I’m a copywriter by training, working at several London agencies before starting Evans Hunt Scott (latterly EHS 4D). Over the years I worked with great brands, won awards and helped develop some excellent talent, many of whom went on to start their own agencies. I think I paid my dues creative-wise.
But it has to be said that, over the years, I grew increasingly sceptical of the primacy of creative communication in marketing. In my experience, true creative thinking is too often absent from what has become a production-line process, adding little value to the customer or the advertiser’s commercial success.
In 2009, I left the agency world to set up my own consultancy. The funny thing is that in nearly three years hardly anyone has asked me to consult on their creative challenges. What I am being asked to do is to help senior marketers plan for success in a data-rich future. Why on earth are they paying good money to me to do that? I’m not a statistician. I’m certainly not an IT wonk.
I’ll tell you what I think is happening. As data moves out of the back room into the marketing departments and the glaring light of the boardrooms, it needs a story. Decision makers need to be convinced that data is essential to their commercial future. They need a simple, compelling story about real business selling to real people making real-life choices. Ideally told in English.
Instead, they get data-speak, abstraction, mystery. Not a satisfying who-dunnit, but too often an irritating whats-that-all-about? In the same way that creative-led marketers helped develop brand stories that capture the imagination of customers and the confidence of shareholders, data specialists need to adopt the power of metaphor, analogy, character.
If they are going to take on the leadership role previously hogged by the creative fraternity, data specialists need to demonstrate the same strengths:
Empathy - the understanding of what it is like to be another person, to put yourself in the shoes of the customer.
Disruption – the imagination to conceive a new reality that shakes up the familiar.
Courage – the guts to challenge received wisdom and follow it through in the face of caution and cynicism.
Optimism – the cheerful enthusiasm that helps everyone believe in what can be achieved.
The Guardian’s science columnist Ben Goldacre, usually a healthy sceptic, recently delivered a paean to the creative use of data. “Amazing things happen when you pull individual pieces of information together into larger datasets. Meaning emerges as you produce facts from figures… If you’ve ever wished you were born in the 19th Century when there were so many inventions and ideas to hook for yourself, then I seriously recommend you become a coder of data, because future nerds will look back on this time with the exact same envy we feel for inventors of that century.” (The Guardian, 8th October 2011)
In other word this, now is a golden age of data. This is an inflection point for data in marketing. As long as we see data specialists becoming the new creative thinkers.