Is data killing creativity in marketing?

The evolution of digital marketing, driven by developments in technology and communications, has given marketers access to more data about their campaigns than ever before. While it may seem that the more information the better, many marketers now feel that creativity is being overwhelmed by an ocean of data. A study of 250 in-house marketing decision-makers has found that 72% of marketers feel that a culture of measurement is killing creativity.

Up until fairly recently, marketing campaigns have always been driven by creativity; you start with an idea, work it up into a campaign and then judge its success based on an increase in sales. Now marketing departments are increasingly turning to the data first to decide the direction of their campaign, from online metrics and social media analytics to focus group research and trend analysis.

It seems this trend is being driven by risk-averse senior management, with 64% of survey respondents saying their executive team will no longer support pure brand-building. Many are being directed to focus solely on measurable activity.

But there are downsides to this purely data-driven approach. As well as stifling the creativity and innovation involved in trying completely new methods and ideas, ignoring less measurable areas such as branding and PR can lead to falling customer awareness and engagement.

However, 32% of marketers stated that structured creative thinking is still what drives their campaign preparation, ahead of looking at the previous campaign (26%), or conversion data (25%). Clearly, creativity does still have a place at the table and it’s a question of balance.

Marketing teams need to make sure they have a process in place that gives room to both creativity and insight and can be repeated for every campaign. This means that neither area will get overlooked and everyone knows where they stand. Data should be used to direct and focus creativity energy, rather than stifling it, ensuring that good ideas are encouraged while preventing teams from wasting their time pursuing plans that simply won’t work.

Rebecca Manville, Managing Director, Dotted said:

It’s alarming to see so many in-house marketers concerned with a lack of balance between measurement, data and creativity in their organisations. This underlines the importance of finding a repeatable method for insight and creativity to meet – in a way which works for the whole team and allows instincts to be explored.

Finding the right process will allow marketing departments to consistently negotiate this balance and correctly prioritise activity. It also helps efficiency because everybody will know where they stand, and previously difficult decisions – such as when analysis hands over to creative – are simplified.

It’s also equally important to know which data is significant for marketing decisions in order to stop your time being eaten up by endless analysis. The key for any marketing department is to simplify the process and prioritise the data that is used to drive decisions, rather than attempting to collect and analyse everything (and eventually drown in a sea of information).

How does your team approach a project? Do you start by generating ideas or do you look at the numbers first? Do you feel the rise of data-driven marketing is helping or hindering the creative process?

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