How Shell has bridged the gap between brand marketing and data

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 23 May 2017

The transition from brand marketer to global head of CRM at Shell Retail has taught Sherine Yap the value of commerciality, storytelling and being pragmatic.

shellSherine Yap describes herself as a new breed of marketer who is bringing the customer centricity and commerciality of her brand marketing roots into the world of data.

Starting out on agency side in Australia and Malaysia before joining British luxury car company Lotus as global brand manager, Yap held a string of global roles in marketing promotions, trade and brand marketing at Shell before becoming global head of CRM in January 2015.

“Two years ago I started as the CRM manager in Shell and I have to say the organisation took a real chance on me. I think I’m probably a new breed of marketer,” Yap explained during her session at the DataIQ Summit 2017 today (24 May).

“My experience was very firmly in broad marketing and consumer-centric experiences. I knew the above the line area really well and then I was recruited into this role where I had to really quickly learn the language of data and technology.”

Yap believes the fact that she does not have data “coursing through her veins” was the very reason Shell brought her into the role, counting on her ability to offer a very different perspective.

“What I bring into the role is commerciality. I understand the customer and I understand the commercial aspects, and my big tip if you want to get your messages up to the C-Suite is you need to speak the language of finance and business,” she explained.

“I don’t buy that ‘oh, I’m the data guy. I don’t care about that kind of stuff’. Fine you don’t, but you’re not going to get your messages through.”

Selling the value of data

Since her appointment two years ago Yap has challenged herself and the data teams to move closer together in order to extract the “nuggets of information” which tell stories that will connect the data to both the customer and the commercial results. She is particularly focused on finding the “so what?” behind the numbers that makes the insight actionable.

“I use the phrase storytelling a lot, because I believe in order to get traction with the numbers you must be able to tell a story,” she explained.

“I’ve been able to take that information, package it up and then share it with the wider teams, because I see a really big disconnect between the main marketing teams and a lot of our data teams. TV commercials, radio, digital, YouTube formats – they’re really sexy and everybody understands that. But you start talking about data and unless you can translate it, you see eyes start to glaze over.”

You are going to get more marketers who are comfortable with data, who are going to be that bridge between the data side and more traditional marketing.

Sherine Yap, Shell

Yap explained how the actionable data insights generated by her team are driving conversations around marketing spend and strategy. The data, for example, shows that a customer that engages with Shell’s loyalty programme is worth 10 times more to the company than a non-loyalty customer.

“For all the marketing strategies that we have around attracting new customers, actually if you want to spend your money wisely we need to be driving more satisfaction and more value out of existing customers by deepening engagements. It’s not an opinion, I’ve got the data to back me up,” she said.

Yap also described the “positive tension” that comes from her commitment to make the data teams work in a pragmatic manner. So, while the global head of CRM wants her teams to do their best work, there is no point spending three months creating a beautiful document when the business opportunity has been and gone.

“It’s all about actionable insights that I can do something to inspire some change, because if not it becomes quite theoretical and academic.

“It’s been a massive culture shock for me. The first time I worked with the data team I was like, ‘so when are you going to get me some information?’ and they were like, ‘I don’t know until we look at it and it will take as long as it takes’. And I’m like ‘no, you’ve got two days’.”

Making data mandatory

Yap has seized the opportunity to make everyone in the business understand the possibilities data offers, which is why Shell has implemented a mandatory data-driven communications training programme for all marketers.

The programme explains about first, second and third party data, and how to combine data to impact on the customer experience. It is all part of the company’s aim to democratise data and equip its marketers to work in the ever-changing digital world.

“You are going to get more marketers who are comfortable with data, who are going to be that bridge between the data side and more traditional marketing, and I think that’s a translation part,” Yap added.

“Being able to speak the language here [in brand marketing] and then being able to understand data and translate it will create a closer connection between the two.”