Data-driven creative is not the ideal, it is the norm

Raise your hand if you’ve ever asked, or been asked, the following to your team or your agency: “hey we need some stats / research that supports our creative.” Don’t worry, no one is watching. You can admit that this has happened.

When you’ve worked in PR and comms for as long as I have, you can understand, to a certain degree, why this happens. PR and comms professionals are under immense pressure and are, rightly or wrongly, expected to react and act quickly. So, when it’s time to plan a campaign or activation, it’s easy to see why we can sometimes rush straight to creative ideas and execution.

However, we can no longer get away with that approach. The fact of the matter is that today’s consumer can spot bogus creative a mile away. Often, when a campaign fails or is widely criticised, it’s because the creative idea lacked an insight. And if it lacked an insight, that likely means it was not based on solid research.

It’s not just snarky consumer comments on Twitter we need to be wary of. Business decision-makers are increasingly focused on this topic.

According to the 2018 AMEC Global Business Insights Study:

  • 75% of clients/stakeholders are increasingly asking for integrated measurement solutions across marketing communications
  • 70% clients/stakeholders are asking for more sophisticated types of evaluation to demonstrate the benefits of communications activity
  • 54% of clients/stakeholders have put an increased emphasis on insights and less on merely measuring

If this is the reality, we can’t afford not to be data-driven in our creative campaigns and execution.

So, how can you make that happen? The first step, after taking a deep breath, is to commit to a shift in mindset. It’s not about tools (at least not all of it) and it’s not about being a classically trained researcher or analytics whizz (though that helps). It’s about committing to the idea that to develop enduring creative that cuts through you need quality research at its foundation.

This may sound like a challenge, but the beautiful thing is that there are very easy steps you can take to make sure big, rich data powers creative:

  1. Make time and space to think through the problem; resist the temptation to run to the creative idea (and yes I know that’s the fun bit).
  2. Bring your experiences and hunches to the research round table. A bit of subjectivity will help you get from data to insight more quickly.
  3. BUT, be cognisant of your biases and the biases of the research sources and data. Be aware of confirmation bias.
  4. Finally, remember that great account planning isn’t about a process with a fancy name or acronyms. Equally, it’s not about ticking boxes.

Simply put, upping your data-driven game means having clarity on the challenge and objectives, so you can ask the right questions that can be answered through research and data. From there, you should be on the fast track to insight, strategy and everyone’s favourite, the creative.

At FHF, we attempt to go through this process on every new client brief. Sometimes it’s done over the course of a few days, and other times it might take a few weeks.

Regardless of the time spent, the creative output is always better, always more authentic and always makes our clients happy (okay, almost always). And as a practitioner you know your work and ideas were rooted in fact, truth and understanding. Who doesn’t want to feel that way?

Ben Levine, Head of Research, Analytics & Measurement