How Data Benefits and Burdens Creativity

There’s no denying that today’s marketers are obsessed with data. But can too much of a good thing be detrimental? Some marketers fear that intensified data usage will cause creativity to suffer. Direct Marketing News Senior Digital Strategist Allison Schiff asked a panel of creative experts whether and under what circumstances data helps or hinders creativity at today’s DMA 2013 Town Square session in Chicago.

What is creativity?

But before addressing whether data helps or hurts creativity, the panel established what exactly creativity means. And just as how there’s more than one way to be creative, marketers seem to have more than one definition of creativity means. Alfonso Marian, chief creative officer for OgilvyOne, defined creativity as “what really changes behavior in people” and Jeff Allen, Adobe’s director of product marketing for Digital Analytics, added that creativity means taking an unexpected approach to telling or addressing a story. But Zain Raj, CEO of Epsilon Agency Services, said creativity is more than that.

“Creativity is something that surprises, something that delights, something that inspires, and something that’s a little off so that you spend a little bit more time on it,” he said.

How data helps creativity

When it comes to injecting data into the creative process, Nancy Harhut, CCO of Wilde Agency, argued that data improves relevancy and response by sending the right creative message at the right time to the right audience. But having unclean or inaccessible data can completely dash these opportunities and leave marketers feeling doubtful of their ability to personalize messaging, she said.

In addition to having clean data, Marian said it’s important for companies to hire people who know how to listen to and understand the collected insight.

“Data for the sake of data doesn’t help creativity,” he said. “If you don’t know how to read it, it will not help you.”

How data hinders creativity

But sometimes data can complicate the creative process rather than complement it. Today’s digital environment demands immediate, measurable results, Allen argued. However, not all creatives know how to measure the performance of their work aside from whether a company likes it.

“It’s saying your work isn’t good if it’s not working,” Allen said.

Raj also argued that businesses will sometimes view a transaction as the only metric of success. And while a customer might not buy a product immediately after seeing a piece of creative, that creative could resonate with a customers’ attitudes or beliefs and lead to a purchase later down the line. Hence, it’s also important to measure success in terms of building brand value, he said.

But instead of analyzing the data at the end of the creative process, marketers should analyze the data at the beginning, Marian said. Hence, data should help guide the creative process, not just be a reaction to the final product.

Common challenges

Whether marketers view the fusion of data and creativity as a help or a hindrance, challenges are going to arise. For example, Allen argued that in most organizations data is not well democratized or accessible to everyone who needs it, including creatives. In addition, Raj said that data can often live in silos, which makes it difficult for brands to fully understand the customer they’re trying to win over.

 “At the end of the day, we’re dealing with people, [and] what we have to do as marketers is understand those people, empathize with them, and then find a way to make them believe what we believe is true,” he said. “Data gets a bad name because we don’t know how to put all of this data together that [form] the understanding of the person we’re trying to influence.”

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