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How agencies should think about AI and analytics (featuring Katie Robbert)

Burying buzzwords and demystifying data to help agencies get results for their clients and themselves
Katie Robbert

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Katie Robbert never planned to be an expert in AI and analytics, but she says she likes “numbers to add up” even though she considers herself bad at math. As a self-professed planner, Katie found herself telling stories with data, first for a pharmaceutical company and later for a PR agency.

Today, Katie is the co-founder and CEO of Trust Insights, a consultancy dedicated to working with clients to uncover valuable nuggets in the data that often piles up unused in many businesses.

Chip talks with Katie about how agencies can leverage data on their own behalf, as well as for their clients.

What You Will Learn

  • How to leverage KPI mapping for better results
  • The role of dashboards in building and sticking to a plan
  • The importance of starting with real business objectives before digging into technology
  • Practical applications of AI for marketers using readily available tools
  • The significance of planning and how to integrate data and analytics into the process


About Katie Robbert

Katie Robbert is an authority on compliance, governance, change management, agile methodologies, and dealing with high-stakes, “no mistakes” data. As CEO of Trust Insights, she oversees the growth of the company, manages operations and product commercialization, and sets overall strategy. Her expertise includes strategic planning, marketing operations management, organizational behavior and market research and analysis.


This is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

CHIP: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Chats with Chip Podcast. I am your host, Chip Griffin. And my guest today is Katie Robbert. She is the CEO of Trust Insights. Welcome to the show, Katie.

KATIE: Thank you for having me, Chip.

CHIP: It is great to have you here. We’re going to have a very analytical conversation today. And hopefully the intelligence will be real and not artificial.

KATIE: I will do my best to, you know, unplug from the motherboard and bring it to human.

CHIP: Excellent. Well, why don’t you share? for the for the listeners who didn’t quite get what I was just saying there. Why don’t you share a little bit about what trust insights is?

KATIE: Yeah, absolutely. So trust insights. You know, we brand ourselves as a data science consultancy for marketers. What that means to us is that we use a lot of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques in order to really dig into the piles of data that a lot of people are sitting on and help them make sense of it. Create some automated processes so that the marketers and the customers can really focus on the things that are more important building those relationships, that deeper insights and actions and will sort of take care of their dirty work of pulling all the data together and making sense of it for them.

CHIP: And so how did you get involved with this is our numbers and analytics, the kind of thing that you’ve just always had a passion for? Or what what brought you to this place?

KATIE: Um, you know, that’s a really good question. And I don’t have a great answer for it. Everything is I wouldn’t say everything’s been, you know, random, but I’ve always been a planner. I like the numbers to add up. But ironically, I’m really bad at math. And so I spent about 10 years in regulated industries, as a product marketing manager, and working with epidemiology teams, and really learning about data analysis on the clinical trial side and on the pharmaceutical side, and I was always really fascinated by the story that you could tell when you had the right data. And so I think that really sort of spark that, okay, if I have the data, I can tell the story and understand what happened. And I’ve always been fascinated by human behavior. So really, again, sort of having that data to understand why people make the decisions that they do what led to the, to the decisions. And so once I left the regulated industry, I moved on to PR, of all things, so sort of a real, you know, one at from what I was doing, so I ran a marketing team for a couple of years and you know, really got deeper into the whole digital marketing side of it. And then my co founder and I, Chris pen decided to start Trusted Sites and really sort of go all in with data science and marketing.

CHIP: And so it’s interesting that you went from looking at data in an environment where you’re an industry where it is life and death to one where people just sometimes act like it’s like,

KATIE: that is a really great point. Yeah, I, you know, I appreciate and respect, you know, the healthcare industry, but it’s sort of The two things for me was one, it in some ways moves too slow. And I want to see things in a little bit more of an instantaneous way. But you’re absolutely right. That whole life and death piece of it is no joke. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t comfortable. But after a while, there’s a reason why there’s so much burnout and turnover in that particular space.

CHIP: Right. When and speaking of burnout and turnover, the agency world Yeah, which is obviously, many of the listeners of this podcast are agency owners, agency executives, and you know that they are often suffering from burnout, and particularly these days where there’s all of this data available. There. Everybody’s being told you need to do data driven PR, data driven marketing. So if you’re sitting as an agency owner or an agency leader, how should you be thinking about analytics today? How should you be thinking about leveraging machine learning AI, etc, to make you more effective, maybe, maybe ease that burnout a little bit?

KATIE: Well, you know, I think that, you know, the industry that I don’t know data industry as a whole Sort of data went through this phase where the term big data was thrown around a lot. And people got it in their heads that they had to collect every single possible data point in order to have all of the answers. And I would surprisingly disagree with that. I don’t think that that’s true. I think that you can streamline the data that you’re collecting based on what’s most important to you. You know, do you care if someone has, you know, visited your site 10 times or do you care if they’ve made a purchase? You know, obviously, it’s a very simple example. And you may care about both data points. But if you start with, we call it a KPI mapping, exercise, adjusted insights, but basically understanding your business goals, overall, then the KPIs that feed up into those that sort of measure those milestones and then the metrics that feed the KPIs. Having that plan will help you streamline the amount of data that you’re collecting. And then you have you know, measurable plant, you can put together a dashboard, you know, or report with just those metrics and understand the health of your team and your organization at any given time.

CHIP: Well, I think that’s a great point that you start with the business purpose, the business objective before you start thinking about the data you’re going to collect and what you’re going to do to the data because I think a lot of people flip that around. And I think that’s what leads to a lot of the stress a lot of the time wasting and all that sort of thing where it’s there, they’re putting the the order in the wrong place.

KATIE: Well, you know, it’s, so a really good example. So social media is obviously something that’s very top of mind for a lot of marketers for a lot of companies. Social media is the place we are found out, you know, generates brand awareness. Sometimes it helps you convert, but for us, you know, social media, I don’t look at things like the number of likes on a post or the number of times something was necessarily shared, because those metrics don’t help me Understand what happened, or, you know, if we sold more things, and that’s just for me personally, you know, so I don’t know, I don’t worry about collecting that information. And so that’s one less thing that I need to do now, are a system set up to collect that information. Yes. But I don’t spend my time pulling that information and then examining it because it’s not relevant to the goals that we have for our business.

CHIP: Well, you know, one of the things that that you did recently was you gave a talk at inbound, the conference should talking about the five practical applications of AI for inbound marketers. And I think a lot of the things that that you talked about, there are things that are relevant to agencies in the way that they’re doing their work, whether they are on the PR or the marketing side. And, obviously, you know, you’re not able to go through your whole presentation. It was a very long, very good one. Not very long, but it was longer longer than this episode of the podcast is. Fair enough. It was about what 35 minutes or

CHIP: yeah, and So, so I’m not going to ask you to re give the presentation, but maybe if you could share, you know, a few of the highlights out of that, because I think that would be useful in them. You know, perhaps we can share a link to some more information about that for the listeners.

KATIE: Yeah, absolutely. So the the gist of the presentation was that we have what we call the five use the five use cases of artificial intelligence. And what I wanted to do with that particular presentation was really sort of put it into context, in terms of content marketing, because that’s something that most companies have in terms of their skill sets. And there, it’s on their plan of things to do creating blogs, creating podcasts, whatever the thing is. And so, you know, we tell people the first use case is your digital customer journey. And so really understanding the order of operations of your digital channels, so that you know which channels help you with awareness and which channels help you with engaging And conversions and purchasing, because you’re going to have different messaging and different actions on those channels. So if email is a digital channels that helps you convert, you’re not going to start sending out a bunch of emails that introduces everybody to who you are. That’s for, you know, your social channels. So it’s really getting you to understand the way in which she used the different digital channels that you have at your disposal. The next use case, is what we call the most valuable pages. So really understanding the content on your site, the blogs, the landing pages, that are actually converting, and at what rate and sort of in which order because you can have people taking a bunch of steps in order to do some sense. So this sort of in some ways at a very high level, it aggregates that information and gives you a very actionable plan. And then you know, we move on into techniques such as predictive analytics so that you understand the timing of when to create and promote certain pieces of content. influencer analysis, network mapping so that you have, you know who to tap into to promote your content. So you’re not just going after influencers that are the loudest, but influencers that actually provide the most value to your company. And so it’s really trying to help agency owners and marketers understand that artificial intelligence doesn’t have to be this big black box. daunting thing. There are simple ways to start actually, one of the pro tips that I gave during that talk was that if you’re using Google Analytics, you’re already using artificial intelligence because there’s artificial intelligence built into the little insights button that you can find in the top right hand corner of the Google Analytics interface on a desktop. And it will start to get smarter, the more questions that you ask it, and that’s really an easy way to introduce artificial intelligence into your team.

CHIP: But that’s a great suggestion and that’s something that’s accessible to just about. any agency, it doesn’t require that, that deep knowledge and understanding what Markov chain analysis is and all of the things that you know, that you guys do on a day to day basis and it but if I’m an agency, and I, you know, I do want to try to apply this, I mean, is this something that I should be learning to do on my own? Should I be partnering with someone like trust insights? Should I be bringing that talent in? I mean, how do you practically speaking, how do you actually bring this since I would guess most agency owners don’t inherently have this knowledge.

KATIE: So it depends. And so it depends on the time that you have the money that you have to invest and the skill sets that you already have on your team. And so, you know, if you have the time and the money, then I would say invest in learning how to build your own. If you have the money and the skill sets. Again, you can think about looking at how to build your own artificial intelligence within your practice, but if you’re short on a lot of those things, and you don’t Already have someone on your team who has an at least an interest in learning how to do this, then it’s probably a good idea to, you know, partner with a company like trust insights, to at least sort of get an understanding of the landscape and the solutions that might be best for you at that time. I think the one of the challenges right now with artificial intelligence is it’s a bit of a buzzword. And a lot of the software platforms are touting that they have artificial intelligence built in, and agency owners. You know, it’s overwhelming, you don’t know what questions to ask, you don’t know if it really is artificial intelligence or not, or what it should look like or what it should do. And so even just consulting and talking with a company like ours, we can insult we can really just sort of set you straight and give you the truth.

CHIP: Yeah, I think that’s a great point too, because there are a lot of firms out there a lot of vendors in particular who are pitching that they have some sort of, you know, special AI secret sauce that allows them to To do these cool things, and some of them are indeed leveraging technology quite well to do interesting things, but some of them, you know, it may be actually pretty basic technology and calling it AI is is a stretch. But more importantly, I think the point that you made early on and again, just recently here was that you really need to understand what it is that you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re getting from those firms.

KATIE: Yeah, that’s the place that we always suggest that people start is what’s the question that you’re trying to answer? What is the problem that you’re trying to solve? Are the all of the artificial intelligence and machine learning in the world does not allow you to skip over the planning process. And I think that that’s the disappointing thing to a lot of people because for a lot of people, requirements and planning is really boring. I personally happen to love it because it gives me sort of that map of what we’re going to do and the predictable outcomes but you know, just purchasing a piece of software because it says it has AI plugging it in and hoping for the best is never going to work for you. You might get something but you’re not going to get everything that you want. I would say you always need to start with some semblance of a business case, you know, why do we need this thing? What? What is it going to do for us that we can’t already do for ourselves? And and sometimes, in some cases, artificial intelligence might not be the right solution for you? And that’s okay.

CHIP: And how do you find that, that clients are perceiving this? And how are they using it? Because as an agency, obviously, we’re nothing without our clients. And so, you know, we can go and talk to them about the need to do this kind of analysis and to leverage data and tools. But are you finding generally in the marketplace? I mean, obviously, because it’s what you guys do, presumably clients who are talking to you actually do care about it, but you know, are they are they really taking to heart the lessons that that you’re teaching them about? That you’re learning from their data, the stories that you’re telling, are they applying it and changing their behavior? Talk a little bit about that, if you would, because I think that’s, to me, that’s always been one of the challenges when you talk about data driven marketing is that a lot of folks pay it lip service, but then You know, they, they still just go with their gut, instead of looking at the data,

KATIE: I find a lot that, you know, depending on the client, they may not necessarily be interested in how we got to the outcome whether we, you know, hand computed something manually or we used, we were powered by code and machine learning, they really care that we got to the actionable insights that they can do something with. And so I think that that’s also something that agency owners, as they’re talking with their clients might consider is, is your client base, even really interested in how you got there in the methodology? You know, and we have sort of like a 5050 split, I think that people are, you know, dazzled and impressed when we start talking about the methodology, but it can also be really dense and sort of go over people’s head, sometimes it goes over my head. And it’s, it’s, it’s what they care about more is how quickly can you get from A to B, and what’s the accuracy in which you’re going Do that, is it repeatable? Is it scalable? Is it something that we can continue to ask you, our agency to do for us? Is it something that we can learn to do ourselves? So it’s I think it’s less about how we’re doing it and more about the value that it provides. Because you can compute, you know, thousands of lines of data faster than with using machine learning that you can by hand.

CHIP: And I would be remiss, since you’re an agency owner, yourself, if I didn’t ask how are you applying analytics to your own business? How are you using it to improve trust insights?

KATIE: in every possible way, it’s actually So right now, as we’re recording this, we’re starting the end of the year, the first quarter of the end of the year, q4. And I have spent the past couple of days really digging into all of my data. So I collect my metrics for my agency on a monthly basis. And then once a quarter, I run a lot of my larger reports. And these are the Ai driven reports our digital customer journey, our most valuable pages, so that I can start to see the change over time. And if we apply the changes that we said we were going through based on the data, you know, and we wouldn’t be able to do that, we wouldn’t be able to keep our agency as small as we do. Without using artificial intelligence. We’ve automated a lot of our more repetitive processes, our content curation is a really good example of that. And so we have our standard social media channels that we manage, and we push out a lot of relevant third party content to our audience, so that they can read what we’re reading, and they can follow along with the things that we follow along with. But we actually use artificial intelligence to curate that content week over week, we’ve built a script that pulls from our sequel database, to say we want the content from these sources, that is that are the top shared and the top clicked and the top rated and that’s the content that will be sharing with our audience specifically. And so by automating that process, we’ve saved ourselves a few hours, every single week, because basically, we just run the query and then upload it into our social sharing tool. And in about five minutes, we have content for the whole week.

CHIP: Have there been any particularly surprising insights you’ve pulled from your own data, obviously, without giving out a lot of proprietary information, but, you know, are there lessons that you’ve learned either maybe something that was working a lot better than you thought it was going to, or something that maybe you know, needed an adjustment that that might be a valuable lesson to share with other owners. Of course,

KATIE: the way in which we use email has evolved over time. So when we started running our own digital customer journey, on a regular basis, what we what we started to see was that our email newsletter is actually towards the end of the journey and helps people make a decision. Convert, whereas we were using the email as a sort of a welcome asset of here’s who we are, here’s what we do. So we started to change the language in those email newsletters, not around, here’s who we are. But more around, hey, we have this offer for you. And we started to see conversions from email continue to go up. As we started to make those messaging changes, and so we were able to really adjust the strategy with how we used email. And then we were also able to see the types of content that were converting for us. And so we started to change the types of content that we were pushing out on a regular basis. And surprisingly, people really enjoy our original research versus more of our How to content. So we’ve really been focused on that this past couple of quarters.

CHIP: Right. And I think that is that is a really interesting insight because I think most people would typically think of email as being much closer to the top of the funnel than the the end of it. So you know You think you all are unusual in that aspect? Or do you think that that’s something that that applies more broadly that other people should be thinking about as well?

KATIE: You know, I think it really depends on your customer base. And I think it depends on the types of people that you have subscribing to your newsletter, and how you as a company are asking people to subscribe to it. Is it one of the first things that happens? Is it you know, do people find out about your newsletter, you know, directly in your site? Do they find out about it through social media, and I think all of that is a factor in where email is going to fall. In your particular customer journey. I’ve never seen two customer journeys be exactly the same. You know, you’re always going to have similar similarities between industries. But one of the things that we do with our AI driven customer journey is we actually drill it down to the source and the medium versus just the channel. And so we can see which assets in particular so we have about three or four different emails, email newsletters, so we have our trust inside We have Chris pens personal email newsletter, we have john and Chris’s marketing over coffee, email newsletter, and all of those emails behave differently in the journey. So it really depends on which email newsletter and if we were still looking at that high level, just email as a channel, we wouldn’t know where to adjust the messaging.

CHIP: Now, that’s a great point. And I think, you know, one of the The other thing that’s not necessarily completely unique about you guys, but you, you all do a very good job of putting out a lot of educational content, in your emails on your website on the, you know, the podcast, you know, all these different vehicles that you have, you spend a lot of time educating people and so that probably has a significant impact on the journey as well.

KATIE: Yeah, I think that, you know, the education piece comes a lot from the speaking. And so, Chris and I do our fair amount of what we call sort of the road show, and that I think, is where a lot of that awareness comes from. And because it’s an offline source, it’s a little bit hard harder to track. But we found ways to track back. So you mentioned sort of you mentioned the inbound presentation. We always make sure that those slides and those audio files are available for people immediately. And we always track when someone downloads that talk. So we know where that awareness is coming from and how that prospect got into the database. And so that factors that starts to factor into the journey as well. Hmm.

CHIP: Well, you know, for someone who’s interested in in learning more, they can certainly tap into you all as a resource. Could you share with people where they should go online to find out more about trust insights and to explore some of the resources that you all have available?

KATIE: Yep. If you want to find out more about trust insights, you can go to trust insights.ai. If you want to join our free slack community that’s trusted insights.ai slash analytics for marketers. Those are probably the two best places to start. You can follow us on the various social media channels at trust insights. And if you’re looking for me In particular, I am at Katie row bear just about everywhere.

CHIP: Excellent. And that’s real bear with two B’s. So that’s great. Well, we’ll include all of those links in the show notes. So no need to hop off the treadmill and make a quick note or pull your car over to the side of the road. Or worse yet, right while driving, do not do that. Don’t do that people. I know people who do that it’s a bad idea. So we’ll include those all there. And I would particularly encourage people to join the slack community, there’s always good conversation going on. You all are often share data in there that you either haven’t yet released publicly or may not even be releasing publicly. So it’s a it’s a fantastic way to learn. So great service you guys have with that?

KATIE: Well, thank you. Yeah, we enjoy it. We really felt strongly about building up that community of like minded individuals, and creating in some way sort of that safe place for people to really ask those questions that they might feel embarrassed to ask but we welcome at all times about how to get started in data science or what they can do with their analytics or, you know, I push this button it didn’t do what I thought it was going to do. So Can anybody help me? And what we’re really finding to be successful is that people are crowdsourcing their responses but from a trusted community.

CHIP: Great. Well, Katie, I really appreciate you taking the time to spend with me in the audience today talking about analytics and AI and all sorts of other topics. It’s very much appreciated. I think there’s a lot of actionable ideas here for folks to take away and hopefully they’ll have a chance to join the slack community and learn more about trust insights as well. So again, I appreciate it.

KATIE: Thank you so much for having me, Chip.

CHIP: Again, my guest today has been Katie, Robbert, CEO of Trust Insights.

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