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Data Geek or Creative Genius?

  |  July 28, 2011   |  Comments

Understand the big picture, unify your team, and talk to all elements, and soon you'll be the senior VP of marketing.

During a panel discussion at our Online Marketing Summit regional event, the question of what's more important, the creative ideas vs. data-driven decisions came up. This got me thinking that this same question has to be part of any career in marketing when looking at what to specialize in.

To start, let's define the issue. Basically, with all the data from web analytics now at our fingertips, marketers are forced to become more data savvy and, dare I say, analytical with how we drive our efforts forward. But the conversation becomes interesting when asking, where do the creativity and big ideas of marketing come in when we look at the post-campaign data. Are marketing creativity, gut instinct, and pure brand-based efforts being lost in all the data? The answer is yes, but not for all. Some of the most brilliant and successful marketing efforts have been around those that focused on the new creative idea that tapped into the emotion and drove the affinity for the brand. And I believe the question for us career path seekers is: do you like and want to be in the big idea sessions with more failures than successes, or are you more interested in the data to improve on the idea, brand, and campaign results? Both have enormous value and are truly underserved in the market. But in this day and age, it's not enough to be just one or the other.

For Creatives

For the creative-focused individual, the designer, the ad agency strategist, and so on, it's imperative to understand things like basic user experience research, the high level KPIs of the organization for web-based efforts, and what data will be used to measure success. If you can at least talk to this and your creative's impact to such, your value and stakeholder unification abilities will grow leaps and bounds.

For the Data Folks

For those centered around data, analytics, and metrics, one must get a handle on things that are beyond measurement in Google Analytics or Omniture. We must have a broader vision and look at the age-old emotive response, user-testing, design principles, and plain old brand guidelines to be sure that even if in an A/B test, A shows better conversion results than B, that we don't forget if we denigrate our brand or users have a negative impression of the company, they may never come back and never change that impression of your organization. So, short-term conversions cannot be weighted above all else.

In either case, we all must take a more integrated and holistic approach to understand how our focused efforts affect the whole. And guess what, those that truly embrace a holistic approach usually become the boss. Understand the big picture, unify your team, and talk to all elements, and soon you'll be the senior VP of marketing and others will wonder why.

Here are three tips to making this happen in short order:

  1. Go back to the basics of marketing and read the marketing/advertising books that we all were trained on. If you did not get formally trained in marketing, ask someone who did and read these fundamental books.
  2. Subscribe to an e-newsletter that's the most opposite of what you do, read what's happening, and get familiar with the vernacular and issues the profession on the other side of the table is representing.
  3. Take a stab at taking your counterpart (agency coworker, consultant, etc.) out to lunch and understand their world. You'll be glad you did.



Aaron Kahlow

After selling the Online Marking Summit (OMS) event company in 2011, Aaron is now leading the charge of the newest venture, the Online Marketing Institute - an e-learning platform and training destination for digital marketing education.

Kahlow is one of the most recognized thought-leaders in the digital marketing and social media space. Having founded, funded, and built three prolific and highly profitable digital marketing companies, Kahlow has also delivered hundreds of marquee keynote speeches around the globe. He is a recognized author, columnist (ClickZ, NYT) and authority on social media marketing, sales and marketing integration, demand generation, business-to-business marketing, search marketing, usability, analytics, and digital marketing strategy.

Today, Aaron can be found in his new home city of San Francisco, working on the global expansion of "Teaching the World Digital" in his e-learning technology venture, the Online Marketing Institute. Facebook and LinkedIn are his preferred places to connect.

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