On the ball with consumer analytics

Jacques Ohannessian, RSM alumnus (Full-time MBA 1994) and director of consumer analytics for global powerhouse adidas, has watched his department grow in the past few years from a unit responsible mostly for analytics to a key source of data-grounded advice for both major and minor marketing decisions.


Thirty years ago, most athletes had to rely solely on their coach’s advice and their own drive to improve their game. Now top athletes and coaches often work with a small army of trainers, analysts and a lot of data. Something similar has happened in brand marketing too. Where the recipe for successful sports shoes marketing used to be a good idea and a great product – such as Adi Dassler, founder of adidas, convincing American sprinter Jesse Owens to run in his company’s shoes in the 1936 Berlin Olympics – today it’s increasingly driven by data. These days adidas makes many of its marketing decisions in a much more disciplined, data-supported way. ‘It’s not about going out to an agency and saying, come up with a cool idea,’ says Ohannessian. ‘Now, the process is much more fact-based.’

From data to consultancy

While his team started out primarily as an IT unit, it’s gradually grown into a major internal consultancy. Today his team of 25 – roughly half in adidas’ world headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany, Dassler’s home town, and half distributed around the world – offers answers to all kinds of questions. Whether the issue is tactical, such as determining the best format for a mobile advertisement or choosing the right platform for a football campaign, or strategic, such as selecting the right creative tone for the company’s latest global marketing push, his team looks for the right data and then the right answer.

Now, instead of an idea for a campaign, adidas’ marketers come up with a goal first, such as extending its reach or deepening its level of customer engagement, define some key performance metrics to serve as goalposts, and then decide the best way to meet those goals, according to Ohannessian.

‘Sometimes we are spot-on, sometimes we are surprised by the reaction [to a campaign]. What is super important is our ability to react and how fast we can adapt,’ Ohannessian says.

His team uses a variety of tools to measure results, from familiar web analytics programs to software that reads what thousands of people are saying about a given topic. Such work, for example, led Ohannessian’s team to point out that advertisements with colourful video game-style graphics would resonate with adidas’ younger buyers, an insight that inspired its current “Boss Everyone” campaign.

Not only does the data result in better marketing, but also more responsive product development. ‘We’re more in touch with what the people are talking about and what the consumer is asking for,’ Ohannessian says.

For example, if during a product launch his team discovers that a number of consumers are saying, ‘that’s a cool product but it’s a pity that they don’t have it in black,’ he says, the company knows, and can respond.

Diversity matters

It takes a diverse kind of team to deliver this kind of advice. ‘We have everyone from guys we picked up before they even graduated to super-senior data scientists from the advertising world,’ Ohannessian says.

The kind of people who thrive now in his department must be not just analytical but articulate. ‘You need to have people who can pick up these numbers and translate them into a story,’ he explains.

Finding these kinds of people is not easy. Ohannessian spends a lot of time looking for new people to join his team. ‘Most of my time goes into recruitment, finding people with the right skills,’ he says. He tries to anticipate their future needs. For instance, right now he is trying to find someone with product development analytics experience in the video gaming industry, which is ahead of the curve when it comes to developing products that incorporate insights from customer analytics.

But as useful as digital analytics are proving, Ohannessian warns that not all the answers can be found there. Some kinds of classic market research are still useful. ‘We need both,’ he says. ‘There’s a space where I don’t think data science or analytics will ever replace a group of kids being put together.’


This article was first published in RSM Outlook summer 2016. You can download RSM Outlook here.

RSM Outlook , 2016 Summer RSM Outlook