Tips for building a data-driven culture

Emerging tech brings more than just engineers together at Zulily
Sr. Director, Content Strategy

Things move fast at a business like Zulily. The company launches hundreds of sales and thousands of new products every day, with a customized experience for every user — but the model wouldn’t be very effective if Zulily couldn’t act quickly based on data. Machine learning powers everything from personalization to product curation, but it’s the people who drive the strategy and tactics behind Zulily’s success. At NRF NXT: Retail’s Digital Deep Dive, retailers will present in-depth case studies, showing attendees not just what they do, but details about how. Prior to his presentation at NRF NXT, coming up July 22-24 in Las Vegas, we asked Brian Doherty, manager of media and partnerships for Zulily, how non-engineers can work with advanced tech and embrace a data-driven culture.

Brian Doherty, manager of media and partnerships at Zulily, will speak at NRF NXT: Retail's Digital Deep Dive in Las Vegas, July 22-24.

How do you build a culture of data-driven decision making?

As the leader of an integrated marketing and partnerships team, I leverage both the art and science of retail marketing to create compelling, engaging and effective campaigns, building bridges between brands and customers. Key to that is democratizing access to business data across the company, and empowering people to solve problems quickly using that data.

Zulily is a unique organization in that our technology, merchandising and marketing teams all work closely together to drive business strategy every day — it’s the only way to work given the velocity of our model.

Every biweekly all-hands meetings begin with customer feedback and an update on the business, encouraging a culture of testing, trying and improving. On a team level, we always work to have a clear line of sight to leverage the data for a campaign’s efficacy and engagement — without it, our integrated partnerships and media work would be impossible. We have weekly business reviews and customer insight reports and also check patterns on a monthly and quarterly basis as a larger marketing team, with intraday dashboards that all team members can access, regardless of role or title.

One of Zulily’s core values is to take ownership of work, no matter an employee’s tenure or function. That takes empowering all team members to work across departments, lean into the data and creatively build initiatives to highlight our brand clients and vendor partners and, ultimately, serve our customers.

Digital Deep Dive

Explore retail case studies from Lilly Pulitzer, DSW, Rothy’s, True Value, H&M, UNTUCKit, Zulily and more at NRF NXT, July 22-24 in Las Vegas. Register now.

Zulily leverages machine learning to drive personalization. How do non-engineers use machine learning in their work?

My mission is to retain, engage and acquire shoppers by sending the right message at the right time through the right channel. That work isn’t possible without machine learning.

Data science is a centralized team at Zulily that supports everything from personalizing the experience for shoppers as they scroll through their app or receive emails to providing real-time data to our buyers and vendor partners to inform future sales. Machine learning is also key to acquisition efforts, as our technology teams build tools that allow us to implement advertising at scale. Machine learning is even being implemented on the merchandising team as they explore ways to work with vendors to optimize assortments, product and inventory.

The industry at large is only at the beginning of what machine learning can do to improve the customer experience, and I’m excited to work with our team to continue to drive innovation. Any emerging technology is simply an accelerant to the creativity and resourcefulness of a team. Without a foundation of a team driven to succeed with partners, no amount of technology can help a business grow.

Any emerging technology is simply an accelerant to the creativity and resourcefulness of a team.

Brian Doherty, Zulily

What are some tips for getting non-engineers the data, access and attitude they need to make smart data-driven decisions?

The most important attitude to instill in a non-technical team is an expectation that every project will be approached with a “test and grow” attitude. Every campaign is an opportunity to learn, improve and refine the process. This iterative approach is something our entire team embraces, whether they’re an engineer or a business development specialist.

Our teams are aligned to optimize anything customer-facing to shine on mobile, which is a key channel for us — as of the first quarter of 2019, 74 percent of all Zulily orders come from a mobile device.

No matter the department at Zulily, we strive to serve our customer. By understanding our ultimate goal, working backward and filling in details, ensuring we put a human touch on all campaigns and empowering all team members to pull from the same data pool, individuals can and do make a direct and daily impact.

Learn more and explore more retail case studies from brands like Lilly Pulitzer, DSW, Rothy’s, True Value, H&M, UNTUCKit and more at NRF NXT, to be held July 22-24 in Las Vegas. Register now.

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