Data has been ruling the roost for years. It’s no wonder why, either: Data has made personalization easy and effective, enabled informed decision-making based on concrete intelligence, clarified the customer journey, and led to a better understanding of ROI.
But now that having data and a single customer view are table stakes, a keen focus on both the data and creativity is what will help brand marketers standout among the competition.
Here are five ways you can breathe new creative life into your marketing organization.
1. Teach Creativity
Sometimes the best way to infuse creativity into an organization is by bringing in outside perspectives, said Becky Wang, author of “Creativity and Data Marketing” and co-founder of marketing consultancy Crossbeat. She suggested tapping a brand, design, or innovation agency to workshop inductive reasoning skills, which focus on making broad generalizations from specific observations—in other words, drawing conclusions from data.
“Part of it is just shaking up the culture because I think people learn by models—they have to be shown how to think about things differently,” Wang said. “People think that when you look at data, it will give you the answer because that’s what they want when they look at it. At best, data gives you direction.”
2. Test New Ideas
One step that high-performing marketing and advertising organizations take that others don’t do enough of is testing new ideas, said Nate Shetterley, global group director of data and design at marketing consultancy Fjord. If you’re optimizing around one individual, segment, or persona, for example, add an alternative to understand how people are moving.
“When you have a message that’s working, sub in message B, C, or D to test something new,” he said. “This looks like a complex version of A/B testing, but that’s where you have an opportunity to bring in a more creative approach.”
Testing new ideas can also stem from adopting an alternative mindset, Wang added. For example, think about what it would be like if you started the business you’re in today. This exercise could be as simple as running Facebook ads or market surveys that direct to a website that polls users about a potential product, she said.
“Data shows you the success or failure of something you’ve been doing, and it’s easy to get stuck in this loop,” Wang explained. “Think about what could happen if you did things differently, and then experiment with that. If you just imagined what it would be like if you created your business again today, you would probably notice that there was a plethora of decisions that didn’t come from the data.”
3. Resurrect The Human Element
The danger of going all in on data with no creativity counterbalance is that it strips the humanity out of marketing and advertising, said Adobe’s executive creative director, Steve Gustavson. If you ask someone how she feels about a product, for example, she will likely tell you a different story than what the data said if you’re just viewing her online consumption behaviors.
“I think what can get lost is that there are human beings in the process making the decisions of what’s said, how it’s said, and what gets built,” Gustavson said. “Once you strip the humanity out of that, suddenly nothing you do will be long-lasting. You need to figure out how to blend [data and creativity] to get a fully rounded view of the customer. Quantitative data can only tell you a piece of that.”
Marketers tend to fall into this trap when they focus on optimizing an algorithm to get the best answer, Shetterley added. When you tinker with numbers and tools to achieve the highest percentage, you extract yourself far away from the humans on the other side.
“When you’re focused on what it means to be more human, you’re more empathetic and ethical because in the end, you’re dealing with human beings and not just optimizing an algorithm,” he said. “That analytical approach blended with the human end keeps us on track.”
4. Teach Marketers Data Science
Consider the word “model.” To a data scientist, it could refer to an analytical model. In design, it’s a conceptual model or prototype. To the general public, it’s someone famous on a catwalk. That’s why it’s important for marketers to speak the language of a data scientist, Shetterley said.
Fjord created an internal program called “Data for Designers,” which taught the basics around how data scientists viewed the world in order to bridge the gap between how data-minded professionals and creative marketers think. The result was better collaboration, understanding, and burgeoning creativity.
“It’s almost like meeting someone from another country: You learn a little of their language so you can understand each other a bit better, which lends itself to working together more productively,” Shetterley said.
5. Teach Data Scientists Marketing
The flip side of that is equally important, Gustavson and Shetterley agreed. Gustavson suggested that organizations consider bringing more creativity into non creative disciplines such as data science.
And there are already organizations that are doing this. For example, the counterpart to Fjord’s “Data for Designers” program is an internal curriculum that teaches visual design to engineers, Shetterley said. Its goal is to surface more creativity and improve their ability to tell stories with data.
“What’s important is that some how we meet in the middle,” Gustavson said, emphasizing the importance of upskilling both creatives and data scientists.