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Plan for a happy marriage

Julian Prat

Chief Strategy Officer




Plan for a happy marriage

Boosting creativity in the age of data-driven decisions

Every industry has been affected by the increasing use of data, and the marketing and communication industry is no exception. From audience profiling to measurement, data has taken agencies and companies by storm in any number of ways. But this seems at odds with what is, even today, the most powerful lever for brands: creativity.  This innately human process is at the heart of marketing, generating emotional connections between brands and consumers.

So, is the culture of data killing creativity? Is there a way to combine and create a symbiotic relationship between human factors and data techniques?

The debate rages on. Creative people believe creativity is an instinctual process of building emotional bonds with consumers and fear that quantitative analysis could kill the magic of creativity, while data scientists claim to have come up with a more analytical approach to marketing decision making.

Until now, managing this tension has meant keeping the creative and data worlds apart. We have assigned different stages of the purchase journey to each world; creativity to the upper funnel and data to the lower. We have created different disciplines to manage these worlds; creativity is the business of brand marketers, and data is the business of performance marketers. We have then given them different weapons, and measured them in different ways.

In the meantime, some savvy, forward-looking companies have begun linking the two disciplines – data and creativity – to unlock business growth.

Brands such as Coca-Cola, adidas and Sky are using machine learning to build social media plans, using trends, events, news and even the weather to discover what consumers might desire or need, based on algorithms making sense of patterns in everyday conversations and culture.

Perhaps the development by Netflix of “House of Cards” best illustrates how the use of data can “de-risk” the creative process. Netflix was able to safely invest millions of dollars upfront, almost certain the show would be a hit; the algorithms had shown it would be.

The truth is that creativity without data is largely ineffective, and data without creativity is irrelevant. This does not mean data will eventually replace human creativity, but the marriage of both is what will make brands’ connections with consumers more relevant, meaningful, engaging and – ultimately – truly genuine.

Collaboration between creative and data people at WAVEMAKER is being used to generate more meaningful communication ideas for brands.

For example, we are using tools that recognize and disentangle visual elements of brands’ digital content, particularly their social assets, to help creative strategists understand what best drives engagement and conversations. The results have been significant and include:

  • Analysis of more than 1,000 pieces of content to help an automotive client understand which visual elements matter most to consumers, leading to the use of cockpit elements and grey shades in content.
  • The launch of a new talent show matching artists with drawing techniques, based on content analysis, generating 8x leads for an entertainment client.
  • Analyzing 600 images to understand what most drives social engagement around apparel. This was used by the brand client to determine which products to place in its shop windows.
  • In the luxury fragrance market, data and neuromarketing techniques helped brand creatives understand the emotional power of the color red, a color not well used by other brands.

These are just a few examples of how creativity and data can coexist. But perhaps the more existential question that the rise of big data prompts for marketeers is not “how can we continue being so creative” but rather, “how creative do we really need to be?”.

But beyond uncertainty about the structure of the communications industry, what matters most is what happens to business and marketing effectiveness. A recent McKinsey study showed that when companies truly unite data and creativity in their marketing processes, revenues grow at twice the average rate of S&P 500 companies in the US.

So, how do marketers go about making this marriage happen? Here are some first steps:

  1. Treat data and creativity as equal partners. This is especially important in the areas of customer experience and purchase journey.
  2. Encourage collaboration between marketing and IT people. This should go beyond individual projects and start with a shared vision of the role that data has in the company. The role of CTO should be elevated within the company.
  3. Leverage and integrate agency creative and data capabilities in the same marketing flow process.
  4. Scale up A/B testing techniques and dynamic creative optimization processes. In digital it is crucial to run several tests to understand what matters most to people.