdom – Don’t be intimidated by data
[Anna]: Awesome! Well Mary, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to talk with us. I think you’ve offered some really great insights on people that are looking to get into this space, especially women might be looking to get into the space. And it’s just really interesting to hear kind of the transformation that’s taken place within the data world and marketing, you know, throughout your career. And it’s just very interesting to hear all of that. So thank you again so much for taking the time to share that with us and with our audience today. Is there any final thoughts or words that you would like to leave with our listeners?
[Mary]: Sure! Firstly, thank you for inviting me. Really enjoyed our conversation this morning. And I will just reiterate what I said, I think early on, is don’t be intimidated by data. See data as a facilitator, and again, build stories with your data. That’s the way you’ll get through to who you need to get through to; whether that’s your consumer, whether it’s a stakeholder, whether it’s a challenger of marketing’s value. It’s there to help you, not to hinder you.
About Real Intelligence
The Real Intelligence podcast aims to highlight success at every career stage for those who use data in their work. Through a 12-episode podcast series released each month, the RXA team will host individuals in the data and technology space to share their stories, experiences, and advice through informal recorded interviews. Our objectives are to provide guidance and advice for those interested in careers in data, provide a forum for people to share their experiences with others, and have some fun!