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Entrepreneurs Panel

Jennie Johnson
Julie Meyer
Charlie Mullins
Brian Hay
Steve Purdham
Tony Caldeira
Richard O'Sullivan
David Pollock
Debbie Pierce
Jeremy Roberts
Michael Oliver
Laura Tenison

Approaching marketing as a scientist

Ian Cowley is the founder of, the UK's largest dedicated printer cartridge company. Using a scientific approach to marketing, Ian and his marketing director Sean Blanks have created a Sunday Times Fast Track 100 e-retailer that manages 30,000 orders a month; ranks above all its competitors on independent shopper surveys on sites including Google, Pricegrabber and Shopzilla; and is the UK's fastest growing printer supplies retailer in terms of sales.

Marketeers for internet companies have never had it so good. For the first time ever information is readily accessible; and what’s more, there’s tonnes of it. The beauty is we can constantly test and experiment and get almost instant feedback. Through tactics like analysing the channels that drive traffic or measuring margins on projects, we can quickly make an informed decision on what works and what doesn't in every project or service we implement.

Painlessly, a campaign can evolve very quickly, with elements tweaked or optimised in response to the figures. Sometimes it's like hitting a seam and you find a mine of opportunities from just one data-based lead. For this reason, campaigns become relatively low risk as the testing process is quick and you can cut your losses. In vast contrast to above the line, where you're at the mercy of expensive print runs, time-consuming design briefs and often flawed focus groups.

What this means is science now has real relevance to a discipline traditionally regarded as an art. It's all about maths, the numbers and the best variable combination. As is the discipline of a scientist: gone are the stereotypical liquid lunches; and in are days of constant trialling and testing.

The passion remains, though. Yes, success is cut and dry: either the figures are good or they're not and it all comes down to the bottom line. However, creativity is still a pre-requisite for generating the initial campaign and it's here where gut instinct remains. Plus there will always be problems to solve. As a service provider, your customers will be a constant source of issues, which in turn will drive inspiration.

That said, we purposefully recruit people from a science background as marketeers. We share the belief of Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, who believes the future belongs to the companies and people that turn data into products. In order to move faster and keep ahead of our competitors we need a marketing team of people who can put data to use.

Granted, it's hard to recruit these people. Primarily because the people we need don't know this job exists as a career for their skills. But that's exactly why we employed our marketing director Sean Blanks, ex-British Aerospace, and it's for this reason we're now a business with a £20m turnover.

To be a market-leader - whatever your business - we recommend that you obsess over data. We often find serial entrepreneurs struggle with this single-minded approach: their brain is already racing to the next project. However, by concentrating on just one or two things at a time, you can test a system to finality.

The tools needed to test are as applicable to an online retailer as a sandwich shop. Comparing competitor prices, measuring the success of one dish over another, are all important to getting ahead. As is working out your short-term goals (what are your quick wins?), your medium-term targets (implementing the quick wins), and your long-term aim (where do you want your business to be?).

We also suggest you look at who is doing well. What could you learn from them and their approach? Finally, keep it in-house. Knowing what your customers respond best to and learning how to influence that choice is imperative to making your company a success.

Ultimately, we're encouraging a new breed of marketing men and women. All cadets of the Data Army. But this is because all business owners have access to the same sets of data: the only thing that sets us apart is who can get the most out of it.

Top five tips to start marketing as a scientist:

- Set up analytics. Google Analytics is a very simple tool to initially install and continuously audit the results.

- Test something big. Take a calculated risk and be confident. For example, we have just invested heavily in new software. If successful, though, it will allow us to grow much faster and the reality is if you don't take critical mass, you lose to your competition.

- Always question your data. Just because it's in black and white, it doesn't mean it's right.

- Use your logic. Causation doesn't always equal correlation.

- Approach testing with a thorough end-to-end approach. See it through.

- Get the right staff.

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