Are data and creativity like chalk and cheese?

Jason Dooris

Jason Dooris is the CEO and founder of growing Atomic 212, Australia's fastest growing media and marketing agency on the BRW 2014 list. Over the past 20 years, Jason has held a variety of senior local and global industry positions including CEO MediaCom UK, deputy CEO MediaCom Europe, GM Saatchi & Saatchi NZ, GM Ogilvy & Mather Australia, GM Dentsu Aegis Australia and consulting practice director, Deloitte Asia. His vertical experience covers most categories with a particular focus on retail, automotive and FMCG.

I was having a beer with a brilliant young agency upstart a few months ago. She has diverse skills in digital, econometric modelling, data analysis and search marketing. At the age of 26, she is truly impressive.

But as we sipped on our beers she lamented that she felt unskilled, like she was an artist who only knew how to paint half the picture.

“What’s the point in all this targeting if no one pays any attention to the messaging?” she asked me. She had hit the nail on the head.

The industry is experiencing an explosion in data-led initiatives like programmatic buying, as well as a simultaneous increase in the importance of creativity. A less adventurous marketer might see these trends as chalk and cheese, as two developments which have the power to markedly improve a brand’s bottom line, but which don’t have much room for crossover.

One trend is all about numbers and data and targeting. The other focuses on branding, content and big ideas. Each works towards different goals, with disparate measurement targets and staffers with highly opposed skillsets.

Creativity more important than ever

In the face of accelerated programmatic buying and data-led marketing, there has been a simultaneous explosion in the creative space. Creativity has always (obviously) been at the heart of marketing and advertising. But there has been a shift.

More brands are bringing creativity to the forefront of marketing dialogues, exploring ideation and having creative discussions at the beginning of the planning process, rather than outsourcing to a standalone creative house later down the line. Just look at all the brands building impressive in-house capabilities to strengthen their content marketing prowess.

Never before have creative agencies felt more competition on the content front. And we are seeing some amazing, thought provoking content hitting the market as a result.

A personal favourite of mine is the Dollar Shave Club – from humble beginnings the two founders have built a highly successful company, based in part on an original, tongue-in-cheek content strategy that exudes confidence and humour. The brand’s messaging connects with its young male audience with a seamless creative strategy that stretches across every aspect of the business.

Programmatic buying a way of life

Meanwhile, on the programmatic front, the industry is progressing at a phenomenal pace. According to eMarketer, 83 per cent of all advertising sales will be conducted via programmatic buying in the US in 2017. I expect Australia won’t be too far behind.

Programmatic is transforming the entire industry. As data and measurement become more important than ever, we are able to use programmatic buying to develop highly targeted campaigns. This means marketers can also target new customers in places they never thought to look, using an automated process that frees up staff and increases efficiency.

But talk to a programmatic expert in any agency, and more often than not you will discover creativity doesn’t figure too highly on their list of priorities.

Never the twain shall meet?

And here’s my problem. The worlds of data and creativity sometimes seem to be in opposition. Each has its own disparate strengths: Programmatic buying is all about right person, right place, and right time; whereas creativity has the power to tap into emotions, create loyalty and shift perceptions.

If each has its own considerable clout, why aren’t we figuring out ways to bring the two together? We know that no matter how much you get your message in front of the right consumer, they are not going to respond unless you serve them with the right message. On the same note, it doesn’t matter if you have developed the most amazing creative concept known to man if you’re not getting the message in front of the right audience.

The solution possibly lies in the next generation of marketers, youngsters who are currently being trained as multi-skilled creative data analysts or content-driven programmatic experts – youngsters like the agency upstart I mentioned previously. Or agencies might consider modern workspaces that force cross-pollination among the data geeks and the content experts.

My agency, Atomic 212, recently adopted such a program, where we have banned all internal emails in an attempt to get staff members with different skillsets to learn from one another.

In addition, greater collaboration between a brand’s agency partners is key – infighting between creative and media agencies is a surefire route to business silos, poor communication and disjointed marketing strategies. The relatively recent rise of the modern full-service agency model might be a sign that the industry is moving in the right direction.

Finally, a key bridge between data and creativity probably lies in audience insights and analysis. If brands and agencies bring consumer insights to the very beginning of the marketing process, they can use these insights to not only drive messaging to the right audiences, but also to develop creative that will resonate with those audiences.

In fact, a strong, data-led insights program just might be the solution.

Tags: digital marketing, data-driven marketing, marketing strategy

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