How to Structure Your Marketing Team to Ensure Data Is Amplifying Creative

August 17, 2015

data and creative marketers

When I was at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the first time a couple of months ago, I noticed some people were talking about how ad-tech firms and technology companies had taken over what used to be a purely creative festival. Some didn’t seem happy about it.

I realized there’s some residual angst around the changes afoot in the industry. Adland has gone from being a place where creatives ruled, which endured for decades, to one where the most successful marketers lead with data. Although we talk a lot about how the ad industry has been upended by data, that transformation is clearly not complete, especially on the cultural front.

What I mean is that not all brands and agencies have a culture where creatives are fully open to using data in a meaningful way, from the very inception of an idea. A few seem to be stuck in a Mad Men era mindset, where Don Draper literally throws research data in the trash in a fit of rage. (Come to think of it, maybe he did that in multiple episodes.)

It might seem heroic to think that way and to lead from inspiration, but marketers can’t ignore all the information they now have at their fingertips about what their customers want and need. It would be a dereliction of their jobs.

Of course, virtually every CMO gets this. The tricky part is taking data out of its silo and integrating it into their organizations in a way that maximizes its impact and enabling the team to take advantage of the insights. Here are 4 things to keep in mind to put your creative and data in the right balance.

4 Things To Keep In Mind To Put Your Creative & Data In The Right Balance:

Hire smart people and put them in the same room.

Brands and agencies should strive to make sure that people who are tasked with overseeing measurement and data -- data scientists, analysts and marketing operations teams -- are part of the conversation with creatives from the very beginning of a campaign. They should help define what success looks like and share insights from past campaigns: what worked and what didn’t. Then they need to be involved for the duration to help with optimizations.

There’s also an underlying cultural issue: is the creative team constantly thinking about data, even if it isn’t directly in their job description? Do they have a genuine curiosity about data and a desire to do innovative things with it? If not, you’re on dicey ground.

There’s no getting around the fact that recruiting technical talent is difficult, for everyone. And it’s especially hard for agencies to compete with big tech companies. As an agency looking to attract promising candidates, it’s critical that you emphasize the intellectually challenging nature of the work. Make it clear that the person you hire will get deep experience working across multiple clients.

Test everything.

A/B testing is now basically table stakes for digital advertising; it’s easy and inexpensive to do. So, philosophically, everything should be tested.

It’s also an incredible gift for creatives, since it lets them seed multiple versions of their work to see which one flourishes and for which audience segment. Effectively, it lets creatives put their best work out in the world, which should make them happy.

Testing also lets marketers gather more actionable data to inform their creative strategies. By seeding two versions of creative in the wild, you can determine, for example, whether your audience responds better to pictures of cats or dogs, or to a man wearing a red t-shirt or a blue one. By generating creative to drive the data insights you’re looking for, you can be smarter about future iterations.

In other words, data breeds creative that breeds more data. It might sound like a circular process, and it is -- each circle is bigger and better than the last one!

Harness data to reach your best customers.

Before your creatives develop work, your data team should research your highest lifetime value customers. From examining CRM and financial data, they might determine that 20% of your broader cohort falls into that most-valuable bucket, and they have attributes like living in certain locations or having recently changed jobs.

By designing creative for those people, you increase the likelihood that you’ll reach new prospects who have similar attributes -- and who have a higher likelihood of becoming loyal customers, given the right push.

Don’t be beholden to an editorial calendar.

I heard an excellent point from DigitasLBi’s Baba Shetty while on a panel with him at Cannes. He talked about how companies need to untether themselves from their editorial calendars and lead from what data tells them.

In the past, as a marketer, you would develop an editorial calendar at the beginning of the year and pretty much stick to it. In today’s world, you still create that calendar, but you’re prepared to throw it out the window. Your creative team needs to be flexible enough to react to data coming in in real time and to optimize the work accordingly.

None of this is easy, and we’ll still be talking about the right way to integrate data and creative at Cannes next year. But I expect far more agencies to be citing examples of work that harnesses data in an innovative way, and the same will be true the following year. As far as I can see, there’s no going back, but there is a lot of promise in what can happen when the two worlds truly integrate.

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