How Creative Marketers Can Get What They Need From Data

Data and creativity have always been siloed, even in our own minds. You’re probably well-acquainted with the idea that our “left brains” are more logic- and data-focused, while our “right brains” house our creativity. The best ideas, however, require input from both hemispheres. The best marketing is no different.

To be effective for its audience, creative marketing needs to be data-led—but the data deluge can be overwhelming. Marketers have to strike a balance between data insights and unique creative, increasing their confidence in their ability to execute. 

The data revolution began with the notion that we needed as much data as possible. Today, 68% of marketers are “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” with the amount of data their organizations are throwing away—data that could inform more effective creative. “The new face of creativity is data-driven,” argues Prodeep Bose, EVP of growth and innovation at The Bloc, a health creative agency. The reality is that information processing is the necessary first step in the creative process, and that’s what computers do better than humans. “It is our hubris that makes us believe we have the best judgment and abilities as communicators on the planet,” he adds. “Turns out, we don’t.” 

Instead, we have a lot to learn from looking at data, and that knowledge can help produce more effective messages. According to LinkedIn research, creativity is still the most important soft skill around the globe. The best creatives are more effective when they’re fueled by data. To introduce a data-driven approach to creativity within your own organization, take these steps. 

1. Zero in on the most usable data.

Data is incredibly powerful, and it can do wonderful things in the hands of a capable marketer. Tasmin Kingma, chief operating officer at digital transformation consultancy Hoorah Digital, says data can inform all aspects of an ad campaign, including the target. “Agencies need to use the right kind of data to inform the creative output they produce,” Kingma explains. “Doing so makes it much more likely that the advertising will appeal to individual people and produce real business results for their clients.”

The key is finding data that works. Just because data is available doesn’t mean it contains insights worth unpacking. For example, people searching online for credit cards won’t automatically be good candidates for your card. Marketing to this group without further information means you’ll waste creative hours and advertising dollars reaching customers with the wrong buyer profile. They might have a credit score that’s too low, prefer travel rewards over cash back, or have your credit card already. The moral: Stick to the most relevant and actionable data. Avoid venturing into the weeds. When you track down a valuable data source, put your creative team to work. 

2. Understand the “why” behind behaviors.

All too often, marketing creatives aim to please everyone instead of a specific audience. The result is an ad campaign that fails to truly resonate with any group. Instead of lumping people into demographics based on big data, marketers need to use deep data. This can help them identify why people make certain buying decisions.

Netflix is a great example of a company that uses deep data in a way that goes beyond demographics. In Netflix’s hands, the genres you prefer impact not just the recommendations that show up in your feed, but also the thumbnails that represent each recommendation. If you’re an action aficionado, the thumbnail will depict a movie’s most intense moment. If your inclinations lean toward comedy, you’ll see a funny scene or an actor known for comedic roles. Netflix doesn’t just know what content you like—it knows why you like it, too. The company uses that information to perfect its recommendation engine.

3. Evolve with your customers.

There’s no such thing as a perfect ad; even your highest-performing creative can be optimized. Delivery is important, and your communication strategy must take into account the constant emergence of new channels. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t yet interact with augmented reality or virtual reality on a regular basis. Chances are, you will soon. That’s why 64% of marketers are currently using these technologies or are planning to do so soon.

When Shell marketing executives realized Millennials had become the largest car-buying segment of the population, they made the decision to change their creative to reflect that shift. Shell is also rebranding itself as a mobility retailer, at least partly in response to predictions that 25% of vehicles sold after 2025 will be electric, according to Goldman Sachs. Take note as your own industry and customers change; don’t be afraid to embrace messaging that reflects those evolutions. 

Organizational silos are an impediment to progress, and the division between data and creative is no exception. In the most effective organizations, creative teams put data to work, ensuring they design the most meaningful messages and deliver them to the most essential audiences.

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