Data! Data! Data!

Marsha! Marsha! Marsha! We all know that widely popular pop-culture line by Jan on the Brady Bunch. If not, Google it. Jan was so tired of Marsha getting all the attention until she finally burst out with her famous line accompanied by a healthy stream of tears. And that’s exactly how we feel about the popularity of the current marketing buzzword, data, and especially data driven strategies that lead to contrived, droll and uninteresting data driven creative work.

The problem isn’t with seeking, gathering and employing data, the problem is most agencies and their clients are using it wrong. They’re hoping that by having data it will solve all their marketing/advertising problems. As if data is the golden egg to lead to inspiring and brilliant insightful creative ideas. Nope. Worse.

This relying on data proves these same agencies and clients don’t have any original thoughts to solve their marketing problems. Worse than worse, it also gives both entities a back-up to fall on if the work doesn’t, well, work. The agency will say to their client, “Well, we created work based off the data – so it’s your fault client, not ours.” And the client will go to their superior and say, “Gee CEO, we followed the data, not sure why it failed. It must be bad data. I’ll go rib the team in research.”


What data is and isn’t.

We live in a real world that’s virtually connected. Meaning, we breathe, eat, pay taxes, go to ball games, but we communicate and connect through mobile devices, tablets and computers (right or wrong, it’s a topic for another conversation). Data however is a picture of that real world as it stands at that exact minute in time and place.

Data tells you who the audience is, now. It may tell you their behaviors, but don’t bet on that behavior trending into the future. It won’t. Data gives you the temperature of your audience and provides a base for decision making. It gives you a potential path to follow. And that’s it. That’s all it can and should do. If all you do is rely on data, you’ll always be chasing your audience hoping you’ll connect, but it won’t ever actually happen.

Data can’t make creative decisions for you, because it can’t predict buying behaviors in which to concept ideas to inspire your audience. There are too many externalities affecting audience behavior that simply can’t be predicted in any way shape or form. Politics, economy, war, and other intrusions in life affect the mindsets of people every second of the day. There’s not one algorithm in the world that can predict what effects these externalities will have on your audience’s behavior to buy. Even if you think you have your audience pegged, your audience has likely moved on. Do not rely on data alone. Data cannot inspire audiences to do anything. Especially, to buy.


You still need an original thought and idea.

If you rely solely on data to drive decisions, as far as creative is concerned, you won’t be successful. Remember, we live in a real world that’s virtually connected. You must go out and be a part of the real world. That’s where the truths and insightful, authentic behaviors live – these truths will endure into the future, regardless of trends. They’re based upon learned innate human biological responses.

Many years ago, the agency Goodby Silverstein was working on creative for their California Milk Board client. The creatives could have followed the data – such as how many people drink milk and why they drink it, with the answers being it’s natural, healthy and good for you, etc. – which would have resulted in an uncompelling and dull campaign. But instead, the team listened to their audience.

As the story goes, the creatives were in a focus group and one of the attendees ate something. The attendee was then asked a question, but couldn’t answer, because he/she had food in their mouth. The attendee then asked the host, “hey, got milk?” And that’s how one of the most famous and successful creative campaigns called Got Milk? was born.

It was not because of data, but because the team listened, interpreted the attendee’s behavior and created a brilliant advertising campaign based upon milk as a utility. Milk isn’t just good for you, we all know that, milk solves a problem we all have experienced. Eat a chocolate chip cookie or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You can’t do it without milk, and only milk! The campaign made milk a hero and gave it a personality. Don’t try to convince people who don’t like milk to buy milk, get people who like milk and see its utility to buy more milk. Data will never lead you to this unexpected insight based upon audience experiential truth.


Data is the base. Not the idea.

Data is a base only. It takes the temperature of your audience. It doesn’t predict and it can’t be relied on. Use it sparingly. Most of the greatest advertising campaigns in the world had no data behind them. What they all had behind them was thoughtful, original thinking derived from experiencing audience desires and needs and used to inspire them to buy into your brand. Do that and you’ll always be ahead of your audience – and best yet, they’ll keep buying from you.

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