The days when creative directors looked at Big Data the way teenagers look at homework are rapidly coming to an end. Today, creatives and data scientists are working hand-in-hand to optimize the vast data trove they have at their disposal, according to panelists at a recent discussion hosted by digital marketing agency Razorfish at its New York offices.
"It has become very transparent that each one of us has a part to play in the success of our campaigns," said Brian Silver, VP, global business planning and operations, Yahoo.
Data analysis and content creation are two separate but interdependent "tent poles" that form the framework of successful marketing campaigns, he said during the panel discussion, titled "Quantifying Creativity."
The panel was presented by Razorfish in partnership with Campaign US and included a summary of results from recent research conducted by Razorfish that analyzed the components of 15 years of prize-winning marketing campaigns at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Douglas Quenqua, editor in chief, Campaign US, moderated the panel discussion.
Deb Boyda, central region president, Razorfish, said focusing on the client's business goals is at the heart of successful campaign creation, from data analysis through execution of the creative.
"We start by trying to define the business problem—not the marketing problem, but the business problem," she explained. "Then we mine all of the data we have available to us, and we say, 'OK this is what we feel the business transformation opportunity is. How can digital technology address that?'
"In that way, we cut loose the brains of some of our most talented people against business issues."
Despite the increasing autonomy of data-driven marketing campaigns, human intelligence remains integral to campaign creation. Experts who can interpret data for creative personnel so that they can refine their marketing messages have become key players in the process, said William Lidstone, CMO at Razorfish.
"Data scientists are going to be critical," he said. "There is a huge amount of translation that occurs to turn that data into an actual insight before you can use it creatively. I suspect that data scientists are going to play a hugely important role in helping us quiz that data and find truths, and we are going to be increasingly more reliant on them as we move forward."
While one of the first steps of the creative process has historically involved brainstorming ideas, the availability of data is allowing for deeper analysis at the outset, and bringing teams together early in the process to collaborate on objectives, the panelists said.
"There is a period of time at the beginning that we spend with business strategists, account planners and clients setting up and defining where we want to go before we actually start doing the creative work," said Boyda. "It's one of those things where it is taking forever at the beginning, but it leads to a better product at the end."
Access to rich data ahead of time allows marketers to launch their efforts from a more informed position, said Silver.
"What big data is allowing us to do is to go backwards in time, [giving] you the insights from both direct and indirect correlations to get smarter faster," he said. "The data was always there, and now we're allowed to use it proactively, rather than reactively."
Data can also be a valuable tool in keeping errant ideas in check, said Darwin Tomlinson, VP, creative ideation/consumer communications, at Clinique.
"There are people who have been told throughout their whole career that their idea is the 'golden' idea, and data can also be used to push back against that," he said.
Asked by Quenqua of Campaign US whether the growth in programmatic creative and content targeted at the individual level leaves room for "the big idea" in marketing campaigns, panelists offered differing opinions.
"It could be that you have a big idea with a different viewpoint for every person who saw it," said Tomlinson. "Maybe that is the big idea."
Boyda said she feels the availability of rich data is "liberating and enriching and exciting" for creative personnel.
"I don't think it means the death of the big idea at all," she said. "A lot of our creative people feel like they are kids in a candy store because they have so many more toys to play with to create what it is they want to create."
Lidstone, however, said individualization is fundamentally changing the way marketers and agencies will approach campaigns.
"It is the end of the big idea," he said. "Data will help us tell stories better, in a more sequential way and a programmatic way. I think what data will do brilliantly is create utilities around individuals, and I think the future of how brands are going to be built is around them being useful for us. Brands today, and businesses, need to be built around services, and those services are all going to be powered by immense amounts of data."