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Humanity, Trust and Communication: The Keys to Balancing Creativity and Data

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“An insight is built from observable human truth — and it uncovers the why.”– Beth Rolfs, Executive Strategy Director, Data, Grey Group

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Collaboration between data and creative experts requires early and clear communication. For marketers, this entails exploring beyond the traditional industry disconnect between data and creative. A sound strategy is often the bridge between the two disciplines, but early data integration future proofs a creative success for brands.

During #SMWONE Grey‘s Justine Armour, Beth Rolfs, and Kenny Gold were joined by Twitter’s Tom Chirico for a dicussion the challenges and proven solutions to a successful partnership of the two disciplines for insight-driven creative and why this balance, now more than ever, is integral in driving meaningful engagement.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Bigger doesn’t always equal better
  • Balanced communication and trust lead to work that impacts culture
  • Data needs humanity now more than ever

Insights are Breadcrumbs of Human Behavior

“An insight is built from observable human truth — and it uncovers the why,” shared Rolfs. This “why” can carry many different meanings depending on the context — but it’s a why that offers audiences that information that makes them have the special realization moments of “I feel that deep down,” or “why didn’t I think of it that way?”

Chirco, in agreement, offered an example of where insights truly served as the breadcrumbs of behavior when Twitter partnered with Disney to launch the new Frozen II trailer resulting in a live event that streamed for 24 hours where people could watch at any point and tweet along with fellow Frozen fans as well as the cast and creative directors behind the film. “In this instance, data gave us these really interesting nuggets of behavior and layering these on conversations and in real-talk, with parents, we realized we were onto something.”

The underlying power of data partnering with creativity is being able to break category norms, connect with new audiences, and gain a foundational knowledge that translates into a powerful cultural dialogue. This applied in this case study and also applies when you’re building creativity off of purchasing behavior explained Gold pointing to Grey’’s work with Gillette in the “We Believe” campaign.

Debunking the Rivalry

All of the panelists agreed that the conjured up image of a magic versus logic battlefield simply wasn’t accurate and there are no winners. Both Gold and Rolfs reiterated that the work is stronger when done in collaboration and there is a recognition that they are chasing the same dream. “As a data person, there’s a tendency for me to get too in the numbers. Creatives have taught me to focus on the audience you’re presenting to on a deeper level.”

Chirco described his merged team that merges both data and creative functions into one line of reporting in a “hand-in-hand” Batman and Robin fashion. “In real-time, we’re tweaking their ideation and research fluidly in early rounds and there is an implicit trust between both groups in this process.”

Echoing the notion of fluidity, Gold added, “Creating amazing campaigns is like a symphony…Every movement in every song is different…Our ability to understand when to move together and give the space to breathe is when we make the best music.”

Humanized Data Brings the Spark

What makes data interesting? When it humanizes the story. This doesn’t always necessitate using the data that has the most volume. “Bigger isn’t always better. The data that has the most volume is often the most obvious and therefore not the most useful,” explained Rolfs. Rather, the smaller data points and conversations on the surface are more impactful.

“Data helps you understand that social media is nuanced and the creativity you build needs to be nuanced to land better once it’s out in the world and reach people in the right way,” added Gold. In short, data allows you to pick the right channel at the right moments. With this said, there needs to be balanced communication and implicit trust between the creative and data parties in order to navigate this journey.

Chirco offered the analogy of data as putty, serving as the mold that forms the creative instincts. Alone, it simply won’t come up with the idea but serves as the critical foundation that gives shape to the campaign and keeps it whole. Armour added to this reiterating data’s role as inspiration, the spark, as opposed to a mandate. When this happens, the work feels too scientific and lacks room for the spontaneity that will allow the message to cut through the clutter.

The Evolution of Data and Creativity: Post-COVID

When reflecting on the current state of marketing and what a post-COVID world would look like in respect to balancing data and creativity, the group was unanimous that more than ever data needs to be grounded in humanity.

“Data needs to have that counterbalance of humanity and creativity to help it fit the times we’re dealing with. If we just go out there with the gut emotional feeling you’re going to get what you’re seeing is a lot of montages.”

Rolfs agreed underscoring marketers should look to the fringes for more meaningful information and put the challenge on unearthing consumer behaviors “Behavior is our richest territory. Right now culture feels a bit muted, but so many interesting new behaviors evolving outside of everyone just staying home and connecting with our family. It’s bigger than the obvious message and immediate data.”

A key takeaway from these points: As we look ahead, it’s incumbent on marketers, especially creatives, to think outside of the box to use data to create not re-create.

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