Debate: Is a focus on analytics stifling marketers’ creativity?
Topic sentence: An increased focus on analytics is stifling marketers’ creativity.
The Leading Edge
Negative – To some extent, I can see the logic in the question – the image of marketing people buried in spreadsheets and the ‘paralysis of analysis’, de-risking every single decision and only doing what the numbers say.
Agencies whine about conservative clients who just ‘won’t take risks’ and so they can’t sell their creative ‘breakthrough’. The reality is that this image couldn’t be further from the truth or the reality of today’s best marketers. Far from being buried in the numbers, they are liberated by them!
And the growth in analytics is far more often used as a headlight than a rear view mirror: helping marketers look for new product and service innovations, new opportunities to connect with customers and gaps in markets and categories where latent demand is unmet. And predict the potential for success.
The growth in big data analytics is being driven by the identification of growth opportunities more than it is being used to drive out cost and waste. And it makes sense. We’ve had seven years of painful, anaemic growth that has amounted to shrink-wrapping our businesses and we can’t squeeze much more. I see much more activity around growth initiatives and innovation – and most of this is being driven by new business models, new products and markets identified by and de-risked through thorough data analysis.
I’d go as far as to say that I’ve never seen so much creativity in marketers who have made friends with data and are predicting opportunity with data. Of course we want to reduce risk in these growth initiatives and access to good predictive analytic models helps to de-risk them.
But don’t confuse that with a lack of creativity.
Affirmative – The debate over whether marketing is a science or an art is as old as the profession itself. In reality, it’s about using analytics to make informed yet genuinely creative decisions.
In recent years, marketers have become increasingly reliant on analytics to inform decision-making. This is largely a result of the desire to manage risk and make educated decisions at the request of clients.
True innovation and sales performance is not about science or analytics alone, rather it is about abstract problem solving. This requires a lateral leap and insightful design thinking that breaks category norms, which cannot be achieved through mere ‘informed decision-making’.
The fact that Dyson is now a $1 billion business is testament to the fact that creative thinking has a commercial value and can produce commercial outcomes. James Dyson did not conduct in-depth regression analysis to determine what type of vacuum cleaner would meet a market need – he decided to ‘build a better mousetrap’ and allow the market to follow. The same can be said for the creative leadership of Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive. Apple has been the world’s most powerful brand for years and, again, this success has been built on innovation and by taking a leap on the market rather than focusing heavily on in-depth analytics.
I do still believe there remains a place for analytics in informed decisio-making – choice modelling and shopper analysis, for example, are providing marketers with great tools that assist in this area. But it needs to remain in this space and not attempt to substitute creative thinking – analytics will never be able to replace human capacity for abstract problem solving.
Head of customer experience
Negative – It’s a widely accepted belief in the advertising industry that great cre- ative comes from a tight brief. Yet, there is still some nervousness and trepidation when it comes to the role that data can play in this process.
If the question was whether or not research data constrains the creative process, then most wouldn’t hesitate to say ‘no’. But when asked whether the seemingly dark art of behavioural data analytics constrains the creative process, most aren’t quite so sure. We still believe that the answer is ‘no’.
The defining role of data is in helping to create the parameters for the brief. There are many moments along the creative process where data can play a key role. But at its heart, the role of data in creativity is to illuminate a truth.
But it’s not ubiquitous. The shape and form of that ‘truth’ will be different every time. In one instance we’ve used data to identify and pinpoint the true business problem. Our client was concerned about customer churn and had briefed us to put in place a communications strategy to help alleviate the problem. But a closer look at the data actually highlighted that the business was in fact losing more revenue from customers slowly reducing their spend, rather than completely churning. The true business problem was smaller competitors chipping away at the edges – not customers leaving altogether.
Without the use of data in this instance, the creative would have been chasing the wrong problem. The key to working with data is to understand and respect its limits. Data is the ultimate ‘lie detector’ and gets to the heart of ‘what’. But if you are expecting it to tell you ‘why’, then you will be disappointed. That still requires a leap. Every great brief has parameters and constraints. Data just helps us define these.
Negative – Many companies require defined metrics and ROI utilising analytics before investing in or pitching programs, which can mean a marketing initiative is harder to get off the ground. Previously, the marketing program may have been run based on the experience of the marketer or agency.
Executive management of many companies now expect to equate a tangible value or outcome to a marketing effort. This can mean there are challenges to create marketing assets instead of campaigns.
For years, marketing positions were filled by ‘creative types’, whose contribution to the bottom line was difficult to measure. But a lean economy and a competitive marketplace have mandated that marketers take a more engineering-based approach to their roles.
However, this does not necessarily mean that creativity is stifled. As the data is where you start – and then you get creative around whatever the analysis of that data is.
It’s also about ‘leveraged creativity’ – analytics by itself does not mean improved marketing measurement, but, if used effectively, the marketer can leverage the data with their creative expertise to drive better outcomes and generate higher engagement and revenue. The process is about data, then analytics, then measurement leading to creativity. As such, analytics gives you a focused direction, so that time and cost are spent in the most effective areas.
This is the ‘sweet spot’ where analytics improves a marketer’s creativity, rather than taking a broad-based data approach. As such, I believe an increased focus on analytics is not stifling marketers’ creativity. However, it is important to consider that a scattergun approach to analytics can lead to lack of understanding or appreciation of the right approach by management, which may limit creative freedom.