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Balancing seemingly competitive priorities is difficult in any field, but in recent years, it’s been a particular challenge for marketers. Continued developments in data and technology mean the industry is evolving fast and, although these advances offer new opportunities, they’ve also ushered in a pressure to ‘keep up’ by prioritising data and analytics over more creative ways of working.
At the start of 2018, we surveyed 250 in-house marketing professionals to get some new insights into the challenges faced when balancing data and creativity.
Our study revealed that almost three-quarters (72%) of marketers felt that a culture of measurement is killing creativity, as increasing emphasis is placed on data-driven practices, rather than creative methods of campaign planning.
The research also highlighted a lack of commitment to brand development, with 64% of respondents stating that senior management are not willing to support pure brand-building. Half of this sub-group revealed that they are directed to prioritise measurable activity.
This may be alarming, but in the data-driven world of 2018, it’s not really all that surprising. An increased emphasis on insights, technology and analytics has meant that marketing companies are under more strain than ever to measure success, drive results and support everything with ‘hard data’.
How can marketers get balancing data and creativity right?
Today, so many in-house marketers seem to be concerned by a lack of balance between measurement, data and creativity in their organisations. Increasingly, it’s as though there’s a sense of fear in the air – almost as if marketers are worried that creativity won’t yield results. Our study underlines the importance of finding a lasting and effective way for insight and creativity to meet, in a way that works for the whole team, and allows instincts to be explored.
Finding the right processes will allow marketing departments to consistently negotiate this relationship and prioritise accordingly. Developing new, more balanced, ways of working will also have an impact on efficiency. Everyone will know where they stand, and previously difficult decisions – such as when analysis hands over to creative – will be simplified.
The key, from an industry standpoint, isn’t to favour one approach over another, or indeed, phase one out. In 2018, marketing success depends on an ability to achieve a symbiotic relationship between two apparently opposing concepts, by combining a variety of skills to see campaigns through from start to finish.
Collaboration is crucial
A successful balance of creativity and data can be incredibly fruitful, but it relies upon flexibility, open-mindedness and above all – teamwork. This means talking with staff and colleagues about possible processes and strategies, taking time to plan together as a group and being receptive when it comes to developing new ideas.
For Mike Fitzsimons, business analyst and co-author of Lobotomy: The Marginalisation of Creativity and How to Become Human Again, creativity is “about the infinite – it’s about things that you have never thought about and making connections that have never been made.”
Structured flexibility: the way forward?
Planning is vital too, but too much rigidity in any process can be dangerously limiting. Different people have different capabilities but keeping these separate, or relying too much on prescriptive roles and job titles, can get in the way of your team’s creative potential. Marketers should be striving to develop – and maintain – a culture of creativity in the workplace, one which harnesses and celebrates individual talents and skills.
Julia Munder, international marketing manager for luxury leather retailer Maxwell Scott, has also spoken about the importance of balancing data and creativity in marketing. As a creative professional, Julia emphasised the key role that data often plays in focusing creativity: “Balancing creativity and data will always be a challenge, but we find that data helps keep our ideas in check. Although it’s important to resist the urge to jump to conclusions too quickly, data helps redirect and focus creative energy in the most productive way. Quality insight, coupled with great ideas and governed by good instincts seems to work best for us.”
While our study highlighted some of the concerns associated with balancing data and creativity in marketing, it’s clear that within some aspects of campaign preparation, the split is much more equal. When asked about the first steps taken after receiving a project brief, more than a quarter (26%) of marketing professionals said they asked their teams to start planning the creative elements, while 25% prefer their staff to focus on the demographics and data.
Despite concerns around data bias in marketing strategies, our research showed that for many professionals, imagination and collaboration are still very much part of the planning process. Nearly a third (32%) of marketers cited structured creative thinking as what drives early campaign preparation, more so than previous campaigns (26%), or conversion data (25%), analysis.
There’s no denying that data can be incredibly powerful – not least for its reassuring potential. Numbers give us proof and back up ideas – they are quantifiable and comforting. But balancing data and creativity isn’t about being reckless or taking unnecessary risks. It’s about being brave enough to trust your instincts and tap into the brilliance of collective imagination.
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