“Moneyball” vs. Creative: Where Data and Marketing Collide

A recent article in the The New York Times about analytics and marketing says that “analytical types are invading an intuitive industry” and asks if the quants can get along with the creatives. It refers to Moneyball as a paradigm for organizational success – which, for those of you who’ve not seen the Brad Pitt vehicle, illustrates the manner in which a winning baseball team was built by using data to evaluate players.

We have been talking about this challenge between analysts and creatives for quite some time. Perhaps only now is the tension being noticed by folks not entrenched in the battle. But it’s still a really good question.

Marketing Rugby

In working with enterprises to understand user traffic patterns and then make changes to content based on the findings, I’ve personally seen years of pushback from creatives – both internal to the customer and at the agency – resulting in a deadlock where, up until now, the creatives more or less have won. They have been able to simply ignore the numbers provided by analytics (often they claim the numbers are suspect and sometimes they are right about that).

Typically, no one in the marketing or IT departments feels empowered to ask for any changes at all in the creative process. The farthest they seem to get is to launch an A/B testing program to see if the bigger button gets more clicks. Creatives continue to generate ideas absent any data about what has already worked (or what did not).

Part of their refusal stems from an inability within the organization to take a set of data (say, from Google Analytics) and determine what kind of directive to send out to creative. And creative is not inclined to go digging in the numbers themselves for answers.

These worlds are fundamentally different, but they ought to be able to complement one another. I often feel caught somewhere in between because I am as much a “creative” as I am an “analyst” and I understand the concerns and frustrations of both.

I would like to call for an end to the shoving and the mudslinging between the analysts and the creatives.

Calling for Peace Talks

Here is how I would reconcile:

First, let analysts do the analysis but let them understand that their customer is the creative. No one is here to keep creatives from doing what they do, which is come up with ideas. Analysts cannot just publish results and say “fix it.” They have to collaborate with creatives and exhibit some deference to the instincts of creatives because that’s what they have that numbers lack.

Second, let creatives come up with ideas, just like always. But they have to get used to the idea that success will no longer be measured simply by whether the customer “liked” the idea, but whether it made a contribution to the success of the digital property in question.

Judgment of “creatives” themselves needs to be at a minimum. These folks have one of the hardest jobs in marketing. They have to create something from nothing. Don’t scare them off with threats that they will be judged by the numbers. They won’t be. The finished campaign will be, and many factors play a role. The organization needs to be able to trust its creatives to come up with another idea, and another.

And no one should pretend they will know what will work best. Everyone will have to accept that even the best data can be misleading.

Batching the Ideas

Rather than come up with a single idea and test it, the organization may need to advise creatives that they will need to present several ideas. This is not so very far from saying, “Don’t just bring me your best idea, bring me all of them.” Digital gives the organization an opportunity to try out the ideas almost cost-free. There is no “best” idea except the one that works best. It can only be proven in practice. And then, presumably, it can be improved. That’s more good work for the creatives.

By using many concepts in waves, the organization can make better use of all the ideas coming out of their creative departments; and lessen the likelihood that any one creative idea or person will be singled out as having “failed.” There’s always another idea in the hopper.

This represents a change in the way creatives are asked to work (typically) but if the quants and the artists are ever going to have a chance to leverage each others’ strengths, we will have to move to this model sooner or later: where creatives submit batches of ideas and the ideas are tested; and the results translated direction for the next round of creative – without judging the creator.

Would it be trite to suggest we are all in this together?

Image via Shutterstock.

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