* Since this Q&A was published, Sameer has taken up a new role as Director of Insight and Data Science at the Royal Mint.
Head in analytics, heart in marketing is the way Sameer describes himself.
His marketing career started somewhat unsually, in engineering and computer science, but that experience has proved invaluable for facing the industry’s current challenges in his role at data science and technology agency Edit and as Chair for the CIM Wales Board.
Sameer’s specialty is using marketing data to generate insights which genuinely change how marketing and business operates at a fundamental level. Read on to find out what has been essential to his success, what he believes is the biggest challenge facing marketers, and why today’s marketers need to be ‘T-shaped’.
Tell us a bit about how you got into your current role
My degree was in engineering and computer
science, but then I did a Masters in business which gave me a taste for
marketing. My first job was as a credit/debit officer for HMRC. I was
there around 9 months, before moving to HBOS a business analyst. Then
Lloyds took me on as a risk analyst. All three roles were very
I then fell into a role as Credit Risk
Scorecard developer. I knew the analytics side wasn’t everything I
wanted from my career. In my MBA I liked the marketing side, but how to
get into that (type of) role was a bit of a misnomer, so when an
opportunity came up for a marketing research manager I put my hand up.
That started my marketing journey.
I suddenly realised digital marketing
didn’t exist in a silo and I needed to learn more about marketing:
strategy, planning, leadership. So that’s when I did my CIM
I was taken on by GoCompare to help them
develop a marketing plan. I stayed there for 2.5 years, before taking on
a newly introduced role with a London company as head of data science
to try agency side. It was ideal for me. My interactions on the
client-side taught me a lot about how to approach and deal with people
at different levels.
What has been the key to your success?
Constantly being open to learning. I’ve
never been complacent. You can’t be perfect, you can’t know everything,
and you can learn from people at every level.
Also, not trying to do everything myself.
As well as helping to develop others, delegating allows you to expand
your own skills and widen your thinking.
Being a T-shaped marketer has also helped
my career: they say start with depth, go into breadth; you’ve got to
have depth of knowledge in one area, but you need the breadth of
commercial awareness, leadership, knowledge of the business and to know
about every aspect of marketing to some degree.
Which achievement are you most proud of and why?
My achievement as a leader is more about
what other people around me have achieved. There are lots of people who
I’ve mentored and coached who have gone on to senior roles which gives
me immense pleasure, and others who have started as a graduate and have
moved on fast within three years.
My own achievement would be more academic –
being published in the Oxford University Journal without having any
real knowledge of marketing or having worked in a marketing setting at
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Never be complacent. Always be open to learning and be open to ideas.
A big lesson for me was not to discount
the benefit of experience and the little bit of magic in marketing. Data
can’t dictate things; it can give you a direction, but it’s down to the
individual to come up with the magic. You can’t become too rational
because consumers don’t make decisions in a rational way; you need to
bring out and be in touch with their emotions.
The other thing I learned quite quickly
was the concept of innovation – customers can give you the evolution but
not the revolution. Marketers need to look at what consumers are
struggling with and find a way to solve the problem, not look for direct
answers from the consumer.
Which 3 qualities do you think are most important for aspiring marketing leaders?
Recognise the importance of learning
from others – whatever level you are, you need to develop yourself but
also learn from and develop other people.
Balance depth of knowledge with breadth –
choose a speciality, in line with your skills, but balance it with
breadth of knowledge which comes from education, interacting with
others, qualifications and so on.
Communicate – Don’t work in a silo. Interact with non-marketers to explain what marketing is and why it’s important.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for marketing professionals in the workplace right now?
The profile of marketers has never been as
high as say the likes of CFOS and CTOs, and with the data industry
coming with the rise of CDOS and CIOs and CTOS, marketing is going to
struggle more. Everything rests on technology, no one questions that.
It’s the marketing they question. Internal engagement is very
important; if marketers don’t make the whole organisation understand the
value they bring, they’re going to struggle against the more tangible
people. Retailers like John Lewis and Tesco are examples of those who do
this well, and both have a marketing person at board level.
Do you think every board should have a marketing representative and why?
They should have a customer voice. Whether
it’s the form of marketing, it depends. They need to have someone
who’s close to the consumer and who can best bring what consumers want
to the boardroom to dictate solutions, propositions and business
What advice would you give someone starting out in their marketing career?
Find out what your skills are, what you’re
good at. Try and get into a job that suits them, and have the right
attitude. I’m of the old saying ‘recruit for attitude, train for skill’.
I look for whether candidates are forthcoming, optimistic, confident
and open to learning.
Do you think the digital transformation will continue, and what impact will it have on business as a whole?
Digital transformation has the potential
to change the whole business. It’s down to whether you understand what
consumers are saying and the pressures they face. If you listen to them
you may find the demand is still there, but they want ease of use,
quicker delivery. You have to be very clever to understand what they’re
saying and to develop your business in a way that suits their
lifestyle. Digital transformation is allowing businesses to do that, but
they need to have a vision for that transformation.
How easy is it to find the right marketing expertise for your team in this market?
The first thing I look at is whether a CV
is tailored to the job. From a junior marketer perspective, I think the
calibre is out there. I think what’s lacking is people giving them
direction and mentoring them down the right path. So, they get lost and
land up in a job that is not for them. It’s difficult, I think
universities should be better at helping and mentoring.
Do you think it’s important that marketing and HR work together?
Absolutely, especially for internal comms.
If marketing is working with HR, they’re doing great internal PR. HR
are the voice of the employer and the ears of the employees and they
have a very strategic role. This is where CMOs become important in
raising the strategic importance. There are very few organisations
using HR as their internal PR and that’s what marketing needs to do.
What can be done to inspire young people to choose careers in marketing to address the ‘looming talent crisis’?
I agree there is a looming crisis and
people are moving towards tangible technologies, because marketing is
very narrowly defined, and people don’t realise machine learning and AI
can be applications of marketing. As marketers, we haven’t
marketed ourselves or defined ourselves. The leaders in marketing need
to open up and there needs to be more articles defining the wider scope
of marketing in the modern digital world.
Like recruitment, marketing sometimes has a bad reputation. What can marketers do to combat that?
Defining what marketing is and how it
brings value to the organisation. We know why it has a bad reputation,
because it is narrowly defined. What we have to do is portray marketing
as a profit centre not a cost centre, and in order to do that we need
much more commercially savvy marketers and better communicators.
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