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Does There Always Have to Be a 'Ta-Da!' in Data?


INFLUENCER: Data doesn't always have to be at the heart of everything you do, writes LOLA MullenLowe's Tom Elliston

Does There Always Have to Be a 'Ta-Da!' in Data?

It’s early March, and by now if you agency folk have not yet confirmed and closed your scope of work with your clients, then you will surely be getting a little anxious. This should have been sorted in the back-end of 2018, right?

And without a doubt you will be hearing what is becoming an ever more familiar and consistent question: ‘So what are we doing with big data then?’ or 'Do we have a plan for data?'

Now don’t get me wrong, data has completely amplified the richness of insights and ideas for the better. No one should ever argue against that. However, before running off to put a detailed plan in place for your client, don’t be afraid to ask the stupid question of ‘What exactly do you mean by this?’ It could well be one of the smarter stupid questions you could ask.

I’ve seen a few cases now where clients pose the question because they believe it’s important but haven’t defined the desired output. Agencies respond by thinking it’s important (because the client told them it is) and in doing so confuse themselves by trying to define it. In many cases this involves drawing up a complex proposal, and then hiring in the wrong people to spend time and lots of energy in doing something that has little end benefit.

Let’s make no mistake – data can change everything. My brother, who runs a successful healthcare PR agency, tells me that the term used in the healthcare sector was ‘meaningful data at scale’ which effectively means that more intelligence and insight can be drawn from the wealth of data that is now available allowing an unprecedented understanding of how best to treat patients in a highly tailored and personalised way. This ultimately enables people to live better lives and for more lives to be saved. That to me is a pretty important use of data and when one of his clients asks him the question ‘why is data important and what are we going to do with it’ I get the impression that he is pretty well prepared in his response.

On the other hand, in creative agencies, perhaps we are looking for a miracle in data. I’m increasingly hearing the line that ‘all of our insights are driven by data’ or ‘data is at the heart of our ideas’. Is it? Really? Yes, there are some amazing ideas out there from Snickers, Spotify, AirBnB and Uber to mention only a few where data is used to deliver highly creative and targeted messages. We all love it. Who doesn’t?

We should also try to use data to help us to drive our work, but let’s not forget that we work in a wonderful creative business, where in some categories, great and impactful ideas are built on universal insights, qualitative consumer intelligence, or even (dare I say) that great thing called gut feeling or creative instinct. Is it a problem if sometimes data had nothing to do with it if the end product is outstanding?

Of course, data can help us to better target our messages and to get the right message to the right person at the right time, and that should drive efficiency and effectiveness. And data should be able to give us access to more consumer insights and behaviours. But I’m not sure why we are making it look so complicated. Remember the old job of the brand planner, looking at Mintel reports and doing all of the number crunching? Well, data now gives us more stats, more facts and more information to scrutinise, which should in theory makes the role of the agency planner more significant. Simple really, no?

So, to say that it needs to be at the heart of everything you do to get to great ideas, I’m really not sure that is always the case. We all have the same objective of getting to great and impactful work. If data really is a significant part of this, then great. If data can help validate or steer it in some way, then great. If data is of no use whatsoever, then that’s also fine. This is not a contest to show who can analyse the most complex data. It’s all about the richness of output.

To quote professor Dan Ariely: “Big Data is like teenage sex. Everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.” There is some truth in this.

So, rather than acting like a teenager, just ask the simple stupid question: what do you mean? Maybe it will save lives. Maybe it will form the basis of a killer idea. But equally, maybe it might be of no use whatsoever.

Tom Elliston is global business director at LOLA MullenLowe

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LOLA MullenLowe, Sun, 10 Mar 2019 14:08:31 GMT