The Three-Eyed Marketer

Inform, interpret and inspire to bridge the divide between art and science.

INSIGHTS-&-ANALYTICS-HEADER-Oct-2017When the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA) recently asked me to speak about data-driven creative and the art and science of marketing, I thought that developing the presentation would be easy. I’ve always viewed my career as swinging between art and science. I started in mass advertising in the 1980’s, shifted to database marketing and loyalty programs during the 1990’s, moved to direct and digital when it was called the “below-the-line” agency in the 2000’s and now in the 20-teens I’m all in on marketing analytics. So if my career trajectory is any indication, it would seem that science has overtaken art in marketing communications.

But I’m not ready to toss out my creative hat just yet, and you shouldn’t be either. While it’s the science that informs, it’s the creative that inspires. And there are plenty of examples – in all industries – that underscore the importance of both when deploying successive campaigns. The key is finding the bridge that links them.

While many people are embracing the growing use of analytics, others view “data-driven creative” as an oxymoron. Googling “data-driven creative” generates 6.45 million results with headlines such as “Data is the new oil,” “When you think big data, think bigger creatively” and “Turning data into magic.” But naysayers abound as well, proclaiming “Big data: new oil in the wrong engine” and asking “Can big data and analytics replace intuition?” and “Is data the big bad wolf?”

Obviously the old art-versus-science divisive lines that existed in the 1990s remain well entrenched. In the agency world, art requires taking risk but science seeks to reduce risk. Art is imagination; science is optimization. Art is intuition; science is evidence-based. Art reflects what drives people to act; science looks at what people did and predicts what they probably will do. Overcoming this divide is necessary if marketers are to realize the best of both worlds.

Creative and analytical thinking conceptThe key to bridging both art and science, it turns out, is craft. Craft is the interpreter bringing together art and science. Craft interprets the business problem that then enables data scientists to mine the right data and develop the best algorithms and models. Craft interprets the models and analytics, giving them meaning for creative teams to unleash their creative magic. It is what successful marketers and strategic planners do day in and day out. They don’t compartmentalize one discipline over the other. They make the two work together.

We are now seeing the bridging of art and science in the traditional bastion of creative awards. In 2016, the International Festival of Creativity in Cannes awarded its first Grand Prix for the Creative Data Lion. And now this year, Environics Analytics is sponsoring the Canadian Marketing Association’s first Data Marketing Award. As a judge for this year’s CMAs, I find it uplifting to see data inspiring creative, and creative leveraging data, to connect with customers in unique ways.

Yet many marketing organizations are used to working in a set way and may balk at a new approach. Some even boast of proprietary methodologies that promise to deliver the world’s best creative ideas. The imperative to think and work differently reminds me of a CBC interview Tom Powers conducted recently with Sting. A musician with more than 50 years of creativity on record (and digital), Sting is still perplexed by the business of creativity. “I think the creative process is a very mysterious one,” he said. “I have no idea what happens or how it happens but I know that to capture it, you have to change your working method. You have to change your point of view.”

What if we as marketers take Sting’s insight to heart and change our point of view about art and science? What if we erase the art-science divide, just as we no longer talk about “above-the-line” and “below-the-line” marketing? What if we adopt a common language that doesn’t pit one side against the other but unifies them?

One way to think of a unified approach could be called the Three “Eyes” of Marketing: Inform, Interpret, Inspire. In today’s successful campaigns, marketing disciplines flow seamlessly using these three elements. Data scientists interpret numbers to inform and inspire strategies. Creative teams tease out insights to inspire and inform customers. And strategic planners and clients interpret results, which then inspire data scientists to refine their work and inform the work of creative teams. By working collaboratively through a common language, the old divide disappears like a line in the sand trampled by hundreds of happy beachgoers.

One more thing: Now that we have put the art-science divide out to pasture, can we banish “Big Data” from our vernacular? Big Data is nothing without the ability to Inform, Interpret and Inspire.

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Peter Boggs is an analytics consultant at Environics Analytics.