Dive into Data: A Career in Insight Analytics

In the context of our “Dive into Data” initiative, we aim to change the misconception about what it takes to break into and build a long-term career in the data industry.

As part of this, we’d like to feature the background and career journey of Christopher Russell, Senior Customer Analyst at Lovehoney – a brilliant example that shows how unconventional backgrounds can lead to dive into data as a career.

Our chat here, to feature a real-life example. How to get into data and an example of how a career path within that field can unfold….

ADLIB: To summarise, what are your main responsibilities as a Commercial Insight Lead?

Christopher Russell:My main responsibility is to ensure all brand and commercial decisions made across the business are supported by reliable relevant data that is easily understood and actioned upon at the right time.

Behind this, a lot of support work is done to ensure data is continually accessible and consistent which requires my team to work closely with BI tech and finance teams. Always forward thinking we work to innovate the data to be proactive and leverage its value which means reconfiguring and manipulating in new ways, collating with other data sources. Once equipped with trustworthy data sources and a variety of data tools, comes the art of knowing what data to use to answer into the query or problem at hand in a simple and relatable manner. Adding a customer dimension gives storytelling great impact and resonates better with stakeholders and marketing audiences. This is where I feel the value is best gained by always relating data to the consumer.

ADLIB: What’s your background, what has been your career journey so far leading you to where you are right now?

Christopher Russell:My background is in science believe it or not so my initial experience working with data was as a research scientist in genetics and molecular biology. I went on to complete my PhD which was a data-intensive project involving advanced statistics and basic coding but I loved talking about my findings in simple language, the challenge of relating them to the wider subject and presenting to both scientific and non-scientific audiences. On completing my PhD my life priorities had changed, I was lucky to become a father and so wanted to settle somewhere and seek a more stable career path. Market research and customer insight positions appealed to both my interests and my skillset, and identifying and presenting trends in data is a transferrable skill I enjoy.

My initial foray into marketing insight was a temp role for a university supporting course planning. I then had my first commercial experience at Next PLC as a contractor supporting campaign analysis where I expanded and refined my SQL knowledge. My first major job came later that year where I secured a move back to the south-west with Clarks in Somerset as a Customer Insights Analyst within the Global Insights and Planning team. I worked with a variety of data sets, from industry data to consumer panel to sales data. I was also involved in several market research projects and led on retail segmentation and consumer journey among others. I progressed quickly to senior analyst but after three years decided on a change of data scenery and progress my learnings towards E-comm, website behaviour and data layer planning with a customer at the core.

I was approached by a recruitment agency regarding a customer data role at Lovehoney with their brand marketing team with the opportunity to have tech involvement and license to build and embed customer understanding across the business. Within two years I’ve demonstrated the value of customer data and how insight can drive better decision making; I’m now leading and expanding Commercial Insights, a new and exciting function within Lovehoney where I also manage a digital analyst and direct a data science team.

ADLIB: What attracted you to the data-focused part of marketing?

Christopher Russell: Firstly, I’ve always enjoyed working with marketing and brand teams for their pace and creative energy, plus they are key to any business with regards to connecting, inspiring and building relationships with the consumer directly. Secondly, I enjoy the breadth and variety of data you work with within marketing. Wider retail and econometric data to social media and customer voice to internal web and sales data. Each day varies and I enjoy the challenge of being agile and creative with data for ad hoc requests whilst still being heavily involved in longer-term projects including working with agencies on commissioned market research.

ADLIB: What do you see as the top 3 skills it takes to become a Commercial / Customer Analyst?

Christopher Russell:

  1. Numbers, obviously. You have to have an unrelenting passion for accuracy and a detailed eye for spotting patterns and outliers.
  2. Creativity – you need to be creative with your data both visually, to inspire and communicate findings in a non-complicated way, and technically, to work around data gaps or problems.
  3. Driven curiosity to explore and see the commercial value (when time appropriate). This can send alarm bells to managers thinking an analyst has disappeared down a data rabbit hole and their report will be delayed, hence explore when time appropriate. However, innovation and unknown opportunity results from an analyst exploring an instinct to ‘know a bit more’ or ‘what if I join this to here’. I push and inspire this behaviour and equally, show how to lift the value out quickly to give simple actionable outcomes.

ADLIB: Any soft skills that are advantageous to this role in your opinion?

Christopher Russell: Absolutely, I’d say the most valued by a business are –

Great interpersonal skills – you need to network and build relationships with many colleagues of differing personas, from director to exec level. Learn how to speak data in their language!

Confidence – especially in your data and insights, that way you will build integrity, trust and support across the business

Passion – More data is never a chore, also being excited by your data and findings excites your audience!

Thanks for sharing, Chris!

As part of our Dive Into Data initiative, we showcase the many avenues and routes into Data, far beyond the perception that it’s all about being a genius in maths, engineering and science oriented qualifications and how data brilliance is also fuelled by creative and business orientated minds.

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Head of Data

Insight & Analytics

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Alex Cosgrove