Data May Be the Holy Grail, But Creative Is the Secret Weapon

Why Creative Teams Need to Make 'Sweet Love' with Data

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I've spent the last few years on a soapbox preaching about the advertising revolution. One thing I've learned is that I can never be sure which rants are actually going to strike a chord with the marketing community.

Data visualization.
Data visualization. Credit: iStock

Recently, I wrote a column preaching that campaigns are dead, and that marketing is now a data exchange. And while the piece received positive feedback, eventually I found a naysayer. A client mentioned that he loved the article and sent it to his creative team, where all hell broke loose. The creatives, not surprisingly, were sick and tired of hearing from pseudo thought leaders like myself saying that data is the holy grail.

I loved hearing the feedback, because it was clear to me that my initial column missed a key note, which is this: Now, more than ever, creative is the secret weapon.

The individuals who can develop incredible ideas -- and the organizations that can leverage the small percentage of people who are genetically gifted with creative skills -- are those that will thrive. They will create the world's passion brands. Creative is the true competitive advantage.

Data is simply table stakes. Every corporation on this planet has fundamentally more data available to it than it did just a few years ago. In fact, 90% of the world's data was collected in the past two years. Having data means virtually nothing. Turning that data into meaningful, immersive, empowering experiences means everything.

It's not simply up to organizations to break down the silos that exist between the creative geniuses and the data jockeys. The creatives must make sweet love to the data. Those that do will realize that nothing removes the constraints from creativity more effectively. Data is a conduit to bigger, bolder, more exciting ideas than ever before.

Specifically, here are the key benefits that are available to creatives when they embrace data:

1. It expands the creative canvas. Data helps reveal how, where and why the audience interacts with a brand. Time and again, it shows that the audience is looking for bold, integrated, connected experiences. Not simply interruptions. The creative canvas is no longer limited to 30-second TV spots or 300-pixel banner ads. Nor is it limited to viral videos, tweets, Instagram posts or microsites. The audience wants all of these connection points to work together to satisfy their unique needs in each stage of the consumer journey. The only limitation is our imagination. Thanks to technology, we can create virtually anything.

2. It enables ideas to grow. Data enables ideas to grow and optimize over time. A traditional campaign lives for a few months on TV and gets progressively worse as brands hammer on the same concept through a limited creative canvas. With data, the creative team can identify the components of an idea that perform the best and then build upon them over time. Great ideas can live in perpetuity. Because digital technology enables brands to include the audience in the story, ideas can grow exponentially because the delivery mechanism isn't limited to paid media interruptions. The audience can participate in the story and grow it across owned, earned and paid media.

3. It expands the emotional triggers. For years, creative teams had a limited set of emotional triggers that they could leverage. Over and over again, ad campaigns strived to be funny to a broad audience with the majority of them falling flat. Data enables the creative team to thin-slice the audience into discrete segments with unique emotional needs. This approach creates a full matrix with key audiences encompassing one axis and journey stages making up the other axis. This enables brands to make a deeper connection by understanding the levers that can be pulled for each audience at each key stage of the journey. No longer do concepts need to be created with a one-size-fits-all mass-reach mentality. No longer do concepts need to be funny or broadly inspirational. They can leverage authentic emotional triggers.

There are few tasks more challenging than developing a great creative platform. It's highly subjective, it's scrutinized through ambiguous metrics, it's developed under incredibly tight timelines, and it's rarely given its just rewards.

Because we are competing in the most dynamic business environment ever, creative and data can no longer live in silos and thrive. The best marketing initiatives will be developed by those who are gifted creatively and have a willingness to leverage disparate audience data.

This will be accomplished by adhering to an integration plan, including a regular cadence for accessing and customizing data and insights. It requires support from top executives to maintain a plan. It requires researchers who can deliver insights, not data overload.

This integrated approach enables a deeper emotional connection between the audience and the brand. It produces loyalty and evangelism. But data is not a solution. It's simply a tool to be leveraged. Make love, not war.

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