Creative vs. Data: An Autumn Smackdown

Mad Men

Digital marketing strategy is changing the way consumer brands and enterprises have to think about content.  That’s been true for some time, but there are two main reasons why ‘this time it’s different’:

  1. Like never before, data on the internet is so widely available with every activity, the desire to leverage it is (or should be) natural.  IBM released a study last week after interviewing over 1,700 CMOs globally.  The number one headache identified for their future?  The explosion of data that’s occurring in their worlds (incidentally, social media was number 2).  Over 70% of CMOs reported being underprepared to manage the data.  That’s a staggering percentage…
  2. Media consumption habits have changed so drastically that the volume of content a brand must create in order stay relevant in real-time conversations has gone up exponentially, but the relationship between creative spend and measurable ROI has decreased.  In other words, everyone needs a higher volume of less expensive content than they used to.

My instincts and training, and the above data points, scream that using data is infinitely smarter in the long-run than using hunches to produce content.

The contrarian point, though, has its merits. For one, we’ve been using qualitative insights to sell things for centuries.  So what’s wrong with good content ‘just being good’? After all, doesn’t the insistence of data in everything we do take some of the magic out of the equation?  The most eye-catching  ideas I’ve seen come out of creative agencies were less about data and more about bright shiny objects.

I’ve been teetering lately between the idea of ‘creative’ content development versus data driven decision-making.   I don’t believe these are mutually exclusive, and the best future content creators will leverage data to create content, but there are some differences. Having spent some time on this, here’s what I’ve come to learn over time:

  1. Bright shiny objects close deals.  Everyone wants ideas, a new hotness. Content experts with a high EQ and an intuitive understanding of  emotional pull have a tendency to win when it comes to meetings. There are a lot of biases in the way we present ideas that lend themselves to the ‘PRETTY-PICTURE-BOOH-MATH’ approach to marketing.  The first is that we’re still presenting creative concepts with meetings that we give titles like tissue sessions. Imagine walking into a pitch with a tissue covered board and unveiling a spreadsheet, then talking about segmentation.  Snoozer.
  2. Data keeps business relationships alive.  After the party,  when the bright shiny object wears off,  marketers are always struggling to grasp ROI.  As I was writing this, I stumbled across this article on Moneyball for the Consumer Web that talks about how Rent the Runway employed data to determine the 19 variables that are important to their customers, including color, designer name, dress length, time of year, occasion/purpose, age of renter, body type, neckline, model wearing dress, price.  Now, let’s pretend you need to manage a Facebook Page for Rent the Runway, or write a blog,  or create content to get into other bloggers’ hands to help spread the word.  Do you think that having those 19 variables would be helpful in developing your content calendar?  I would imagine that one could write a few articles on each variable and build a post per week that would be relevant and keep the content flowing (and relavant).
So, from a marketing agency perspective, both elements are important, but I would venture to guess that we spend a disproportionate amount of money on bright-shiny objects, and not quite enough on the data side of our businesses.  I expect this to change drastically in the near future.

Learning Processing….and So Much More

When you finish up at Stern you’re allowed to take a ‘free’ class (I hesitate to say it’s free because you’ve already made a tremendous investment in the MBA, but you don’t pay specifically for the credits to one class).  I took advantage of our ability to go outside of Stern and I signed up for the Introduction to Computational Media Course at the Interactive Telecommunications Program school in Tisch.  To say it’s been enriching to spend Tuesday evenings in the ITP school would be an understatement.  Learning new skills in a creative environment has really helped me in all aspects of my work.   I don’t think that I could have identified what I would gain from being in the class before taking it,  but looking back it’s very clear to me that this has been a immensely valuable experience.

There’s a mentality that I think a lot of upcoming business executives accept that is career-limiting.  I believe that there’s an over-emphasis in our graduate level schools on gaining depth within a functional area,  or only focusing on training and coursework that directly relates to your career path.  While I agree that’s the primary purpose of a graduate degree, I think a lot of value can be unlocked by learning completely new things that at first glance appear unrelated to your current skill set and career goals, especially courses that are creative in nature.  Intro to Comp Media has been that experience for me.  For everyone outside of an academic program, I’d encourage you to check out a skillshare class.

Back to my rudimentary coding skills. Processing is a computer language that’s primarily used by visual artists.  For our last assignment, we had to create a ‘chance composition’ using the object-oriented approach to development.  I made a pretty ridiculous looking space ship that meanders it’s way through some random stars.  Overall, nothing to write home about.  However, re-learning some of the fundamentals of coding has really helped me communicate with the real developers that I work with on a daily basis, and it’s been a great experience to get outside of my comfort zone.