In tune with the changing world of online retail

When not deploying the latest web analytics tools at MandMDirect.com, Caroline Knox can be found playing the piano. As David Reed finds out, there may not be that much difference between the skills needed to do both.

Music and mathematics have a strange affinity with each other, even though they are taught in the separate worlds of art and science. Caroline Knox, head of marketing services at MandMDirect.com, could well be proof of that. At university she learned the skills of conducting and recording music. At work, she is responsible for campaign delivery and analysis, data cleansing, segmentation, customer insight and competitor monitoring, web analytics, upgrading the marketing database, setting targets and reporting to the board.

Quite a list of science-oriented tasks for an arts graduate, but as she says about her course, “mental agility, creativity and embracing new technology were actively encouraged.”

MandMDirect.com is migrating its analysis and selection tools to a new version of SmartFocus. The goal is to support marketing and the business with “the next set of customer experience-enhancing initiatives,” she says. In fact, the company has just jointly won a Retail Week technology award for its work with customer experience management solutions vendor Tealeaf.

All of this is combined with a project to “get the data squeaky clean ready for our busiest trading period from Autumn onwards,” notes Knox. Nothing like a deadline to bring out the best in people, but then that is a major part of her job’s appeal.

“Despite a growing team who are delivering to a high standard, we constantly juggle priorities to meet deadlines. We have to be quite creative in delivering solutions, but this is the most satisfying part of the job,” she says.

If anybody does get the thin end of the deal, it tends to be suppliers, she admits. “I’m quite demanding, requiring quotes and delivery of data in a very short time frame according to our changing needs,” says Knox. “I’m aware how hard I push my suppliers on price. I think those suppliers that offer a range of services, or can offer a particular product consistently well across several countries, with joined up account management, will continue to do well.”

Driving the best out of internal and external resources reflects the entrepreneurial nature of MandMDirect.com, which started life as a mail order business. Every penny invested gets measured directly against results and the company has ambitious growth plans, especially in Europe.

This also means senior-level buy-in to data as a key resource. “The CEO Steve Robinson and marketing director Neil Sansom - in fact the whole board - have an insatiable demand for data and analysis to ensure we’re on track,” says Knox. Her success is measured against customer growth and orders, together with the successful delivery of marketing campaigns, actionable analysis and customer insight.

That is only to be expected from a company she joined six years ago when it already had big ambitions. Says Knox/ “I’ve seen the company grow and innovate beyond recognition with marketing and technological initiatives implemented almost on a weekly basis. MandMDirect.com is now a leading international online sports and fashion discount retailer, but still maintains the ’can-do’ attitude of its founders. It’s been an exciting journey!”

Her career in data-driven marketing started at Johnsons News Group in Bath, devising point-of-sale material for newsagents, agreeing magazine launch strategies and setting up the management information system. Completing her marketing diploma while there, Knox started to apply the statistical and research methodologies she had learned to campaign analysis and providing insight to the publishers.

After a move to London and a year spent travelling before starting a family, Knox returned with a job at mail order business Kays. It was here that a cornerstone of her current work was laid. “During this time I developed a real understanding of the integrity and value of data, learnt a range of data analysis tools and completed various courses on data protection, analysis and management,” she says.

Much as musicians tend to be able to pick up a number of instruments and play them well, she has been able to develop skills around the core of analysis, segmentation, data quality and planning.

As well as indoor and open water swimming, Knox is keen to travel and would match her employer’s European ambitions with family journeys of her own. But she notes: “For now, I’m content to play the piano with a nice glass of red wine to relax.”

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