In a world of first-party data and in-depth audience analysis, is your brand/client open to taking a bold creative risk?

Most marketers want to be remembered as pioneers; as people who created a positive impact through their work with brands, products, and clients. But what’s the cost of being creatively-inclined in a data-focused world? Should you ever completely follow your creative intuition and ignore what the numbers say? Is it a smart move to be a risk-taker?

The answer to all those questions is: it’s a balance.

You can (and should!) take bold, creative risks, but you also need to be smart and understand, case by case, the main goal of each of your clients’ campaigns.

One of my favorite TV shows of all time was AMC’s “Mad Men” (stay with me). If somehow you’re one of the few who didn’t watch it, “Mad Men” followed lead character Don Draper as he helmed the creative department at an ad agency in the 1960’s. The reason this show is such an interesting window into the marketing world is that it shows the original goal of Ad agencies. Back in its inception, advertising was meant to be mainly based in creative, often ignoring research studies and leaning heavily on emotion and feeling.

Times have changed since the 1960’s, and in many ways, that’s a good thing! Technology has opened up possibilities those Mad Men could only dream of. Today, access to first-party data provides marketers excellent insights on what their target audience is responding to, but on the flip side, this access to such detailed information might be limiting how creative you can be.

So how can smart marketers strike a healthy balance between emotion-driven creativity and data-driven strategy?

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My advice: start with the data. Most of the digital/social channels give you enough first-party data to help you steer your campaign strategies in the right direction. Then, once you’re starting from a strong foundation, you can take more risks playing with creative that will excite your audience, rather than bore them with the “same old, same old”.

If data and analytics form a black and white outline of where you’re going, creative is the color inside that outline that brings the picture to life (and gets your audience’s attention).

If you want to take a real-world look at the success of data vs. creativity in marketing, look at new vs. old social media platforms.

When building campaigns for more mature platforms, you generally know what to expect. Major social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter give you not only data and limited analytics, but a solid background of what to expect regarding ROI. Platform-of-the-moment TikTok recently launched its creator market place giving brands and marketers direct access to first-party insights on audience demos, growth trends, best-performing videos, etc to narrow down and create more targeted campaigns. If you’re a digital marketer with experience across those platforms and channels, you probably have some experience- and-data-based benchmarks.

The point is, you know what to expect when you launch your next branded content piece on YouTube, or activate hundreds of influencers across Instagram. You know how to speak with a variety of audiences and you can predict how those audiences will respond to you and your brand/client/product/campaign. But the danger here is getting too comfortable showing your audience the same kinds of ads over and over because “that’s what the data says”.

If you keep serving the same kinds of ads over and over, there’s a high probability your audience will soon become bored and disengage.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have a surge of new platforms like Caffeine, Byte, Triller that marketers are starting to consider for their new ‘pioneer’ campaigns. These relative newcomers simply don’t have the same historical data as the platforms we’re more accustomed to working with. Ergo, we have to rely more on creativity.

But campaigns based purely on innovation come with a much higher risk. There’s a fear of ‘is this going to work? Is my audience there? What data will I even have access to?’. Asking a start-up, or a new D2C brand to risk their (sometimes initial) marketing budget on a purely creative campaign without any data and guarantees to back it up, is not the best option for anyone involved.

The key is to find a balanced nuance between creativity and data. Be bold, be innovative, and be smart in how you allocate your budget.

Don't completely ignore any new or untested strategies that people haven’t used before. But, never forget your bread and butter: data. The bottom line? You need to deliver results.

Personally, I am a big believer that creativity is key, but if no one sees or engages with your campaign, then it’s time to re-focus and review your strategy.

Creative should not dictate all your marketing decisions, nor should data. It's all about synergy and how they can work together for the best results.