Data versus creativity: which side are you on?

The argument over which is more important – data or creativity – has been raging for decades. Marketing data expert, Nigel Grimes, Director at Anaylin, shares his unique right brain/left brain perspective on the data versus creativity debate.

There is still a big divide between marketers who feel data has no role to play in creativity and those who believe data is vital in enhancing creativity.

Many advertising professionals believe that data is stifling and diluting creativity. Sir John Hegarty, co-founder of BBH, claimed in Marketing Week this year, that creativity has been side-lined in favour of data, making brands risk averse and ads boring. Marketing has forgotten to “engage with people’s imagination and soul” he argued.

Professor Brian Cox, in an interview with Campaign magazine, disagreed. “Data is knowledge. Data is never bad. It’s never restrictive,” he said, adding: “If you just throw mud at the wall is that a more effective strategy because you will get it right occasionally?”

Data can inform us about the relationship customers have with a brand. It can also reveal insights into customer attitudes towards the purchasing category and channels. An understanding of these customer motivations can guide the angle of persuasion and tone to take in the positioning and messaging. For instance, in insurance services whether to focus on fear, the level and speed of service, or price.

So, data brings strong evidence to a creative proposition and increases the effectiveness and relevance of a campaign, while reducing the risk and minimising costs.

But data in marketing without creativity can feel routine and cold. A straightforward approach might get some good results, but only a fraction of what it could achieve. Data cannot stir feelings and create emotional bonds with the consumer. That is the role of creativity. But creativity without data can be chaotic and will rarely reach its true potential.

Data unlocks new insights about customers and culture; and great creative comes from those fantastic insights.

So, data shouldn’t replace instinct and ingenuity. It should be used to refine and boost the creative process by stimulating and directing creative energy in the most productive way.

Data doesn’t reduce creativity, that usually comes from lack of time because of the pressure on businesses to act faster – often simply because technology makes it possible! This focus on speed is reducing the time spent on the creative process and researching the likelihood of success.

Channel selection also has a part to play in the extent data can marry up with creativity. There is a limit to the story you can tell and what customers are willing to consume in certain channels – consider twitter, online video and other digital and social media versus printed advertisements and the reborn medium of direct mail.

We need to create the right balance between data and creativity and treat both disciplines as equal partners. A measured creative testing and learning approach will accelerate arriving at the optimum creative approach. A recent report* by management consulting firm McKinsey supports my view. It reports that marketers who use data to inform creativity have growth rates twice as high as companies that don’t.

When we combine the insights gleaned from data analytics with the power of human instinct and imagination we will create effective and successful marketing campaigns that appeal to the head and the heart.

Data-informed creative marketing should be the goal.