Jason Wells on Data in the Time of Covid-19

Importance of data

For a conversation on the importance of data-driven communication strategies, NZ Marketing wanted to profile Dr Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s reigning King of Covid-19 data. But instead opted for King of concepts at DOT Loves Data, Jason Wells, who shares his industry insight on the importance of data.

Throughout 2020, Kiwis became accustomed to Dr. Ashley Bloomfield’s daily data dump. His regular 1pm slot has provided us with the latest information and statistics on the Covid-19 pandemic; from new cases and testing rates to clusters hardest hit. News organisations were quick to infographic this data for easy consumption as our general conversation turned to quoting Bloomfield’s neatly packaged data.

But, what does all this data mean? How do we interpret it and make it meaningful in our lives? Jason Wells, CEO and founder of DOT Loves Data, says it’s all good and well having heaps of data, but it needs to be easily understood, relevant and up to date. Data needs to be digestible. This is what Wells does well at the helm of DOT. He takes data and helps translate it into stories. And in turn uses data to assess how these stories perform. Much like Bloomfield did for the New Zealand Covid-19 narrative. 

This edition of Horse’s Mouth we hear all about data direct from Jason Wells.

Jason Wells, CEO and Founder of DOT Loves Data

On Data

Having spent much of his professional career telling stories on behalf of ad agency Y&R, Wells helped found DOT in 2015 as a means to bring data and the insights it brings to the fore. “By stripping out the data that doesn’t really matter we’re left with some rich stuff. Then we present it well, so that even the ex-‘ideas directors’ can understand,” Wells told NZ Marketing.

Through its DotDotDash collection of interactive and dynamic dashboards the creative shop operating out of Wellington has provided tailored, up-to-date data on how communities across New Zealand are performing and changing over time. Dashboards targeted specifically at brands looking to dive deeper awareness and engagement. “We are currently doing work with Women’s Refuge where DOT was tasked with understanding propensity for giving. Our data-led insight helped us better interpret how and when people should be approached, and this in turn helped shape our creative messaging. We’re not bombarding them, and it’s achieving some outstanding fundraising results,” Wells explains.

When it comes to brands becoming more data-savvy, Wells says that it’s been quite a slow process, although some organisations are better than others of course. “Often the data used is incomplete, not updated regularly and only tells part of the story. I think plenty of marketers confuse it with (only) retargeting, or optimisation for example. In reality we see data helping form insights, helping to understand target markets, using it to understand how communities are changing. Pulling it out of the super micro only is the key,” he explains. 

Many agencies talk a good game about the importance of being data-driven, but not many nail it when it comes to having data be at the forefront of even most decisions. Wells says that DOT isn’t a company that dabbles in data. That’s all they are. “We’re inside organisations answering some of their hardest questions. That makes us valuable to them. EightyOne has become data literate through osmosis and working alongside DOT’s team of data scientists and data engineers. The secret sauce is in the people who bridge the gap between the creative world and the data world. And it’s exciting. What we’re able to understand from DOT is amazing at a daily level. As exciting as anything from my pure advertising days,” he says.

On the difference between data-led and data-driven

Data-driven is often used to describe the process of allowing data to be the centre of your decision making. This, however, is not to be confused by the process of being data-led. Companies that are data-led appear to understand the limitations of data better, knowing that it should not drive all decision making but rather an informer alongside other elements of decision making. Such as balancing creative insight with hard data. A data-led approach adds more thinking to the equation and opens different ways to use it. 

Wells says that he doesn’t get too caught up on what stuff is called and prefers to just get on with it. “Data-driven or data-led? Doesn’t really matter as long as data is used to drive the decision taken and measure the outcome of that decision,” he says.

On data and the creative process

Wearing the cap of resident storyteller at sister agency EightyOne, partner Wells is a strong believer that creative strategy must be data-led. “EightyOne lives by the mantra of Starting with good data, adding smart creative and changing the world. That makes us data-led, I guess. We take the insights we can and introduce third-party data to inform what we do next.

“I think that EightyOne, by being so close and intertwined with DOT, means that they can’t get away from data. It gets rammed down their throat every day. Having the people who span them both is the key. A little like how NASA and Hollywood need each other. One for the science, and one for the ideas.” 

On data and the latest tech trends

Mobile tracking technologies are being used by the likes of Google and Facebook,

Programmatic is taking off in terms of OOH in New Zealand and predictive-analytical tools are also well used in data driven marketing. Wells says that some of the latest developments in technology that brands need to look out for remain in those one-stop-shop tools.

“We see the most value when we combine data sets. For example, mobile + deprivation + transactional data yields value and insight. It helps us predict likely outcomes and focus our messaging. We’ve got our own sentiment measurement tool as well. It means we’re not reliant on less inferior tools,” he says.

On data in the time of Covid-19

In line with its dashboard offering and responding to the need for accurate data during the Lockdown, DOT launched its Covid-19 Response Dashboard. It’s powered by data from Ministry of Health, Stats NZ, and proprietary sources, and brings together information about NZ communities to help us unite against Covid-19. “We have access to a number of unique data sets including deprivation, health, transactional, financial and economic activity. In these times the need to have your data easily understood, relevant and up to date is crucial. That’s right at the heart of what DOT does. The Covid-19 dashboard is a great example of this,” explains Wells.

“It’s all important stuff. We’re using consumer payments data to ascertain the immediate and ongoing financial impacts across the country and industry sectors. We’re also using our Dynamic Deprivation Index (DDI) to benchmark wellbeing/deprivation pre- and post-Covid-19 across all of New Zealand. The DDI tracks 34 variables offers a continuous time series of economic wellbeing/deprivation measurement.

On staying ahead of the curve

When it comes to brands using data driven insights to differentiate themselves in the current market, for Wells, it’s all about starting again. “The old business models may not work now. So be nimble, proactive and show that you care. Be prepared to look different when you come out of this thing. And use data to make better informed decisions.

This article was originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of NZ Marketing. You can subscribe to the magazine, here.

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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