The following is a Q&A with Taylor Black, our instructor for the Digital Marketing program. Taylor is currently working in Data and Operations at the Invention Science Fund, the invention-to-startup fund of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue-based venture capital firm. He holds B.A.s in Philosophy and Honors Business from Gonzaga University, an M.A. in Cognitive Philosophy from Boston College, and a Juris Doctor degree (J.D.) from Boston College Law School.
Let's start with the basics: why did you choose a career in digital marketing and analytics?
I fell into a career in data along two different veins: selling websites and making better decisions. I started building websites in the late 90s as a way of sharing ideas and drawing with code. Over the years I used my site craft as a way of paying for school and eventually shifted out of freelancing by starting a small design and development agency. We saw some moderate success but discovered that it was very difficult to convey the value of what we were producing for our clients. As a result, we shifted into web analytics and inbound marketing as a way of demonstrating that the sites we were building in fact resulted in vast traffic differences. We realized that our clients didn't care about the website so much as they cared about visitors. If we could tie what we created to increased traffic, we were given complete creative control over the site.
The decision-making piece came later through my studies in cognitional theory. How are choices made? How are the choices we make made better? This is another way of understanding “design."
Your background includes over 16 years of web development, editing and publishing three different academic publications, and Elite Veteran Kaplan teacher status preparing students for the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT—how do these things translate into your work?
I have two full-time jobs, essentially. One is in Operations at the Invention Science Fund where I implement systems, streamline processes, and perform a great deal of forward-looking business intelligence/data science. The second is here at Insight Consulting, where I oversee our inbound marketing agency and teach data to a variety of folks in a variety of contexts. This fast-paced life is made possible by tasty pour-over coffee and the glory of cognitive switching. I do my best to marry heavy technical knowledge on a variety of platforms with a strong focus on writing, editing, and teaching. I feel energized by client-focused work, whether they’re students, individuals, small businesses, or large corporations.
What do you wish non-initiated folks knew about digital marketing?
The ah-ha moments: the value of being highly cross-functional. A lot of people think that having a great career means becoming the leading expert in X, Y, or Z. The truth is that you don't have to be the very best in the world. Most of the time there is much higher value in the ability to translate between groups because you understand the business needs of each. Marketing is all about this kind of translation and demonstration.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I had been working with T-Mobile for barely over a month when they asked me to own the social media reporting for three major internal groups—Marketing, Social, and the Executive Team. They gave me essentially a trial run at owning these for one week. It was an incredible amount of work, but at the end of a week of my reporting, each one of the three groups offered me a job on their staff.
You're a working professional, rather than a full-time professor. Why do you teach on the side?
I live for explicating complex topics and translating different kinds of skills and knowledge for others. I believe that the world exists to be known; encouraging others along that path is a deep joy.
One thing I think we're all searching for is a job that allows us to exercise our ideals to some degree; in other words, there's an ethical dimension to choosing work if you have the privilege to choose it. How has your work meshed with your sense of doing good in the world?
Decision-making or influencing others’ decision-making is hugely powerful gift. As data workers we can use this power to ensure businesses thrive or to introduce new ideas and concepts as part of an innovative marketing campaign. We can also use this power to obfuscate and twist vital information from the outside world or lead our customers through a click-hole experience to our exclusive benefit. Our gift as data workers is a profound responsibility. Let's use it wisely.
What do you like doing when you're not working?
I’m really into endurance events—running and cycling. I love being with my family and going camping. And reading—give me an afternoon to read anything by Tolkien, Walker Percy, Dostoyevsky, or Lonergan, and I’m super happy.