It’s Not Big Data Vs. Creative: It’s Big Data AND Creative

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, originally published on Feb. 6, 2013, placed at No. 18 in our 20 most popular articles of the year.

ADOTAS — For decades, the marketing industry has been dominated by the creative disciplines. Customer Experience has focused on creative professionals producing high-impact visual presentations that grab and sustain attention. As the digital media industry has emerged over the last 20 years, it has followed the lead of the broader marketing industry, remaining focused on powerful creative content displayed on technological channels and devices. For the most part, however, the digital media industry has not integrated insights from data into the creative process.


And while the digital media industry was growing and flourishing, the world of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) was developing along much the same time frame. Customer data collection has matured to the point that data recorded about customers’ preferences, needs, location, friend networks and behavior can offer companies deeper insights that foster even more personal interactions. Data availability has exploded with the advent of social and mobile so that companies are collecting and analyzing what people are saying about their brand both within their own conversations as well as on social networks.

Despite both disciplines becoming more mature and robust in recent years, when we speak to people in our field, the general sentiment seems to be that we now live in a world of too much data and not enough insight. Creatives shy away from data because it seems to be detached from human behavior, yet it is often fruitless for them to design messages for media segments because they don’t have the data to understand their audience. Only the right message brilliantly communicated to the right people at the right time will resonate, and data-driven intelligence is the only way to ensure that happens to both deepen the relationship and move them to the desired action.

Tools are widely available that allow strategists and creatives to visualize large and complex data collections and derive meaningful insights from them by giving them a view of an audience that wants to hear the story a given brand is telling. Yet agencies are struggling to infuse creative with data because they are confronting cultural roadblocks. The old guard continues to stubbornly hang on to “old-timey” ideals about what it means to be in advertising (personally, we blame Mad Men), and they perceive the data guys to be too research-focused and unable to relate the numbers to human behavior and insights. The problem is there aren’t enough people in the right positions within agencies today who know how to turn that data into the insights that creatives need to do great work. It requires a unique combination of visual creativity with an understanding of what consumers and business leaders truly need to be engaged and move to action.

How do agencies undo these internal prejudices? Is it best to overhaul the entire department or simply hire the right leader? In our opinion, either of these options would work but the key in both lies in rethinking the way that data relates to the human element of our work. Any digital agency or brand that hopes to make it in the future needs to establish two end goals:

  • First, you must make your data actionable by synthesizing the raw numbers and other primary research into insights that shed light on how a given audience makes decisions.
  • Second, you must develop a creative process that incorporates the data analysis, reporting it back in a meaningful way to help optimize the experience over time and fuel insights for the next engagement. It’s a feedback loop that is critical for success.

When data and creative are seamlessly integrated, the boundaries of what is possible within a digital agency begin to expand. At Roundarch Isobar, several of our projects have allowed us to produce results for our clients that are equally stunning as they are powerful. Take the “Bubbler” that we created for Coca-Cola, for instance. We developed a program that visualizes data in a creative, intelligible and actionable ways to deliver results and improve enterprise management. The algorithmic “Bubbler” enables employees to pull real-time social media data on Coca-Cola brands from around the globe, then compile and visualize it. Tracking key metrics like search terms, blog comments, video tags, tweets, and pictures as they surface, the Bubbler presents an evolving snapshot of the most current social media data. It’s an engaging and powerful way to gain business insights through of-the-moment brand buzz.

In another example, we helped the New York Jets to analyze big picture data with enough detail to identify new and better ways to do business and expand revenues. We crafted an executive touch-screen product that provides real-time stadium and game data, allowing the Jets and owner, Woody Johnson, to monitor the fan experience during game time and make operational decisions that help maximize sales. The command center provides summary-level and drill-down views of stadium operations such as tickets, parking and concessions. It also creates predictive algorithms that help identify pinch points and open revenue opportunities, allowing the Jets to create a better gameday experience for fans while simultaneously driving profits.

As we executed these projects, we brought together creative artists and data geeks who brought their very different competencies and personalities to the table. We have discovered that it is vital to bring these different members of the team together early on in the process, from the very first brainstorm. This way, both parties are equally invested in the outcome. It is also important for team leaders to build a culture of mutual respect by highlighting the contributions of both aspects of the team. Creating cross-functional teams that work effectively together may be one of the toughest and most valuable management skills of the new marketing age.

The most powerful companies and the leading digital agencies that support them realize this. They are rapidly building converged creative and data-focused teams to enhance their traditional marketing capabilities across all channels. Success today requires a multi-disciplinary and collaborative team of internal and external personnel and technologies. If you know what you’re looking for, it is easier than you might think to find creatives who respect and crave data, and vice versa.

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