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Marketing Mindset with Ari Sheinkin of IBM

With a mission to help companies understand and engage key audiences – from customers to shareholders and beyond – marketing is a complex, multi-layered and ever-evolving field. As the world grows more interconnected, consumer needs change and communication channels develop and shift, organizations need marketing experts with the ability to keep step. Now, with more information at our fingertips than ever before, companies recognize that making data-informed decisions is a key ingredient to their success – and that marketing and data analytics are becoming inextricably intertwined.

In this series, Poole College sits down with some of the top marketing experts across the country to find out more about how data analytics is changing the game.

Meet Ari Sheinkin – Vice President, Experience Engine at IBM

What is your role?

Sheinkin: I joined IBM 22 years ago out of graduate school. I was a Carnegie Mellon alum deep in the world of analytics and data… specifically applying analytics to business strategy problems – across agencies, government, industries, etc. I worked to apply the rigor of data and data science in a way that’s tied to business outcomes. I took other roles over the years, and 7 or 8 years ago I got a call to join marketing. I said absolutely not! It wasn’t for me… it didn’t seem like what I wanted to do. This colleague told me that I didn’t understand marketing and to come and look and see what they’re doing in marketing atIBM. He explained how we use data analytics to better understand our audiences. What hooked me as an analytics person was seeing the sheer amount of data applied to fast-moving digital environments. If you’re an analytics person who likes puzzles and problem solving, IBM is a great place to be.

How has marketing evolved?

Sheinkin: Marketing in today’s world is truly a balance of art and science. Whenever I onboard new employees, whether it’s to work on our digital, social media or marketing teams, I explain their job is to marry art and science. Data and analytics help us better understand and connect with our audiences. It’s not letting machines take over; it’s using those tools to better serve our customers. 

What sort of value do you and IBM place on analytics? 

Sheinkin: The culture of IBM is data-driven… and its meaning has evolved over time as data continues to change. Experimentation, AI, machine learning adds to it. Our CEO wouldn’t make serious decisions for the company without first looking at the data. Data informs all that we do – and that’s true of marketing. Today you see data and analytics as a foundation for our marketing department. By using data to better understand our audience, we can devote more time to crafting our messages and storytelling. IBM makes really smart systems, but we need the human element that helps us understand the people on the other side. Take our webpage for example – it’s made up of a set of several different fragments. Analytics can help us determine how people see and respond to our messages, story and images. We let analytics power the whole experience.

What’s the importance of marketing analytics in today’s work environment?

Sheinkin: When I joined the marketing team about 10 years ago in marketing, my colleagues just assumed I was the analytics person in the marketing office. There was a perceived disconnect between marketing and analytics where there shouldn’t be. A few years ago, while traveling the world as part of IBM’s “Making the Marketer” program, I’d start my session by asking our audience of maybe 500 people who would consider themselves data analysts. Maybe 5 of them would raise their hand. I would then tell them that they wouldn’t be in this profession in a few years – not unless they learned to see themselves as marketers who use analytics to drive their decisions. It’s a critical part of what we do.

What are the biggest challenges you see in growing the marketing analytics industry?

Sheinkin: Recruiting and retention. It’s one of the hardest positions to fill at IBM… and probably in many other industries. If you can understand and utilize data – not just in marketing, but in areas like sales and customer services, you can find a job just about anywhere.

How do you foresee graduates with a master’s degree in marketing analytics being able to have an impact in the workplace at a place like IBM?

Sheinkin: At IBM, we’ve been actively recruiting students out of data analytics programs like Poole College’s master of management in marketing analytics. What has stood out to me, however, is that it’s not enough to just know the data and the science behind it. We want students who are naturally curious. Those who can reimagine the intersection of art and science – of being creative and analytical – which is what marketing analytics is. We can teach you the tools, but we can’t teach curiosity. We need our future business leaders to be both creative and analytical.

In what ways would IBM, and people like yourself, want to engage with the faculty, students and alums of the new NC State Master of Management, Marketing Analytics program?

Sheinkin: It’s something we want to do more of, for sure. We like partnering with academic programs to collaborate on curriculum and provide case studies to offer students some real-world experience. The earlier on in the process we can engage these students, the more we can produce ones that graduate with the skills and competencies we’re looking for. We’ve never had a year where we’ve been able to hire as many students out of these programs as we need. We need these graduates.

What are you looking for in potential employees?

Sheinkin: We love students who have traditional analytics skills – and the AI and machine learning skills – but part of what’s happening is a move toward experimentation. It’s a real shift in mindset. We don’t just want people to build models – we also want them to think in experimental terms. I can spend two years building a smart model but during that same time, someone else could have already put experiments in front of their audience, received and analyzed their feedback and can move from there. That’s an incredibly important way of thinking… it’s different for us and the industry. But IBM is making a culture of experimentation the core of our philosophy. We need future team members who are open to taking chances and not seeing setbacks as failures. You can’t be wrong when you have a growth mindset. Experimentation that doesn’t work is still an opportunity to learn. I hope faculty members can think the same way. I want to see the emphasis put on the behavior patterns – not just the outcome. Be an experimenter. If at the end of the semester you’ve tried something six different ways – and failed each time – but you walked away learning something new from each failure to apply going forward…. that’s an easy “A” for me.