The Battle for Sexy

It used to be that the creative side of marketing was the sexy side of the business—the glamorous side that got all the attention. Sure, great creative is still sexy, but data is giving creative a run for its money. In fact, back in October Harvard Business Review proclaimed data scientist to be “The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century.” Today you can’t have a discussion about the creative side of marketing without data sneaking into the conversation.

Even so, it’s not always sunshine. Often creative folks assert that data gets in the way of the creative process. Whether that’s due to too much focus on marketing ROI, or too much focus on using data to inform the creative, it’s not always welcome.

Not surprisingly, the key to making data more attractive to creative execs is to transform it into (sorry for the cliché) actionable insight before presenting it. Don’t just tell me that our customers prefer X, tell me, for example, why that information matters or how I can use it to improve design, strategy, or execution.

While speaking earlier this week with Anametrix CEO Pelin Thorogood (who pointed out the HBR article), she noted that data is sexy because it’s powerful. Using data analytics, marketers can predict customer loyalty or churn, forecast spending by customer segment, improve targeting in ways that raise response rates, reallocate marketing expenditures to reduce promotional spending, and increase margins and customer profitability. Wow. That is hot stuff.

Thorogood likened analytics to a crystal ball, with one exception: “Marketers can use it to not only see the future, but change it to their liking,” she said. If the data shows X, but you want to achieve Y, analytics can tell you which levers to turn to reach Y. Of course, I’m simplifying, but the capabilities are there. That’s what split testing and predictive analytics are all about. And data is at their core.

Traction CEO Adam Kleinberg, a creative at heart, also sees the sex appeal of data. At the same time, he cautions marketers to avoid relying on data that’s readily available to competitors or risk losing the ability to differentiate. “Marketers need to get the most they can out of data,” he said when we discussed the topic today, adding that “insight, not data, should inform creative; that’s where marketers will see a real difference.”

Kleinberg noted that in addition to seeking marketing ROI, they need to go for ROA: return on awesome. “Marketers need to invest in creative to stand out and do well today,” he said. “Slapping a logo on a [targeted] banner ad isn’t enough.”

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