An Interview with Greg Dowling, Vice President of Mobile Strategy and Measurement at Semphonic

Greg Dowling is the former global head of analysis for Nokia. He recently left that role to join the senior management team at Semphonic, one of the top web analytics consultancies in the world.

Greg was our client at Nokia, where we worked together to build a global measurement organization that covered the implementation, analysis and data visualization of web and mobile data from Nokia’s consumer services products. He is a good friend for answering the following questions:

1.  The measurement world is buzzing about mobile, yet there seem to be very few practitioners out there that really know the space. Was your phone ringing off the hook with recruiting offers at Nokia?

Well of course you handle all of my recruiting Corry and I would never take a call from another recruiter. However, I have to say that it was ringing, just not as much as you might expect. While industry pundits have been claiming that 20XX will be the “Year of Mobile”, the majority of brands haven’t really embraced mobile fully as of yet. For example, it’s projected that in 2010 only 10% of brands and agencies will have mobile as a line item in their marketing budget and that another 20% are planning to experiment with mobile. So only one-third of the market is looking to do something with mobile in 2010 even though it is the fastest growing and most rapidly adopted personal technology in the world. At the end of 2009 there were 4.6 billion mobile subscribers representing 70% of the world’s population. It has eclipsed Internet growth by a ratio of almost 3:1. With unlimited data plans proliferating and smartphones poised to be almost half of all mobile device sales by 2013 according to Gartner – up from just 8% in 2008, it’s time to embrace mobile marketing and put your strategy together now. This obviously includes a mobile measurement and implementation plan – not an easy thing given the complexity of the mobile measurement space…

2.   I know that you had several internal and external career opportunities to consider. What made you choose Semphonic?

I have been agency side before as part of a digital strategy and analysis organization, but my team was always a ‘part of’ a larger client engagement and not the central focal point of the relationship as it is in a pure analytics consultancy. When I began thinking about joining a web analytics consultancy it was a simple choice – Semphonic. Semphonic has been in this space a long time – 13 years to be exact, and has a stellar reputation as the world’s largest independent analytics consultancy. With a respected team of industry experts like Gary Angel, June Dershewitz and Phil Kemelor, add to that a great roster of clients, the opportunity to build out the New York office, AND focus on mobile analytics – it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

3.   Gary Angel seems like the nicest guy in the world. Tell me the truth – he’s really a total a-hole behind the scenes, isn’t he? Nobody can be that nice.

That’s too funny! Well, I have known Gary for years and have worked with him on several occasions across many different types of engagements. Going back five years ago at Jupiter Research when he briefed me on Functionalism, to most recently at Nokia where he was instrumental in not only assisting me establish Nokia’s global measurement standard, but also leading the hands-on implementation work for several Services. Gary and I have also shared the stage at industry conferences in the past and I think he is one of the most compelling speakers I know. A true master at conveying complex subject matter simply – not a widely held skill, I might add. Truthfully, I can say without a doubt – he is not only the smartest guy I know in the analytics space – but one heck of a nice guy.

4.   You spent ten years becoming an expert in web analytics and the past one or two in mobile. What are you going to focus on for Semphonic? Both? Or is mobile going to be your sole focus?

Both. My title is Vice President of Mobile Strategy & Measurement, but I will focus on all aspects of enterprise analytics including strategy, implementation, reporting, and analysis. Mobile for me is just another channel that needs to be measured. The mobile product offering from Semphonic will seek to provide our clients with the competitive advantage they need to succeed in the mobile space. Our consulting services will range from mobile strategy engagements, where we assist clients is assessing their mobile readiness and the suitability of mobile to their current product offering, through to mobile measurement implementation, reporting, and analysis. The goal is to provide our clients with actionable insights and definitive tactics to make them successful in the burgeoning mobile arena. Oh and of course, I will be hiring…

5.   Given the strength of the Semphonic brand and the growth rate of the web analytics services space, I would guess that they are fighting off acquisition offers from the big agency families. What are the chances that you are working for Omnicom, Publicis (again) or WPP in a year or two?

Strike one, Corry. I actually did work for Omnicom while at Colangelo, so that only leaves WPP as one of my last agency “yet’s”. Of course, I can’t speculate on Semphonic as an acquisition target, but I have to say I think we are in a great position and would be a very attractive acquisition. There are very few boutique web analytics consultancies with hands-on implementation experience AND world class thought leadership – and Semphonic tops the list.

6.    You have been on the agency side, the client side, you have been an industry analyst and now you work for a top consultancy. Unless I am missing one, the only thing you have not done is work for a vendor. What advice would you give about what “types” of people succeed best in each environment?

Strike two, Corry. As matter of fact I have been on the vendor side. In 1995 I managed the New York operations for an online environmental database vendor named Environmental FirstSearch. We had an Internet enabled Visual Basic 5 application that looked very much like Google Maps (except a decade earlier) in which, instead of distance and direction to hotels and restaurants, we populated our interactive maps with hazardous waste sites and chemical spills – good times!

The “types” of people that succeed in any business are those that are passionate about what they do. Folks that take inspiration from challenges and make limitations an opportunity for improvement are bound to succeed. On the agency side it is critical to have a strong sense of urgency as related to client engagements and go out of your way to make the client feel like they are your only customer. Strong communication skills and a knack for business development don’t hurt either. On the client side I found the most success in being able to articulate the current capabilities and inherent limitations of my company’s product offering. Not being afraid to tell it like it is was a great asset of mine. If something isn’t working right, fix it. It’s better to ask for forgiveness later, then to wait for permission now. On the vendor side it’s simple – listen to your customer.

Thank you Greg. Best of luck with your new opportunity. See you at X Change!

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