Investing in Data Strategy: A Talk With Jason Thompson

Jason Thompson, Co-founder of 33 Sticks, digital analyst and optimization expert, on investing in data strategy and campaign data in challenging times.
Diana Daia
Jun, Mon 29, 2020

In this interview, Jason Thompson, seasoned digital analyst and Founding Partner at 33 Sticks, talks about investing in data strategy and the future of analytics in challenging times.

Jason Thompson

Who is Jason Thompson?

Jason Thompson is an experienced digital analyst & entrepreneur whose primary focus is on forcing organizations to think differently about the delivery of information, insight, and recommendations.

Jason co-founded 33 Sticks, an analytics boutique, advising Fortune 500 companies and partnering with unique, early-stage startups. He previously served as the Vice President of Strategy & Experience at Keystone Solutions and was a  member of the original team at Omniture.

D.D.: You’re an advocate of data and rethinking the way insights are delivered. How should companies think differently about how they approach insights?

J.T.: For far too many years, companies have looked at insights into consumer behavior as nothing more than "analytics theater." The insights are often used to confirm existing biases, pretty charts are used as artwork to showoff on digital displays that no one looks at, and when truly valuable insights are presented by analysts, they are often ignored.

In a time when every expense is being scrutinized, companies are now being faced with a very real decision of 'should we keep our analytics practice or abandon it?' Many, and not surprisingly, are abounding their practices because they have provided very little value — there is only so much value you can get out of analytics as an entertainment expense.

For the companies, the smartest companies, that are choosing to keep their analytics practices, they should stop looking at their investment as theater and quickly move to mature their practice into one that takes a very deliberate approach to using behavioral data to better understand their customers' buying habits, their signals for how to engage with them, and to inform highly curated digital experiences.

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D.D.: In light of current global events, many companies struggle with successfully capitalizing on marketing data. How would you advise them to use data to gain a competitive advantage?

J.T.: Actually use data right now. That may sound like a sarcastic comment but the sad reality is that far too many organizations have decided to take a seat on the sidelines right now. I hear things like "our traffic isn't normal, so now isn't the right time to be analyzing our data." What better time than now to make use of digital behavioral data? If now isn't the right time to analyze how potential customers are interacting digitally with our brands, when is the right time?

The smartest companies know that all the work put into building robust analytics capabilities pays off right now. When their competitors are waiting things out on the sidelines, the smartest companies are leveraging the data they have to understand how people are interacting with their brands in ways that they never did before, they are using data to understand how customers are signaling the ways they are comfortable to be communicated with, and they are using data to create highly customized digital experiences.

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D.D.: What are the 3 key steps to making marketing data more actionable?


  1. Move digital analytics out of the basement and into the executive suite.
  2. Architect a campaign data strategy that is built based on sustainability.
  3. Move beyond reporting into behavioral analysis. Reports are great for keeping the business going straight down the road but rich behavioral analysis is required to actually leverage the data in order to create better marketing that is properly aligned with consumer expectations.

Reliability of data has been a historical challenge as implementation plans are rushed and analytics implementations are built in such a way that they are not sustainable.

Jason Thompson
Jason Thompson
33 sticks

D.D.: You’re a true believer in optimization testing. Why should that process not be overlooked?

J.T.: Optimization, and by extension personalization, is a culmination of all the hard work (data strategy, data implementation, data governance, deep consumer behavior analysis, statistical modeling, etc.) that has been put in place over many months, really many years. If companies are not investing in an optimization program, it's a lot like designing and building a custom home and when it's time to actually take the keys and open the front door saying "meh….we just like the building part, we don't actually want to live in the house."

D.D.: You talk at great length about adapting to changing audiences and consumer behavior. Why should companies invest in understanding their audiences? What are the low-hanging fruits?

J.T.: If companies aren't interested in truly understanding their audiences, then they shouldn't be buying analytics platforms and they surely shouldn't be hiring analytically minded employees. The idea behind collecting behavioral data is that we can better understand our customers, better understand their needs and desires, better understand how to curating amazing experiences for our customers, if we aren't doing that then we really are just creating analytics theater, it has entertainment value but that's about it.

The biggest piece of low hanging fruit is to use digital behavior data to challenge existing assumptions. It's one of the biggest problems we see facing most businesses today, strong voices in the organization already know who their customer is, what they want, and how they want to be engaged. But…do they really? You have the data, use it. Use it to challenge established characteristics of what you think your customer looks like. I think you'll be surprised that you don't know your customer quite as well as you think you do.

The smartest companies know that all the work put into building robust analytics capabilities pays off right now. When their competitors are waiting things out on the sidelines, the smartest companies are leveraging the data they have to understand how people are interacting with their brands in ways that they never did before.

Jason Thompson
Jason Thompson
33 Sticks

D.D.: What are the tough truths that we don't talk a lot about in the analytics world?

J.T.: We aren't linchpins. We aren't indispensable. It's been a truth for a long time but we've been too comfortable with not confronting that fact however with a steep downturn in global economies triggered by COVID, what teams were the first to go in many organizations? MarTech and more specifically digital analytics!

This doesn't need to be a truth, I would argue it SHOULDN'T be a truth. The services we provide can be extremely valuable and we should be seen as linchpins, we should be indispensable but to get there we have to stop celebrating ourselves, we have to stop being comfortable being average, and we have to start demanding a seat at the executive table not by voice alone but through our actions.

D.D.: If you were to predict the biggest future analytics trend, what would that be?

J.T.: The year is 2026 and businesses finally realize that Avinash was right 20 years ago back in 2006 when he said for every $10 you spend on analytics software you should be spending $90 on experts to use it. I think we will see a pull back in MarTech software budgets with businesses focusing on a handful of high-quality software solutions and shifting more money over to people.

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