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Is Data Killing Creativity?

Just about every element of a marketing campaign can be tracked, tested, and reported. From clicks and impressions to bounce rates and time on site, marketers are drowning in a sea of data.

While this over-abundance of information has left some art departments gasping for more creative space and spawned styleless “growth-hackers” that pollute the web with clickbait, smart agencies are using data responsibly to hone their craft even further. To get a better idea of how marketers should use data, we’re digging into the dos and don’ts of data-centric strategies, why they’re so valuable, and how you can use them to strengthen your creative campaigns.

Making Decisions Based on Data

Whether we’re talking about the shows that populate on Netflix members’ accounts or the ads that appear on people’s social newsfeeds, all of these choices are delivered based on data. But data goes deeper than the content and ads people receive. It may also determine the features of future content and ads that are available to them.

Data from marketing campaign

For example, let’s say Ali receives a set of emails from Electronics R’ Us. These emails showcase both desktop computers and laptops. Ali clicked on a few laptops but didn’t make a purchase. Guest what kind of computer is likely to be in his next newsletter? If you answered laptop, you’re correct.

Newsletter clicks are just the tip of the iceberg. Companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu actually use data to select content for licensing and guide the direction for new shows and movies. Somewhat ironically, House of Cards was one of the first tests in this “Big Brother-y” form of data creation.

Case in point: Using data to guide marketing decisions is incredibly valuable to maximizing engagement. If your key audience isn’t responding to a type of content or particular ad, why would you keep hammering them with the same message? Likewise, if you find that one marketing approach works better than another, wouldn’t you put more eggs into that basket?

The answer should be yes. However, an optimized marketing strategy is like a well-balanced diet. Just because protein is good for you doesn’t mean you should eat a steak every night. By the same token, while data can make your content more targeted, it doesn’t mean marketers need to tie every element of a campaign to a single data point.

When Data is Used Responsibly

Data isn’t just a way to measure behavior. Marketers should use it as an idea generator. It allows us to test our hypotheses, gut instincts, and pure curiosities. It gives us an opportunity to open new doors for our clients and customers. When we start throwing the proverbial $h1t at the wall, data allows us to see what sticks.

Marry a team’s creativity drive with data, and you’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Flood your creatives with cold hard numbers, and they’ll never produce anything remarkable because they’re merely trying to stay afloat.

How Data Kills Creativity

In an interview with CMO.com, Systems and Neural Complexity Specialist at Adelaide University, Fiona Kerr, said “It takes as much effort to deal with a boring fact as it does to deal with something that’s enticing, interesting and important. You can get overwrought, and then you can’t be useful or creative.”

Data has a better idea

Kerr suggests that when humans are overloaded with numbers and figures, it actually lowers their ability to be creative. But there’s another reason data doesn’t paint the full picture, or perhaps more accurately, doesn’t allow us to paint the full picture. “What our brains do that data mines don’t do is they abstract,” said Dr. Kerr. “We notice things and connect them in all sorts of interesting ways.” 

However, our natural instinct to abstract causes a creative breakdown when we’re bogged down with big data. Basically, creativity is non-linear, and all those cold hard stats are as linear as it gets. And, despite the endless sets of data points, our brains still want to abstract meaning from all of them. Unfortunately, when there is too much information, our creative palettes have more paint then we can use.

Therefore, data-driven creative teams could potentially minimize their frequency of “aha” moments, creative ideation, and flow. According to Kerr, when people analyze data and become task-focused, certain chemicals in our brains increase, which causes us to become worried. This anxiety reduces our ability to abstract. As Kerr explains, “It pushes us into a script track and we start to rule out everything that’s not specific to the issue we’ve got, so we become very narrow.”

In conjunction with narrowing a creative team's creative ideation, data can also be biased, skewed, and "poisoned." There are signal problems that can misguide locations, behaviors, audiences, intentions, and so forth. Data often shows correlation, but not causation. Furthermore, hackers, businesses, and even everyday people are poisoning data to throw off machine learning.

The Value of Data

With the Internet of Things (IoT), data is more valuable than ever. Some experts are calling it the "oil of the digital age." The tycoons, in this case, being Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft.

Man looking at computer with graphs and tables

The Economist notes that data is worth more than black gold. The Next Web notes that a person's Facebook data is worth over $380. Research giant Gartner stated that by 2021, the value of a company's "information portfolio" will be regularly found on the balance sheet. In other words, companies will be valued on the data they collect.

Measurement Culture

Measurable data has become so important that marketers claim senior management won't spend money on anything that's not trackable. A survey of 250 marketing decision-makers by Marketing Tech News, 75% said "measurement culture" is killing creativity. Furthermore, 64% said that the focus on measurable results meant that senior management was unwilling to support brand-building. 

However, personalizing your marketing can also mean significant returns. According to McKinsey, personalization can deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend and can lift sales by 10% of more.

Werking with Data

So, does data kill creativity? Yes, it absolutely can. Will it? Not if marketers use it responsibly.

At Werkbot, we not only use data to help our clients succeed, but we also utilize an analytics dashboard that helps you stay in the marketing loop. Whether we're looking at clicks and impressions or search ranking and session length, we're aggregating data and seamlessly aligning it with your goals. If you're interested in learning more about what Werkbot can do for you, visit our contact page to reach out today.

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