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Do CMOs focus too much on optimization? Creativity in a world of data

Marketing success relies on finding harmony between the left brain and the right brain, says Emma Tavernor / Morgan Housel via Unsplash

In recent years, marketers have increased their reliance on data and insights to inform the work they do and assess its effectiveness. But has the pendulum swung too far away from exploration and creativity toward cold, hard fact? As part of our Deep Dive on Data, Emma Tavernor of The Drum Network member Frog UK investigates.

When you hear ‘every little helps,’ Tesco automatically comes to mind. This is a long-standing brand-building strapline built through creative ideas. However, as the role of the chief marketing officer has become more holistic, adding analytics, growth and measurability to their résumé, the focus has shifted to optimizing data at the expense of creativity and big ideas.

We’ve become obsessed with numbers. Imagine the chief executive of a large brand requesting proof of growth. What sounds more attractive to them: tangible, numerical facts that create real-time metrics, or measurements defining value of brand, often using forecasts that are not universally understood?

However, our survey of 1,600 marketing executives shows that 60% don’t believe data is helping them build brand equity or effective campaign plans.

Without leveraging data into meaningful insight, it becomes valueless. It’s important that we harness data and creativity in tandem to enable the next wave of growth that will unlock the future of human-centered data-driven marketing.

Striking the right balance

From school onward, art and science are considered opposites, yin and yang. Marketing functions are stuck in a constant battle between the right brain, with a more artistic and emotional setting, and the more analytical and methodological left brain.

But nowadays things aren’t as binary. Raja Rajamnnar, chief marketing officer of Mastercard, says: “Today, we need marketers who are like Leonardo da Vinci, a classic example of right brain plus left brain, both taken to a phenomenal level of competency and execution.”

This means executing the role of a data-driven marketing storyteller. A storyteller can translate vast amounts of data being captured into big ideas and creative interactions that will complement the behaviors and needs of consumers today.

Chief marketing officers who master this across the whole value chain have growth rates twice as high as those who fail to do so. Now chief marketing officers are seen as integral drivers of growth.

Capgemini has helped Unilever to develop data storytelling capabilities with the People Data Centre (PDC). The PDC is a leading insights capability powered by data storytellers who turn data into actionable and powerful insights. This helped Unilever to focus on developing creative campaign content and media outputs, giving them a deeper understanding of competitors, emerging products, upcoming trends and consumers. ​Unilever has seen €150m of estimated incremental revenue generated, boosting sustained growth. Data and creativity can drive growth when driven in tandem.

Data can unlock creativity

With the phasing out of third-party cookies in 2023, chief marketing officers must ask themselves: how will we be able to better understand the consumer without falling victim to privacy issues? The answer is ‘zero-party’ data and ‘first-party’ data. Insights gained from these methods enable brands to acquire a richer data set that can influence more engaging creative content for consumers.

Dove’s compelling Campaign for Real Beauty used a survey to capture real-life data to understand how women define themselves. While the data was “discouraging and depressing,” it led to Dove creating inspiring campaigns, broadening the definition of beauty. Now, Dove, with the help of zero- and first-party data, has been able to use this data to create an empowering brand message and focus on brand building.

From simple surveys to collecting first-party data through owned sites and touchpoints, chief marketing officers should focus on building insight into each stage of the creative process to help drive sustained brand growth.

Think long and act quick

Data has transformed the world of marketing, enabling deeper understanding of customers’ wants and needs. But the focus on constant optimization can get in the way of long-term brand effectiveness. Binet and Field, most famous for their published research The Long and The Short of It, advocate allocating 60% spend on long-term brand building and 40% on short-term activation. By investing in brand awareness, and therefore creatively creating mental availability of a product, we can use precision marketing powered by data to target specific segments and drive conversion over a longer period.

‘Think long and act quick’ is how chief marketing officers have managed to turn brands around. Long-term outcomes may seem intangible, but if those tactics are driven by data and creativity hand-in-hand, this can fuel short-term wins and long-term brand success.

Time to seek balance

Data has been an invaluable commodity over recent years, and will continue to be. However, new technologies, techniques and channels are putting pressure on chief marketing officers to focus on optimization.

Growth is key. Chief marketing officers shouldn’t see marketing as a battle between two ideologies, but find a clear way to harmonize data with creativity to achieve sustained results. When data is leveraged correctly, it can fuel creative ideas for big wins.

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