Link to original Digiday article

The world today is awash in data, and marketers are taking advantage of it, using The Internet of Everything to better target and retarget their digital campaigns.

For the most part, these streams of data remain the province of media buyers, while creatives hang onto the long-perceived (or perhaps self-perceived) idea that they’re big thinkers who work best without the influence or interference of others.

However, the same data streams media companies use to refine ad placements can—and should—be used to shape the creative message. A few creative executives are leading that charge.

“This whole mantra we’ve been telling our clients is, ‘Right place. Right time. Right message,’” says Michael Lowenstern, vice president and managing director of digital advertising at R/GA. “Media gets to be very smart to target the right place and the right time, and the piece we’ve been missing is the ‘right message.’”

“It really has changed my perspective,” says Jonathan Hoffman, a former award-winning creative director for Leo Burnett and Campbell Mithun, who is currently president, experience design at Starcom USA.

“There’s no hiding from the truth, and there’s nothing cooler than the truth. [With data] I start from the truth and work from there … It’s really about being more effective and relevant and resonant.”

Still, creatives can be a prickly bunch when it comes to presenting them with numbers (and then asking them to use those numbers to fuel their campaign development). Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Your data is only as good as your analysis. Yes, there’s a lot of data out there, and there are a lot of ways to look at it. But just as a screenwriter will tell you problems with the third act often originate in the first, poor or unfocused data mining can doom a campaign before it gets off the ground. “There are always stories in the numbers, and depending on the lens you put on them, you can see some interesting stuff,” Hoffman says.

There are people behind those numbers. Too often, the analysis focuses on certain demographics or on certain pre-prescribed indices. Using data to fuel the creative message requires going one step beyond to get at the relevant insight behind those results to touch on the human connection. “We don’t like to talk to pods, we like to talk to people,” Lowenstern says.

In terms of tying data to the people behind the numbers, Hoffman described a campaign his agency developed for Kraft’s NUT-trition peanut butter, targeted at older, active, health-oriented adults. Using demographic and behavioral data about the target consumers in the Pacific Northwest showing they preferred to be outside doing, rather than inside driving, the agency developed a campaign that placed “Tickets to Adventure” tags in Zipcars encouraging drivers to head to specific destinations, and share photos of their adventures via Instagram. The data, he says, helped shape the message to tie the utility of a car to a specific behavior. “It was about helping me and this creative team end up  where these people were [mentally],” Hoffman says.

You Must Be Relevant. Most of all, any campaign developed from data must be relevant to the consumers at the time and place they’re going to see the ad, and respond positively. Lowenstern cites a campaign R/GA did for McCormick spices that tracked the searches people were doing on for a certain ingredient (say, chicken), and offering up — through a banner ad — recipes for those products that used McCormick spices. “We knew who was searching [for what], and were able to make the messaging more relevant,” he says.

Having more information about the target consumer (provided through data and analysis) does make it easier for creatives to engage in deeper brand discourse, Hoffman says, but it also puts a premium on the brand’s side of that conversation. “In my old incarnation [as a creative director], the best possible thing was a one-to-one relationship with the consumer, because then you knew you could talk quieter and not shout,” Hoffman says. “But if you’re speaking softly, you’d better have something compelling to say.”