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July 07, 2016

May the Creative Force be With You.

By Kyle Taylor / Founding Partner

With buzz words like data, targeting, tags, and APIs, the "Math Men" are certainly winning over the hearts and minds of the "Mad Men" this generation -- and with good reason. We've sung the praises of tracking, crafting, and targeting audiences and media buys, and now, with major brands like P&G prepping to buy the majority of its digital inventory programmatically, the focus shifts to data's impact on creativity. What does it look like, and how does it change the role of social and content development? Is there a place for data in the creative process?

One might consider data's role in creativity akin to that of "The Force" in "Star Wars." It can be extremely powerful for those trained in its appropriate use, but in the wrong hands, data can take agencies (and their brand clients) to some dark places.

The dark side I sense in you

For example, social analytics can prove that engagement across Facebook, Twitter, and every other social platform is sky high on both Pearl Harbor Day and Sept. 11. But that social data can't -- and shouldn't -- be the only factor influencing the decision to post content on either day.

Taken at face value, that data leads to poor decisions like SpaghettiOs tweeting a picture of its mascot waving an American flag in "remembrance" of Pearl Harbor's fallen soldiers, and AT&T's misguided "never forget" ad. Data can give you insight, but it can't give you judgment.

The things you will see through "The Force"

Assuming that you're not trying to cull insights from analytics in a vacuum, data can actually make it easier for a creative or social media team to do its job.

First and most obviously, data lets you test your creative decisions to see what's actually working. Consider that even for a simple banner ad, there are well over 20 different aspects that could theoretically be performance-tested while they're in market -- everything from tagline and font color, to size, page placement, target audience, and more. Testing those many aspects allows a creative team to explore a variety of messages and platforms, while optimizing on the fly to the best-performing work.

And while it may seem like pivoting based on all that data takes much of the creative thinking out of the creative process, testing can actually have tremendous benefits to a team full of imaginative, expressive copywriters, art directors, and strategists.

Testing generates real-time consumer feedback on a creative team's work -- essentially seeing how copy or color choices resonate in the wild -- and also provides serious ammo for when the client calls and wants "the call to action bigger and in orange." Taking an objection or rebuttal to a client about creative is one thing; taking it to them with compelling data that keeps the content from veering off into the dark side is quite another.

Always pass on what you have learned

Beyond just testing, data-driven thinking adds a layer of specificity when it comes to creative tactics. Take Nike's campaign to drive attention to its Nike Free Run +2 City custom shoe. The company took data that came from tracking marathon runners in five different cities and used it to create personalized graphics that were then embossed on individual sneaker boxes. The data itself become the creative, which led to social sharing and an amplification of the "personalized" experience the company was offering with its custom-made running shoes.

Meanwhile, On The Border (disclosure: a previous client) used data to shift the demographics of its audience with a Cinco de Mayo video campaign. In advance of the campaign, On The Border had excellent social engagement rates with women. In fact, women were four times more likely to engage with the brand socially. The caveat was that many of its food promos -- the endless enchiladas, for example -- appealed more to men.

Using data, On The Border was able to determine the right medium (video), the specific content genre (fail videos, pranks, and comedy), and when the content was consumed, to flip the script and create a campaign that spoke to the restaurant's desired target, which led to engagement for a Cinco de Mayo campaign that was literally 80 percent male. In this case, the data and insights drove the creative process.

So in the midst of what seems like a relentless focus on precision targeting, metrics, and measurement above all else, the value of creative thinking, authenticity, and finding the right brand voice can be extremely hard to quantify. But when used wisely, data and analytics can make it far easier to demonstrate how beneficial your ideas and innovation have been (and will continue to be) for your client's brand. May the data (and "The Force") be with you, young creative.

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