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Geek of the Week – Vito De Fillippis

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“The Cat in a Hat”

The first thing you notice about Vito De Filippis is his hat. “Actually, it’s a stout,” he corrects you, as he smoothes the grey felt crown and smartly turned up brim, complete with a feather of unknown origin. And while his headgear has become the 25-year-old’s signature style point, its beginnings were more prosaic.  “I got a bad haircut about a year ago and decided I needed a hat,” he explains. “I found it at some shop in the Eaton Centre, and it reminded me of an old gangster movie hat.”

The anecdote is instructive not because Vito harbours a Hollywood movie fixation. With his Buddy Holly glasses and narrow ties, Vito simply likes to express a wry sensibility in everything from his fashion to his work. As a Client Advocate with Environics Analytics’ retail, media, real estate and entertainment practice, he analyzes data to help clients better understand their customers and markets. But if you ask him how he describes his role, he jokes, “I’m a professional stereotyper.”

In fact, Vito specializes in discovering insight in everyday consumer behaviours, using segmentation tools like PRIZM to cut through the clutter of the modern marketplace and connect EA clients with customers. “It’s cool to show clients not just how their customers spend their money but how they think and use their time,” he says. “The old shopkeepers on Main Street seventy years ago used to know all their customers really well. If Mrs. Wilson came in, they’d know she had two kids and put aside some candy for her. Well, we’re really a twenty-first century version of that concept. We can do that on a national scale.”

“One of my professors said that the best way to understand the human condition is to read a piece of fiction,” he says. “And that’s how I see my job.”

Vito remembers the first time he was struck with PRIZM’s power to capture a lifestyle. When his 23-year-old brother Joseph was a student at McMasters University, Vito would hang out with him at the pool hall down the street. When he punched in his brother’s postal code using the PRIZM segment look-up feature on EA’s website, he learned his brother’s neighbourhood was “Daytrippers and Nightowls” (young, mobile urban singles and couples). And the segment icon? A couple playing pool. Says Vito: “I rarely run into a project that can’t be explained by PRIZM.”

The hat

Vito claims the secret to his success as a Client Advocate is the ability to get into the heads of his client’s customers with the aide of EA data and tools. “I try to picture them,” he says. “The data may show that they’re a mix of clusters two and four, but those are just numbers. You really have to imagine what these people look like and do. You need to get into their head.”

Vito came to EA through a somewhat circuitous route. The grandson of Italian immigrants who arrived in Canada in the 1950s, he was raised by an automotive recycler and a homemaker in the bedroom suburb of Ajax, Ont. As a teenager, he worked part-time jobs for retailers such as Loblaw’s, Old Navy, Gap and Best Buy—which proved to be good experience for his current role in the retail practice. Vito attended the University of Toronto where he earned an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in English and sociology. While the disciplines may seem like an unusual foundation for a job in marketing analytics, Vito thinks they’re the perfect combination for his work today. “One of my professors said that the best way to understand the human condition is to read a piece of fiction,” he says. “And that’s how I see my job.”

After the University of Toronto, Vito enrolled in a post-graduate program in Strategic Relationship Marketing from George Brown College. The year-long program helped him see the connection between sociology and the business world. While still a student, Vito gained some practical experience by working as a loyalty and retention specialist at a phone company call centre. But he found his upbeat disposition sorely tested by the daily calls of customers wanting to lower their fees. “It was pretty stressful,” he concedes.

His career took a fortuitous turn when EA vice president Michele Sexsmith asked his program administrator at George Brown to recommend students to apply for a Client Advocate position. At his interview with Michele and Mark Lebovits, an EA sales consultant, Vito offered as a writing sample a university paper he wrote explaining why he liked the Beatles. “The paper was written like an imaging project,” he realized later, with an in-depth analysis of the audience (himself) and how the band’s music spoke to his particular mindset. He got the job.

In fact, the paper reflected more than an academic interest in rock’n’roll. Vito has been playing—and trading—electric guitars for nearly a decade. “I love buying a used guitar,” he says. “You sometimes find these gems in a basement. They’ve been worked in and they have a character.” His current favourite is an Arctic White colored Fender Stratocaster he’s named “Snow White” as a nod to blues great B.B. King and his well-known guitar, “Lucille.”  It’s the perfect instrument for playing rock-and-roll—the Beatles, Stones, Jimi Hendrix—and blues—B.B. King, Albert King and Eric Clapton. Vito and a friend used to perform at a coffee house-style showcase on the U. of T. campus, where they once played a Halloween show as the band Guns & Roses. “We wore bandanas and ripped jeans. It was horrible,” he laughs. “But we had a lot of fun.”

The guitar

When he’s not playing his guitar, Vito likes to relax by reading and watching old movies. He’s a fan of science fiction and has seen all of the Star Wars, X-Men and Harry Potter titles—all of which he pronounced “pretty good stuff.” He also describes himself as a nightowl who likes to check out whatever’s generating buzz: a trendy bar, an ethnic restaurant or a new documentary at the Toronto Film Festival. Although his colleagues describe his look as classic Electric Avenues (young, upper-middle-class urban singles and couples), Vito’s neighbourhood is actually classified as Winner’s Circle (well-off, middle-aged exurban families). That’s because, like many young adults just starting out, he chose to return to the family nest after college, joining his two twentysomething siblings. “My parents like having us help around the house, and I like being there,” he says. “But I spend most of my time in the city.”

In the year and a half since Vito joined EA, he’s been impressed with the collegial atmosphere despite his rookie status. “People are willing to help you out,” he says. “They don’t treat you like ‘you should already understand this material.’” He notes that his arrival coincided with the hiring of a number of new staff members fresh out of school, encouraging camaraderie. Many hang out after work, and several have taken trips together, such as the recent getaway to Montreal. “A lot of people here are in my lifestage,” he notes. But none of them can wear a hat—or rather a stout—like Vito can.

–Michael J. Weiss

 

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Written by Environics Analytics

October 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

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