Creativity, Meet Data

Title: Creativity-Vin
Author: Twentyfour Students
License: CC BY

When it comes to the creative process, do we need more math, or more magic? One thing is for sure - we need more content. With the advent of new social media channels, addressable advertising and the rise of programmatic and native advertising, the demands on fast, timely and relevant content creation have never been so great. This was the topic of a panel I moderated recently for the Advertising Research Foundation's ARF West conference, held at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park. As panelist Ben Kaplan, Director, Native and Social Ad Products at Time Inc. pointed out, 'today's best content marketing speaks to consumers (not only) often, (but also) with thoughtful insight'.

So what will this mean for the future of how content happens? The answer depends on which side of the continuum you live on - quant or creative, inspired by data or a staunch believer in intuition. But the real problem lies in the implied dichotomy, and the way companies organize their teams (or fail to organize them) around aligned goals that embrace both numbers, and romance. Data versus intuition is no longer a sustainable divide given the demands of new channels and the corresponding urgent need for marketers to bottle both quality and velocity when it comes to content creation.

Enter, the promise and potential of data-driven creativity. A process for data that actually enables better and more impactful ideation, to empower and inspires creativity rather than alienating, limiting and judging it posthumously. Far from the intrinsically unhelpful gray charts of yesteryear, this data is designed to spark invention.

But what does this elusive, beautiful process actually look like?

To begin with, let's define what it is not:

1) Data-driven creativity is NOT more data

I love data. I run an analytics company. And my tendency is to want to give more data, because I love it so much. But marketers express that they are awash with data, so the answer is not more, but better. Starved for actionable insights about what content matters to consumers, the next phase is about translating raw data into insights. Relevancy, topics, types of content. Things that creative can actually use. Not just more flat files, charts and graphs - as sad as this is to all the quants out there.

2) Data-driven creativity is NOT just about campaign optimization

As Edlynne Laryea Head of the Worldwide Digital Center of Excellence at Johnson & Johnson pointed out, 'companies often leave data until the end', and this can hold back marketers from knowing how to prepare 'a truly-data driven brief to help (our brands) be laser-focused on what is relevant'. While optimization is important, marketers must get ahead of the game, and focus not only on reducing the waste between different types of creative, but ensuring that the whole campaign itself is not waste.

3) Data-driven creativity is NOT post-campaign reporting about why something worked (or more likely, didn't work)

John Murphy, Head of Cigna's Social Media Listening Center of Excellence noted that 'by leveraging the same data points to analyze past campaigns and competitor campaigns (brands) can learn what will work best in the future'. But at this point, these insights benefit future campaigns only, and why not get in earlier? As John elaborates 'when done correctly, data can help drive the creative process by informing (marketers) what consumers actually want to see' prior to building the campaign and the messaging. Edlynne adds 'people need to use data to help inspire creativity...(rather than keep data) siloed into reporting, totally disconnected from the creative process. Pulling up some of the data to inform the brief, rounding out targets, adding more dimension and helping to sharpen the objective will help better define 'the box' from which to ideate'.

4) Data-driven creativity is actionable, NOT prescriptive

Prescriptive insights say 'do this not that'. Don't mention the word 'but'. Show a woman's happy face, orange backgrounds, inspiring text over images and the like. While each of these insights may indeed have worked historically against a given audience, this kind of 'creative' direction usually result in findings that suck the oxygen out of the room, and don't get to the 'why' behind the prescriptive 'what'.

Data-driven creativity has to go deeper. For example, this creative use of Facebook topics data revealed that, among certain demographics of women, the concept of 'health' and 'healthy eating', with some key foods such as 'kale', were much higher interest than the concept of 'dieting'. Which would be very valuable to know, if you were a company selling weight loss products to this group of women. And coupled with actual examples of content that is, for example, highly shareable for this audience, could also spark the kind of creative thinking required to move consumers to action in an increasingly cluttered and competitive world.

Truly integrating creative and data-driven teams, learning the language of the other, and understanding that both share a common goal of adding value to the lives of customers lies at the heart of success. But it's not a magic bullet. Most organizations still have a long way to go to integrate this kind of thinking into how they ideate, create and measure success - and to stop the quant from feeling like he or she is the substitute math teacher who took a wrong turn and wound up the opening act for the art gala.