Nicole Kane, Director of Global Media at McDonald’s and Chair of Judges for the WARC Media Awards’ Best Use of Data category, spoke to Lucy Aitken about the art of turning data into insight and why it’s just as important to figure out who not to target.

Describe what you do on a day-to-day basis in your role at McDonald’s.

Nicole Kane: My job has three core areas. The first is global partnerships such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Basically, it’s about who we can partner with to be our strategic evangelists who can go above and beyond media.

The second is around accountability and transparency, which is top-of-mind in the industry right now. The final one is agency relationships – I manage our global media network of record, OMD.

You worked at Civis Analytics for a while. Could you tell us what you learned there and how you apply that learning in your current role?

NK: I would say there were three core takeaways I learned from Civis Analytics, that are applicable to McDonald’s or any other brand:

  • The benefit of using individual level data for insights, activation and measurement. In this environment, I learned from some of the brightest data scientists – how they think about individual data and what it means for marketing. Part of that was about not just about who you want to target but also about who you don’t want to target. That gets missed a lot when you start using predictive target segments, especially for a brand like ourselves. For some people, no matter what message you put in front of them they’ll walk into McDonald’s every day, while others won’t even if you put free food in front of them. If you remove those groups you can be more efficient.

  • Not all data is created equal, and it’s not about having more data it’s about having the right data. There are so many data companies out there selling data that could be up to five years old about a consumer and yet big decisions could be made using it.

  • Civis also believed inthe importance of experimentation, and learning from both the wins and failures. While this is typically embedded in the culture of tech companies, more and more brands are working to adopt this type of mind-set, which requires education and discipline.

The WARC Media Awards Effective Use of Data category is all about recognising the role of data in an effective communications strategy. When done well, what might that look like to you?

NK: Data that, when providing insights, will drive an intended response. It’s about validating what you thought was going to happen versus relying on a gut feeling.

How do you think marketers are getting better at using data in the right ways? And where is there room for improvement?

NK: There are many more marketers who have a strong desire to do that and are investing in the people and tools to make it happen. But from a global point of view, it varies so much from market to market what you can do so you can’t put together one standard. The privacy conversation is interesting – privacy is extremely important and McDonald’s takes it seriously. Still, there are newer generations who are digital natives – if you were to figure out what the right value exchange is, some of them are open to sharing information. Where that goes in the future will be interesting.

Can you share an example of how data helped McDonald’s to change tack and develop a more effective comms strategy?

NK: As a retailer, one thing that’s really important to us is last mile. In that area, all these new types of data, especially geo-location data, are emerging and unlocking a lot of opportunities. This includes everything from better understanding our consumers, where they’re going before and after McDonald’s, to their commuting patterns.

It is also helping to close the loop for us because we can see that a consumer was exposed to an ad and now they’ve gone into a restaurant. This brings us one step closer to validating the effectiveness of our marketing.

What will you be looking for from this year’s entrants to the Best Use of Data category? And what advice would you like to give anyone thinking of entering their work?

NK: There are three things I’d like to see:

  1. A company that has had a true data transformation

  2. Brands that are leveraging new data capabilities that are proving to be beneficial

  3. New types of data that others can start to learn from and to leverage.

For advice for people who are entering:

  1. As everyone is trying to figure out this space, my preference is for simple solutions that drive real value compared instead of solutions that are clever and sexy but no one is able to accomplish.

  2. In terms of how submissions are packaged, story-telling is really important and people who can use data to tell a really great story will really stand out.

The WARC Media Awards are open for entries until 19 September. Free to enter, there’s a $40K prize fund for winning entries. For details on all the categories and all the judges, an entry kit and an entry form please visit the awards site.