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Head vs hunch: how to use data more constructively (and when to listen to instinct)

By Tommy Joe Moore, Creative director

DRPG

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The Drum Network article

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February 18, 2022 | 6 min read

Are we overly led by data, boring analytics and impassive AI? Do we live in a world where hunch, gut feel, and instinct are relics of the past? This head-to-head debate pits DRPG’s creative director Tommy Joe Moore against strategic planner Melanie Palmer.

DRPG assess the significance of data in processes today as two of its team members go head to head.

DRPG assess the significance of data in processes today as two of its team members go head to head.

So, head vs heart, instinct vs insight. Who wins, and what can agencies learn about how the dynamic is shifting? Let the battle commence…

Tommy Joe Moore: The creative world has lost its edge. We are slaves to big data and endemically short-sighted in the innovation department. We have become enthralled to the ‘middle road’, often using data as an excuse to avoid being brave, bold or visionary. Creatively heading toward being ‘yes-people’ as opposed to the rebels, innovators and creative pioneers of yore.

Melanie Palmer: You’ve got to learn to square up to it and see it for what it is, instead of casting Big Bad Data as the enemy and the poor beleaguered creatives as the tiny townsfolk being crushed by the weight of the quants or pelted into blandness by a volley of quals. Big hint: A lot of data is utter rubbish – it tells you nothing. Learn to be discerning, learn to follow the scent and screen out the noise.

Tommy Joe Moore: Henry Ford famously said: ‘If I’d have given people what they wanted, I’d have made faster horses.’ All the insight in the world wouldn’t have led Ford to the motor car. A survey wouldn’t have picked it up. Social listening wouldn’t have absorbed it. People didn’t know it, to want it! Ford innovated. If we always give people what they ask for, or think they want, we’d be very limited and stuck in a creativity echo chamber. Every now and then a pioneer must arrive and deliver the new-new. The iPhone, the plane, the computer.

Melanie Palmer: Ah, the old ‘faster horse’ chestnut! Yes, Henry Ford was an engineering pioneer. But he wasn’t a marketer. He famously refused to listen to opinion and sat back and watched sales plummet while competitors casually picked off market share. The answer is to test. And learn. Observe, measure, reflect. Then bin or refine. Unlike Henry, we don’t have the luxury of burning through our clients’ money, so we need to use insight tools and a splash of behavioral economics to help us get the answers faster.

Tommy Joe Moore: Data can turn us into pleasers. Having a finger on the pulse is fine. But with reputational management being very high in today’s agendas, businesses can be too scared to say anything. Or they speak and publish a lot, but say very little. Businesses try and balance too many plates, too. They try to be loved by everybody. But nobody is loved by everybody. Data can sometimes fuel the biggest paranoias a business has, and ensures they unnaturally act to people-please.

People-pleasers be damned. Be authentically you. Not because of what a demographic thinks or wants. But because you believe it to be so. And fans will love you for your steadfast authenticity instead of being a people-pleasing flimflammer – like a politician or vanilla breakfast TV presenter.

Melanie Palmer: Take a look at the award winners – behind every achingly successful campaign is a beautifully constructed data blueprint. The problem is that too many creatives simply jump on a successful bandwagon too long after the zeitgeist has passed and it just feels dull, derivative and a little bit lazy. Consumers rarely notice all the ‘yadda yadda’. They’ve got lives. They filter out what they’re not interested in. But they do notice what matters to them. If you turn a blind eye to a footballer kicking his cat across the floor and slapping it in the face, you will instantly find yourself without sponsors and embroiled in months of damage limitation. Nobody is loved by everybody - with the exception of cats, dogs, dolphins…

Tommy Joe Moore: Insight may be the fuel, but creative is the vehicle. We must remember that even with the best insight in the world, we can only change hearts and minds by DOING STUFF. And that stuff needs to get past the Old Brain, the Lizard Brain and the Mammal Brain. All three parts of the brain want to filter out the guff. So, we must be novel, cool, interesting. Or sad, distressing, heart-rending. Either way – we need to make people feel, before we can make people act.

Melanie Palmer: Yes, I get it. Emotion – move people to take action. But there is such a thing as too much emotion. The brain loves the familiar – because it makes it feel comforted and because our brains are just so frenetically busy that they’ll seek out the shortcut. It’s not always about being novel or cool. But it’s always about being able to connect. And you can’t connect with someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

Who takes it? You decide.

At DRPG we’re about big ideas and big data. It’s so important that businesses maintain the yin/ yang balance of innovation and measurement. We must lead and listen with equal skill, passion and expertise.

What do you think? Have we gone too far down the data path? Or are we right where we should be in an insight-led zeitgeist?

Business Leadership Data Marketing

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