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Magic Numbers: Data as Fuel for Creativity with Liam Steuart


Juniper Park\TBWA’s managing director of precision marketing on sharpening insights with data and respecting the consumer

Magic Numbers: Data as Fuel for Creativity with Liam Steuart

Liam Steuart is the managing director of precision marketing at Juniper Park\TBWA, where he operates the precision marketing practice they call 'Scalpel'. Previously, Liam has worked in the industry for DDB Canada, The Sandbox Agency and MERGE and brings his expertise in data and strategy to assist clients with involving data in their campaigns.

LBB> What’s the number one question clients ask about using data to enhance the creativity of their content and experiences? 

Liam> Most often it’s simply where to start. Almost all of our clients now appreciate the value of data-driven creative thinking, but many are struggling to figure out what stage in the planning process to involve data. Our answer is of course, the sooner the better. Additionally, many clients come to us with ‘so what?’. There is plenty of research available in the market today, and most clients commission dozens of research studies. The hard part is the ability to crystallise them into clear, tangible recommendations – the ‘so what’. We help our clients accomplish that. 

LBB> How can you make sure that data is elevating creativity rather than forming a wind tunnel effect and knocking all the interesting or unique edges off that make something distinctive?

Liam> To some extent, the wind tunnel effect is already happening and is a genuine concern. That’s why we should have cross-functional teams so that ‘data-driven’ doesn’t become ‘data-led’. We consider all available data and cultural insights as fuel for creativity. Our data team invests time early on in the creative process to ensure that data is distilled. This is why we call our precision marketing discipline ‘Scalpel’ - it is all about being precise and sharpening insights. This inspires the overall creative direction, allowing us to arrive at a disruptive endpoint. Our creative teams understand the power of creating hyper-relevant platforms, but the initial data-inspired ideation process is laser-focused on arriving at the core disruptive idea. In parallel, our data scientists work to slice our target audience and map out personalised messaging journeys, which can be used to drive relevance across each touchpoint once the core idea is agreed upon.

LBB> Can you share with us any examples of projects you’ve worked on where the data really helped boost the creative output in a really exciting way?

Liam> We helped our client Nissan to re-launch their core model ‘Rogue’ into a very crowded marketplace with a completely data-driven campaign. First, we utilised data to take the singular target of ‘all families'’ and create 24 unique subsegments built on their individual affinities and demographics. We then meticulously built out 18 separate sequential marketing strategies that leveraged data-driven journeys to bring our target through the sales funnel. All of this allowed us to build a truly integrated multichannel campaign, leveraging 156 different personalised video assets and hundreds of additional digital assets to drive our ‘Fams’ through the funnel and ultimately into a brand new Rogue.

LBB>More brands are working to create their own first-party data practice - how can a brand figure out whether that’s something that is relevant or important for their business?

Liam> The simple answer is that this is relevant to everyone and has never been more important to consider. As we move to a cookie-less world and privacy laws continue to rightfully evolve, first-party data is increasing in value day by day. Brands tend to understand its value in terms of CRM communications. To easily visualise the applications beyond direct communications, we like to borrow some learnings from the creative world and brainstorm ways to help brands see the opportunities. Putting pen to paper and mapping out a ‘what could be’ of possible advanced analytics models and customer profiles that we could create by leveraging first-party data is usually the easiest way to start quantifying value and applications.  

LBB> We talk about data driving creativity, but what are your thoughts about approaching the use of data in a creative way?

Liam> Many creative ideas can be killed in the development process because data isn’t available or we haven’t figured out the proper connection points. It is therefore critical that our data scientists are every bit as creative as our art directors or copywriters to anticipate and avoid these potential roadblocks. This can mean finding a proxy for an unavailable data source, using geo-targeted data proxies to personalise customer profiles when first-party data isn’t available or smartly designing and applying lookalike models to take a known profile and extend it to an unknown. It is rare, especially on a new client engagement, that all the data you’d want to have is going to be readily available. The best work happens when we make it easy on our clients and creatively bring simple solutions forward.  


LBB> "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" - how can brands and creatives make sure that they’re really seeing what they think they’re seeing in the data?

Liam> One of our guiding principles is to ‘never personalise just for the sake of it’. Many headlines of case studies lead with the ‘hundreds of versions’ that were created for a particular campaign (we’re guilty of this too). But the focus needs to be on the results. The best way to ensure that you’re really seeing what you hope to, is by putting a robust testing plan and campaign measurement in place. A multi-variant testing plan with an agreed-upon KPI measurement framework can take all of the opinions and guesswork out of the equation and guarantee an environment of optimisation.


LBB> What are your thoughts about trust in data - to what extent is uncertainty and a lack of trust in data (or data sources) an issue and what are your thoughts on that?

Liam> This is the most important factor in our industry. On the one hand, we know all consumers are expecting brands to provide them with a more relevant, personalised experience across all touchpoints. On the other, if that trust is broken and data is used in a way they haven’t agreed to – or worse, leaked in some way – the relationship can be unrecoverable. Data governance is a priority for all partners and must be accounted for in all stages of the campaign development process. Perhaps as importantly, our strategies must ensure we’re providing value to the end consumer by showing them the benefit of trusting our brands with their data. 

LBB> With so many different regulatory systems in different markets regarding data and privacy around the world - as well as different cultural views about privacy - what’s the key to creating a joined-up data strategy at a global level that’s also adaptable to local nuances?

Liam> Data governance can be a hard item to properly resource for in any local market, but it is critical that any global program accounts for this expertise in their local activation markets. While the rules are ever-evolving, the reality is that with proper local expertise, it isn’t as daunting as it appears to stay on top of the impacts at a local level and roll that up to a global solution. 


LBB> What does a responsible data practice look like?

Liam> A responsible data practice is balanced - one that respects and values the creative process. We never want our data scientists to feel as if they’re an afterthought, but rather feel they are the centre of the entire campaign development process. Also, the practice must respect our end target – the consumer – both in terms of regulatory respect and protection of their data, but also in terms of delivering on the exchange of providing them relevance and value through how we leverage the data they provide us.


LBB> In your view, what’s the biggest misconception people have around the use of data in marketing?

Liam> The biggest misconception is how difficult it can be to get started. There is almost always a scalable or agile solution to any challenge. The beauty of data-driven marketing is how easy it is to learn what works and what doesn’t, and to optimise ‘go forward’ plans. Secondly, I’d say there’s also still a misconception as to when to involve data in the process, as many wait for the ‘big idea’ and then bring in the data teams to ‘blow out banner ads or emails’. The teams doing it right are involving data at every stage in the planning process.

LBB> In terms of live issues in the field, what are the debates or developments that we should be paying attention to right now?

Liam> Beyond privacy and regulatory changes, we should all be paying attention to the marketing automation platforms and innovations. Clients and brands are heavily investing in the Salesforces of the world and many times are struggling to figure out how to maximise their investment. Partners must help them on this journey and be able to showcase how any solution can plug into their existing investments.  

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Juniper Park\TBWA, Fri, 01 Apr 2022 12:41:00 GMT