How Danny Gardner brought state-of-the-art analytics into social marketing
Future 50 inductee Danny Gardner is the analytics manager and the US and North America social intelligence lead at Haleon. He tells us how he switched from the US Treasury to a career in brand marketing.
Danny Gardner is a social specialist at pharma firm Haleon and a member of this year’s Future 50 / Haleon
Danny Gardner hadn’t always planned on entering into the marketing industry. He studied economics as an undergraduate then attended business school. “I took maybe two marketing classes,” he says. “That’s it.”
During his final year of graduate school, while working as an intern and analyzing macroeconomic data at the United States Treasury Department, he suddenly found himself facing a major career choice: he could go work at Dow Jones, where he would continue doing the same kind of data analysis, or he could go to W2O Group, a healthcare company that would later become Real Chemistry, where he could work on something called “social listening.”
He chose the latter knowing that it could be what he would later describe as “a stepping stone into the marketing world.”
In 2019, the same year he received his MBA from American University, Gardner was hired by the British international pharmaceutical company GSK as a senior data analyst and global social intelligence lead. “I started out as a data scientist, basically tidying and automating data structures, but what really fascinated me was how much data could be collected from social media. It fascinated me how complex social listening could be and how underutilized it was.”
Social listening sounds a bit Orwellian, but it’s a practice commonly deployed by brands in the age of social media and entails paying close attention to social media conversations related to a particular brand or product and then deriving informed strategies from such chatter to drive sales and customer engagement. The social media landscape is vast, constantly evolving and often esoteric, and brands have been forced in recent decades to hire people like Gardner who can navigate and understand this strange digital realm.
“Social media is deeply embedded in our society and marketing teams all over the world are trying to figure out how to tap into it. It was the perfect opportunity for me as an analytics professional to get involved in marketing.”
Gardner is now the analytics manager and the US and North America social intelligence lead at Haleon, a consumer healthcare company that branched off from GSK in July 2022 and whose portfolio of brands includes a retinue of household names such as Advil, Sensodyne and Theraflu. “I’m responsible for every aspect of social intelligence at Haleon, which is the largest pure play consumer healthcare company in the world.”
Gardner describes social intelligence as the fusion between social media and business intelligence, but also as the sum total of solutions (driven by both human beings and machines) “used to turn social media data into actionable insights or recommendations.” He also says it’s a “highly interdisciplinary” discipline, requiring skills not only in analytics and social media but also market research, influencer marketing, anthropology and other fields.
“Social intelligence is still a niche profession in the marketing world, but that’s destined to change. Just think about how quickly social media moves and the amount of data it creates. Companies are slowly starting to realize how valuable this type of role is within a marketing organization.”
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Gardner is clearly at least as passionate about sharing his passion for social intelligence as he is about the discipline itself. One of the most impactful projects that he’s embarked on since starting his role at GSK (now Haleon), he says, was the design and launch of what he describes as “a global RFP [and] bespoke dashboard build,” the underlying goal of which was “to scale social media data to as many people within Haleon as possible, which today spans more than 300 cross-functional teammates.” To that end, he embarked on “a rigorous (and very technical) cross-functional evaluation of the industry’s leading social intelligence tools,“ landing on a platform called Synthesio.
“Getting that hands-on experience evaluating technology was invaluable. There are so many factors that go into that process… I’d never been more challenged.”
Gardner looks back on that project with obvious pride: “This massive deliverable will become my legacy at Haleon.” He also highlights some of the lessons he gleaned throughout that particular process, telling us: “Follow your instincts, ask for a second and a third opinion, fail forward, double-down on what works, don’t reinvent the wheel and trust your teammates.”