Julio Proano podcast cover
Episode: 3

Julio E. Proano - Data-driven decision making in a digital strategy

Posted on: 10 Sep 2020
Julio Proano podcast cover

Julio E. Proano is the senior manager for social media channel strategy at the healthcare company Novartis. He is fascinated by data-enabled technological innovations and consequently a big proponent of data-driven decision making. 

This episode explores the importance of being data-driven in a digital strategy, highlights some of the main pitfalls for marketers when analyzing and acting on data, and addresses some of the concerns for data collection going forward. Julio also describes a very interesting and innovative use case of a data-driven application and some of its additional potentials. 


Links and mentions:


“As a marketer, as a business owner or as any business decision maker, you really need to now execute what you preach. You need to make decisions that are driven by data.”

Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop. 

Tim Butara: Hello everyone, thank you for tuning in. I’m joined today by Julio Proano, senior manager for social media channel strategy at Novartis, one of the world’s largest and best known healthcare companies. In this episode Julio and I will be talking about how important it is to be data driven in your digital strategy’s decision making. Welcome Julio, thank you for joining me today, would you like to add anything to the intro?.

Julio Proano: Hello Tim, thank you so much for the opportunity, I’m excited to participate in the podcast. I just wanted to say that the opinions of this conversation, it’s about my own opinions; I’m not speaking on behalf of the company. I think it’s important to clarify that. I’ve been in marketing for almost 20 years; I have experience working on multiple industries starting from telecommunications, education, internet and now in pharma for the past 12 years. So I’m really excited to chat about data driven marketing.

Tim Butara: Awesome, it’s great to have you Julio and I’m also really excited to hear the probably very valuable insights that you will have on the topic. I’ll just start right off with the most important question I think which is: what does it even mean to be data driven in one’s decision making?

Julio Proano: Well, the simple definition is it means that we use data to optimize audience targeting and deliver effective content which will generate better engagement, which ultimately fulfill the business objective. I think that is the most simple definition that we can have about what is a data driven to decision making.

Tim Butara: So, a data driven company would be one that really takes data into account and really does their best to analyze and to act on the data. Maybe it’s also important to collect it in the right way and to know which data you’re collecting and how to act on that data; is there anything that you have to be specifically considerate here?

Julio Proano: I think that you know data sources right, I think the challenge that we’ve been experiencing for all small and large companies entering into the digitalization era has been the diversity of these data sources. I think that was one of the most common initial strategies doing the road map of how we’re going to make this happen. I think it’s important to keep in mind that you need to always understand the ending of where you’re going with this digitalization. Because at the end, you want to make sure that you stay true to the company’s objective and the vision.

Tim Butara: Yeah because if you’re just collecting data for the sake of collecting data it can’t be as effective as knowing for what purpose you’re doing it right?

Julio Proano: Correct. And if you think about it I think the challenge is probably bigger for big companies because as you can imagine it, big companies have the tendency to work a little more in silos. Then sometimes business objectives can be fragmented down the pipeline so I think it’s going to take some time for big companies to catch up to probably some of the smaller ones that actually started from scratch; having this ecosystem of data that around the processing, so I think that’s going to be very exciting to see in the year coming. However I think that when these big companies actually have connected that data, we’re going to find a lot of good information that it can actually make big difference. Data’s going to be power; the data is going to be making decisions in the future.

Tim Butara: Yeah, with great data comes great responsibility, right?

Julio Proano: Absolutely, that’s right.

Tim Butara: Okay - why is it so important to be data driven in one’s digital strategy?

Julio Proano: So the overall is to provide a clear direction and eliminate some of the decision-making guessing for unnecessary spending. To make the right investments in technologies and capabilities by providing the right product and services which also will generate a better customer experience and more importantly, it helps you to stick to your business strategy.

Tim Butara: Very good point and what we said about before having to have the end goal always in mind, I mean that’s an intrinsic part of your digital strategy and so being data driven is kind of the means to achieve that, right?

Julio Proano: Correct. And if you think about it when you have this overall digitalization project, you’re going to have a large road map with all these different pieces. At the end, I think that if you stay true to the business objective or the business strategy I think that would be very helpful.

Tim Butara: Yeah that’s kind of essential almost. Another thing, you mentioned that it’s essential to providing a good customer experience. I have a kind of add-on question to that, since we’re by now realizing or understanding that employee experience is also very important for the customer experience, do you think that being data driven also improves the employee experience of a company?

Julio Proano: Absolutely, I think that, I’m aware that Microsoft; if you can see the new office setup, the online, they’re adding a lot of AI to their tools. And I think the main reason is not to have big brother watching what you’re doing but more importantly to actually remind you and automate some of these tasks that you probably perform on the daily basis to make your life simpler. Actually I’m really enjoying now the tool in Outlook that set a focus time for me during the week. It analyzes my meetings and analyzes everything at all the different meetings that I have, all the different presentations and so forth, and then it finds a spot in my calendar and create time for me to actually sit down and do my work. 

So with that said, that amount of data, imagine collecting day by day. Right now we’ve seen just the surface, right now it’s setting this almost free time where you can actually do hands-on work but imagine what it can do in the future? Imagine what we’ll be able to predict and perhaps in another few years, our working week will become four days only, because guess what - we don’t need five working days right?

Tim Butara: Yeah, I hope it comes to pass; I’m totally with you on that.

Julio Proano: Imagine, I mean we don’t really need that, sometimes I think that is traditional we have this 40 hours per week. I think that we can be more effective and I think that is what this data and AI is really going to bring to it.

Tim Butara: Exactly. Because I would say that it’s probably approximately at least 20 percent of our work week that goes into the kind of legwork type of tasks, you know what I mean, the kind that’s much easier to do with automated processes which not only gives you more free time to focus on yourself but also give you, gives you more of a motivation. It leaves more productivity and creativity to you, to actually be able to focus on the creative side of your job.

Julio Proano: Absolutely, absolutely. 

Tim Butara: And okay, yeah, speaking of working with data, what are some common pitfalls that marketers face when they’re working with data and when they’re making decisions based on that data?

Julio Proano: Well, that’s a very good question so let me start by pointing out the obvious; let’s start with data structures, are not consistent as we know among social media platforms and furthermore it is constantly evolving. How many times have you logged into your Facebook business manager and you have a message that some data field will no longer be available in the upcoming month, right? There’s a few of those, so I think data standardization, data structure and standardization, is going to be a must in the future. I think that there’s going to be some level of governance and that we probably will have to align; the companies will be somehow needed to be aligned because otherwise is we’re going to continue running into these challenges. 

As a marketer, you need to be aware of this challenge, right, not only how you analyze the data but also how could you make sense of the data and how you turn that into a decision, into an outcome. I think the other one is that audience optimization never ends. You really need to test, test, and test your audience; keep good track of your audience preferences, what are the content foremost preferences, where and when aret hey more likely to engage with your content etc. Compare your learnings with those defined personas developed in the beginning of your planning phase; this approach will keep you honest with your audience optimization. 

You need to think as an audience as you’re growing a beautiful plant in your desk, right? If you don’t feed that audience, if you don’t take care of that plant, it’s not going to survive. So I think that is the best analogy I can find about optimizing your audiences. And I think the last thing that was said probably is relying only on your reporting tools to define success. What do I mean by that? We no longer live in a simple and small world where, as you know, the internet has changed how we connect with people, how do we do business, how do we learn, how do we work every day these days.

Tim Butara: Everything’s changed. 

Julio Proano: Everything changed, we no longer are limited to a specific geolocation anymore; I can be, as long as we are close enough to a time zone, we potentially can have a good working relationship. So as marketers, we must be aware of current events around the world and take them into consideration when reviewing dashboards or reports generated by these wonderful tools that are out there that we do every day. But also keep in mind that those tools also could have issues, they could have bugs so you can always put the human portion of it, where you can also need not just to look it as a set in stone; you can look at those reports and make an analysis and see how that can actually make sense for your overall campaign and at the end, how that can benefit your audiences.

Tim Butara: Yeah because all in all, it’s not meant to dictate what you do but it’s meant to guide what you do and to help you do the right things. As you said, I think the human factor is extremely important because with great data comes great responsibility as we said already, and you need somebody who is good at acting on the data that is also collected in the right way.

Julio Proano: Yeah, you know talking again about AI, I’m not an expert in AI but I love it. I do remember when I went to college many years ago; AI was still a class and it was all like science fiction and the fact that today we’re talking about AI and actually it being implemented is so cool. I don’t know, I think that the human input is always going to be required, I hope. I hope. I don’t think they want to live in a world where everything is decided by the machine or by an algorithm that is set up in some machine, probably in some foreign really really far a server that I don’t know who’s taking care of. I think that human factor is always going to be important.

Tim Butara: Yeah, I definitely agree with you, I kind of see it as a combination of the two; as we were talking about before, it’s using AI for a certain type of tasks so that you’re able to perform the other types of tasks better, and it kind of works in tandem right?

Julio Proano: Yeah, I mean, think about it, the reason that we’re talking about AI today more than ever is because we probably did not have the processing power that we require to process the amount of data that we have now. I think that’s the challenge, it’s not that AI is something that started two years ago or five years ago, this has been more than 20 years in the making. We’ve been talking about artificial intelligence for a long time, it’s actually a concept but it’s exciting to see what we’re able to do these days. It’s just really exciting in all the different areas.

Tim Butara: Okay, I mean, speaking of which, what are some of the really good examples of data being put to really really good use? Can you think of anything that’s really stuck with you? 

Julio Proano: Interesting enough, I found this blog article in triggerbee.com which listed a couple of examples of data driven marketing campaigns. One of the examples is a Grubhub campaign where they link their food data with political learnings. So let me explain a little bit; so Grubhub is an online and mobile food ordering and delivery marketplace with a large network of restaurants partners in the US. I think they feature over 300,000 restaurants and I think they have more than 200,000 of these restaurants are over 4,000 cities in the United States. They’re fairly large, they’re only in the US right now; I was trying early today, I said, “let me see what is Grubhub here in Switzerland” and they said that this site is only for United States. I guess I cannot order but I have the app because of course, I traveled to the US and I ordered my food through that so it’s a really good app. 

To give you a little more context about the company, the company provided nearly six billion in gross food sales to local take out restaurants in 2019 and process more than over 500,000 daily orders. Part of the revenue of the company comes from partnerships that they have with a variety of publishers who use their data to create these really native advertising that feels natural. This article that I mentioned, it talked about the company wanted to expand their partnership with political publishers. So they sent out a survey as part of a profiling campaign that asked the users to make 10 food choices to test the politics of their diet, how their diets can be described and or identify as a political view. So as you know in the US, the two tops are Democrat or Republican, so those are the two. The way they did this is, that the results after you take this quiz or test was compared to an analysis that it was generating from their data that comes across 200 congressional districts and out of the 175 popular items that were ordered in their application, 75% have significant correlations to the political party preferences in those districts. 

So with that said, after you finish your quest you basically, you can say, “Well I’m a republican food eater,” which is kind of interesting.  But they were able to manage that data and provide a really simple but tangible outcome where you can based on your food choices you’re able to say what your political preferences or tendencies could be. The article doesn’t provide detail about the results, which kind of, I didn’t like that because I wanted to know more about the campaign. But the approach to use your own data to potentially gain new partnerships with political publishers was really clever, so that article really stand out for me. 

Tim Butara: And it’s also, if I understand it correctly, it’s something that’s actually fairly complex to implement, but for the users it wasn’t, it was very simple and intuitive and that’s probably one of the decisive factors why it’s so good. 

Julio Proano: Exactly, when I was reading the article and I will share the links with you obviously, when I was reading the article I wanted to learn more about it. I wanted to know actually, because I found it fascinating how they actually use their own data to learn something that you would never think about it when you’re ordering food. Am I really going to be saying what my political preferences is or not? So that was interesting, so it’s fascinating.

Tim Butara: Do you think it would also work the other way, if people told their political preferences, then they would get menus suggested for them?

Julio Proano: Absolutely, think about it, yeah. Imagine as you download the app and say you want to identify yourself as a republican or democrat, perhaps, we can suggest a couple of nice sandwiches for your next lunch. I don’t know, I mean it’s all good and gay, but I think the fundamental here is how clever the campaign was, how good usage of the data and also how simple the message was. Because you may see when you look at the articles just pretty straightforward, just basically 10 questions of your food of reference, and then at the end you said you probably have a republican taste. 

Tim Butara: That’s probably another kind of unspoken or, I mean, more of an unwritten rule in data usage and data collection is “don’t collect more data than you need”, right, and if there are only ten questions, you can’t over collect data. 

Julio Proano: Absolutely. Although, I’m a believer that the more data the better, it’s just how you process it, but you’re right, I think to your point it’s about quality data, how do we ensure. And to one of the points earlier, one of the pitfalls is how do we ensure that data quality. Imagine when you’re collecting data for all your different digital platforms, your social media, your website, your apps, your emails and you try to combine all of that data, you can, there’s nothing wrong with that. And there’s application to help you to do that, even in the cloud. However, to make sense out of that data, that is the challenge and I think that’s what we as the marketers need to be empowered, and we need to understand how the data is interpreted, we can no longer expect that data to be interpreted by us because that I think is going to be the power of marketers in the future, to be more involved with the data itself.

Tim Butara: Awesome, I’m really glad you revisited this point, because I think that this was kind of the answer I had in mind when I selected that question. So the pitfalls of collecting the wrong kinds of data and the pitfalls of not interpreting it correctly, which means that you can’t act on it correctly. 

Julio Proano: Absolutely. And you know what, it’s always going to be dirty data, always. I know it sounds funny, dirty data, but it is, right, some data that you just collect and may be incomplete or I use in not complete the process or whatever that reason is. So I think it’s always important for us to be able to optimize the data, how it’s optimized and more importantly how it’s interpreted.

Tim Butara: Yeah. I have another good question for you and that’s also related to what we said before, about collecting too much data. And that is, we’ve recently seen a lot of new privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA I think in California, which are really changing the game for online privacy. How do you see this impacting the collection and usage of data in the future? 

Julio Proano: That’s a good question. My perspective is that this type of regulation, it could contribute to optimize audience targeting, to obtain more qualified leads. Think about it, transparency is key this day, customers will feel empowered when landing on a digital property, if they have their choice to share or not their information. I don’t have data to prove this theory, but I can see myself opting in to share my information, if the good or service offered by the digital property is interesting for me. It’s the same thing sometimes when I go in my Instagram feed, I know that if I’m going to click in one of those advertisements, I know I'm going to get bombarded in Facebook, I’m going to appear in my website, I’m going to be everywhere. I don’t mind clicking on those, I don’t mind, because, you know what, perhaps, if I’m looking for a really cool pair of shoes, it may come in one of those ads. The challenge that we have sometimes is, “okay how do we revert that? I don’t want that to be anymore”, I think that’s something that probably will evolve. Imagine if you’re able to opt in for a temporary, for a period of time, where you can be fed a particular content, that is probably something that is going to evolve with this. 

Because, remember, I mean, cookies are not something that we discussed 20 years ago. The internet is fairly new, if you think about it, in the big scale of the timeline of the of history it’s a very short period of time, but if you think the amount of information we will be collecting and how will be evolving, and until recently, we start thinking, “wait a minute, why are they collecting your data? Why they know so much about you?” It’s scary that I said I would like to buy a pair of shoes and suddenly the pair of shoes ad appear in my Facebook. So are they listening to you? Is Alexa listening to you? Who’s listening to you that actually make that happen? Right? 

But I think that eventually, I think the GDPR and all these other initiatives are needed, because for respect and privacy for sure, because it could go the other direction. It could go the direction that perhaps people are going to be stereotyped, or eliminated or probably not taken into consideration because of the preferences, so I think that’s something that is good to have. But I think we’re going to be evolving, this is not going to be the last analysis or the last regulation we’re going to see, I think it’s going to continue evolving. I think that we’re going to get to the point where you will be able to opt for the time that you want to receive a certain information and ads, because ads are going to be running no matter what.

Tim Butara: That’s a very good point, and it’s basically a kind of trade-off between convenience and privacy, you know, do you want this really personalized content which will help you achieve stuff easier but it will come up at the expense of sacrificing some of your personal data? Or, do you want to keep all your data intact and private but then you’re just browsing the internet without any good suggestions or personalized content anywhere?

Julio Proano: I remember, I have my email address, it’s so old, so every time I move to a new app to receive my email, I need to start doing my junk filter really strong, it’s a pain. In the past few years, when I changed providers, it’s been always a nightmare so I can understand spam. That is something that is still a problem and will continue to be a problem, but imagine, with these types of regulations it can really enforce if that information, that good or that service is presented appropriately to the end user. You’re going to find good customers, you’re going to find good leads, the ones that actually update is because they are more likely to do a purchase.

Tim Butara: Also, you have to present the benefits they will receive if they’re willing to share their data with you, right?

Julio Proano: Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. I mean think about it also in the United States now you see for example, the data from healthcare providers. The data is, I mean, they don’t show names, they don’t know anything but if you go to the websites, you can see what states are more prevalent to have people to have heart attacks, or you go and you can see there’s a lot of information behind it, because guess what, the big data behind is huge and now they start thinking “okay what about if we reconnect this to all the health providers and possibly doctors and nurses.” I mean, imagine all that information can also help to detect, but the challenge there is how do we maintain that anonymous, these names? How do we maintain the privacy of the people that present that so it could be … I remember an article a long time ago, it was a science fiction, this was probably 20 years ago. And it was about having a chip in your finger which identifies you as you are; you know how you have the barcodes? It was basically a chip with a barcode, but the barcode would have all the information about you. 

I think personally, I would love to have that because then I wouldn’t have to wear my iWatch to know what’s my heart rate or anything like that. I just want to be able to have something, that I don’t need to see it, but it’s there; but I’m one in a billion, some people may not want to do that. Some people are not going to feel comfortable with that, so again I think that we’re in an interesting era to see how that’s going to evolve, and I think that we will need to find a compromise, right, between because the GDPR mostly in the European Union, but what’s going to happen globally? This needs to stand globally but who’s going to manage that, who’s going to own it, who’s going to dictate? That’s going to be interesting to see.

Tim Butara: Yeah, that’s the key question for the future. And you mentioned that we’re living in really weird times and that was actually another thing that I wanted to touch on. I mean, I think that we can all agree that 2020 has been a super super strange year and I was just wondering if maybe you have some words of advice to business owners and decision makers as we kind of move into the second half of this super strange year?

Julio Proano: Well, that’s the million dollar question, right. It’s interesting, I keep getting these invitations to webinars and different companies wanted to analyze and actually, all of these are very good. But something for sure, I think that 2020 will be remembered in history as one of the milestones in digitalization because I think that is the biggest outcome out of these really difficult times that we live for the first half of 2020. It’s brought out that actually we became more digital and I think that is a plus in some ways. I think that in general, for people, I think we just need to be patient and open-minded about these new opportunities. 

Digitalization is not a choice anymore, you have to be digital; we no longer can say “you know what, digital is not for me, I don't really understand it, I’m not part of that;” you know what? We all are a part of it. I think the most important is to make data driven decisions; I think that as a marketer, as a business owner or as any business decision maker, you really need to now execute what you preach. You need to make decisions that are driven by data. And I think finally, another thing for me is to become a learner if you’re not already a learner; learn a new digital skill, it’s worth it. It’s just going to help you in your career no matter what industry you’re in, I think it will help you. So that will be my opinion of what to do as an outcome for this year.

Tim Butara: Those are some excellent pieces of advice and I think that they’ll be very helpful to our listeners, thank you for this.

Julio Proano: Oh sure.

Tim Butara: I think this is it from me; do you have anything to add that we kind of forgot to cover or something?

Julio Proano: No I think that we covered everything and just going back to what we said earlier, I think I put audiences as to be optimization audiences as a pitfall and it’s not because, we need to be more audience centered. We need to understand the audiences, we’ve been talking about audiences forever; this is not new and audiences is not limited to just the people that click on a buy button, an app or on a website. Audiences are everywhere so you need to keep ... you need to be open-minded about that and also consider all the aspects. Then for those that work in huge companies, big companies, I think that you never know, I think that we need to start condensing those efforts. I think that data is the one who actually is going to be giving us more structured answers on how to actually modify our strategies, so that’s all.

Tim Butara: Okay, great point, thanks for revisiting that, awesome. Just before we conclude, if people want to reach out to you or learn more about you, where can they do that?

Julio Proano: Oh, absolutely. People can message me in my LinkedIn profile; I try to keep it up to date, I try to be digital. Even my photo is fairly new so that’s good so people don’t get the wrong idea. So yes, I think my LinkedIn profile will be great, thank you Tim.

Tim Butara: Okay, thank you so much Julio for taking the time to chat with me today and to our listeners, that’s all for this episode. Have a great day everyone and stay safe.

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