John Foreman is the chief data scientist for MailChimp. John has performed analytics work for some of the world’s largest brands, including Coke, Royal Caribbean, and Intercontinental Hotels.

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I invited John to Marketing Smarts to talk about his book, Data Smart: Using Data Science to Transform Information into Insight, and how anyone can do their own calculations for audience analysis, ROI, and more, using simple tools like Excel.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation.

Data scientists don't just amass data—they daydream (01:46): "When people think about what a data scientist does…they think that we spend all day long building artificial intelligence models that predict the future and do all of these really cool things, and that's absolutely part of the job. A good part of the job actually, though, is either sitting around cleaning up data and making sure it looks good so that we can do something with it…which is a very tedious job, or on the front side, it's actually sitting around just dreaming up 'we have this data and this data,' and sort of playing a giant game of connect the dots, like 'if we had this, this, this, this, and this, what could we possibly do that would be really interesting or helpful for a customer?' [I'm] not so big on the data cleanup part, but I really love the daydreaming part."

Data science is about using information to achieve valuable results (03:44): "There's a lot of dry parts in data science (or any kind of mathematical endeavor), but the cool thing about data science is what comes out of it.… At the end of the day, it's about using that data to somehow engage your customer base, and so it does get to be pretty fun. At MailChimp, for instance, I'm in the data all day long, but all the products that come out of it, some of them might be 'how do we identify abusers that might sign up in our system and try to somehow abuse it.' That's actually really fun, there's a payoff at the end of the day, because I get to find these villains and be like 'haha, I found you and I can shut you down.' It does end up being fun, but there is a lot of math in the middle. If you don't like that, it could be frightening."

Don't lose the personal connection you have with your customers (14:25): "We're just at the beginning of understanding how to make [automation] work. People, I think, can go a little bit too far down the automation/analytics rabbit hole on that stuff, and try to automate everything and lose a personal touch, too. It's a balancing act. Some stuff is more appropriate to do using automation, using analytics, figuring out and predicting 'this is the best time to contact this person with this thing,' and sometimes you still need to just speak to your customer normally.... It matters based on who you are as a business and where you are in your lifecycle."

For more information, visit John-Foreman.com or AnalyticsMadeSkeezy.com, or follow John on Twitter: @John4man.

John and I covered a lot more ground, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

Music credit: Noam Weinstein.