Data scientists: why you need them and how to find them

Citizen data scientists could plug a gap in your marketing analytics. Here’s how to find one

Citizen data scientists can plug the gap in data knowledge within your brand’s marketing team. Here’s how they can and, crucially, how to find them.

  • Data science talent exists throughout your organisation
  • AI and DIY data analytics tools help citizen data scientists answer marketing problems
  • Brands must have a results-driven culture to attract and retain these gifted data amateurs

Apparently almost anyone can become a data scientist these days, which is good news for CMOs and marketing directors who are tearing their hair out trying to recruit experts who can make sense of the huge quantity of data their brands are collecting 24 hours a day.

In fact, for marketers looking to boost campaign effectiveness and find new ways to engage their target audience, the data science talent they crave could be right under their noses.

It exists in the form of citizen data scientists, who have risen to prominence over the past couple of years.

Their depth of knowledge is not as cavernous as someone with a career background in computer science, but they enjoy creating data models and providing marketers with valuable insights that can solve business and marketing problems.

These are curious people, such as business analysts fluent in SQL, whose day job (according to Gartner’s definition) is not strictly working with statistics and analytics. Yet they love to leverage predictive or prescriptive analytics using various adtech, martech and business information tools.

Citizen data scientists tend to be inquisitive and innovative, and often work alongside their specialist colleagues, who will prepare the data for them. These keen amateurs will then use AI and DIY data analytics services, for example the DataRobot AI/machine learning platform, to discover ways to grow sales, acquire consumers and boost customer loyalty.

This new breed of data expert has arrived at the right time, because IBM predicts that demand for data scientists will rise by 28% by 2020.

Brands are waiting impatiently for vacancies to be filled because, despite the shortage, they still need validation that their decisions around campaigns and product development will achieve the return on investment they crave, and give them a competitive advantage.

Citizen data scientists are particularly popular within retail, financial services and IT brands. Chief marketing officer at TSB Bank, Pete Markey, has used them before, including in his previous role as brand and communications and marketing officer at insurer Aviva.

“Brands want to be on the front foot nowadays and learn faster, and marketing technology enables different people to bring data to life in a visible way,” he says.

Markey cites tools such as Adobe Target as the kind of technology citizen data scientists are using. They allow brands to test ideas and integrate analytics. Reports are then created that can help marketers decide which campaign offers and consumer experiences would be the most successful.


The difficulty for marketing directors is knowing where to find these citizen data scientists and then how to retain them. After all, many ideal candidates may not identify themselves as someone who can help to solve the serious shortage in specialists.

The advice is to empower, encourage and train people internally to use the digital tools the company has invested in. A company can also boost its own employee brand externally and become a more attractive career option to experts and others if it gains a reputation for enabling people to dabble in data science in such a way that feel they are adding real value to the business.

“Citizen data scientists bring new thinking and have the mindset marketing teams require, but businesses need the right culture to attract and keep them,” says Markey. “Companies must demonstrate they have ambition, are results-driven and will give people who are not professional data scientists – but are curious and excited about a brand’s potential – the freedom to be brilliant with data.”

Citizen data scientists can be found lurking anywhere within an organisation, including in HR, sales and finance. Millennials are often the perfect citizen data scientists because they are used to getting results quickly and are comfortable operating digital tools to find information, although they might lack business insight.

“Citizen data scientists bring new thinking and have the mindset marketing teams require, but businesses need the right culture to attract and keep them.”

Where and when they are found, they should be encouraged to collaborate with the marketing team and share the potentially lucrative insights they’ve uncovered.

Meanwhile, the number of job ads for specialist data scientists will keep on growing.

Mediablaze is running content marketing masterclasses for brands. To find out more and to book, email [email protected]

Any other questions? Feel free to chat to [email protected]

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