There is no crystal ball
I recently found myself involved in a rather spontaneous (and surprisingly heated) discussion on a topic that tends to float uncomfortably around the center of agency/client strategic discussions—leveraging consumer data will help develop more ‘meaningful’ and ‘impactful’ creative. It’s a fair topic, particularly with the advent of mobile-first, performance marketing, and zero-based budgeting. However, the problem here is that data proliferation is causing us to make several critical (and flawed) assumptions. One assumption is that data serves as a crystal ball offering unique perspectives into the lives and minds of customers. The reality is that we are marketing to people, not data points.
First off, let’s agree on something—consumer data can offer important information about our target audience, serving as a veritable log of a person’s activities in the past. It can help us develop patterns and illustrate correlations and relationships, but it misses the mark in illustrating causation. It doesn’t tell us what will happen next, or more importantly why something happened.
Data is a critical element in managing a business (or life really). From using it to set and define clear objective goals to measuring progress in achieving those goals, data helps us make sense of the world around us. So, it’s natural that this recent surge of data availability has begun to make marketers rethink the basis of which decisions are made. Why just guess at something using “opinion” when you can look at objective data!?
But to truly know your consumer and tap into the mindset of an individual, we need to stop wandering the world with our heads down or in a report and start participating in the world around us.
The danger here is that while data can help guide our thinking, we cannot be subservient to what it tells us (or what we think it tells us). Directionally, data can be extremely helpful in painting a contextual picture of relationships between consumers and brands, usage of products, etc., which of course is critical in understanding how our audiences interact with products and brands. But to truly know your consumer and tap into the mindset of an individual, we need to stop wandering the world with our heads down or in a report and start participating in the world around us.
It’s this participation, the act of being not only involved but also immersed in the world around us that makes agencies truly unique. As we turn more planners into Google search experts and strategists into Excel junkies, we lose our connection with the very culture we are hired to help be part of. And in that lies the critical point—the best creative is fueled by imaginative thinking and developed by those who can truly understand and emphasize with our target consumers.
Get out there
The bottom line is this—to deliver truly impactful work, work that adds value, we must add value to both the brand AND the consumer. In order to do this, we need to understand the mindset, the challenges, fears, and needs of those around us. This is not something that can be distilled in a laboratory or decided upon by those so distantly removed from the realities of real life. It must come from a deep-seated understanding of what moves people. Culture.