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Magic Numbers: Dr. Michael Anton on Making Sense of a Fire Hydrant of Information

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Head of insight at Mr President talks finding and fixing discrepancies between the data client's have, and the data they need

Coming from an academic background, Dr. Michael Anton brings a studious rigour, and passion for research to his role as head of insight at Mr President, which he's held since 2016. Helping clients like Metro Bank, Stonewall, BetVictor, Freesat and Herbal Essences with measurement strategy, insight generation and brand planning.

LBB> What’s the number one question that clients are coming to you with when it comes to how they can better use data to enhance the creativity of their content and experiences?

Michael> Clients we work with are often drowning in data: brand tracking, sales figures, focus groups, category reports, media spends, competitor audits, audience segmentations… They’re surrounded by datapoints at every turn, but usually left with one big question – “So What?”. 

It is our job to work with our clients to make sense of the gushing fire hydrant of information. To find, and fix, the discrepancies between the data they have, and the data they need. To bring a little structure, rigour, and storytelling into their data analysis frameworks, so the output can be more insightful, relevant, and actionable.

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

Michael> Quant and qual. Big and small. Overview and detail. You need both working together in unison if you’re going to truly elevate creativity. You need an insight team willing to sweat the detail of a turn of phrase in an interview, and shift in mood within a focus group or the briefest glimpse of something through a video ethnography. And, that team needs to be brave enough to use their learnings to ask the right, and often unexpected questions of larger, more reliable quant sources. 

Combine the two, and you’ll get to data that unearths, and proves the impact of distinctive ideas, rather than fighting against them.

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?

Michael> Metro Bank always knew that they did banking differently to every other bank on the high street. And they had a huge list of USPs to prove it. But, in 2019, they were new to ATL marketing, and unsure how to bring their brand to life in advertising. 

When we met groups of their customers and compared how they felt about their banks, to other groups who banked with the competition, one thing really stood out. The people. It wasn’t just that Metro Bank did things different, they hired friendly, chatty sociable staff. Real people-people, and Metro Bank’s customers talked about these staff members more than anything else the bank did.

As soon as we took that insight into testing and saw the results, we knew we were onto something special. The Brand Defining Idea of “People-People Banking” became the cornerstone of Metro Bank’s first ever advertising campaign. 

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

Michael> We’re often looking for ways to creatively tell meaningful stories that can make a real difference, and in 2019 we decided we wanted to do something to spark more conversation about the Gender Pay Gap. 

But the Pay Gap itself was an abstract thing. We knew from the data that British women typically received just 82p for every pound earned by men, but simply sharing that fact didn’t seem like the best way to start a real conversation.

So we made the Pay Gap real. And minted a whole set of coins that looked a lot like British Pounds, but were, in fact, worth just 82p. It was an abstract datapoint that you could suddenly hold in your hands and feel the real weight of.

Suddenly we had a physical asset we could send to thought leaders, a talking-point to share at conferences, and something tangible we could use to start conversations with friends, family, and peers. 

LBB> "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" - how can brands and creative make sure that they’re really seeing what they think they’re seeing (or want to see) in the data, or that they’re not misusing data?

Michael> Build an effectiveness model. A connected set of objectives, measures and targets that ties together, in a clear hierarchy your business, marketing and communications objectives. A good effectiveness model will let you explore the relationships between your data sources, and help you see when specific activations align with shifts in your measures.

It’s the sort of model we’ve been creating for clients for over a decade now, and it never fails to set reporting expectations, ensure the whole team and on the same page, and give the clients a clear way to interpret and measure their performance over time that makes sense of the context their efforts are happening with.

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

Michael> That data speaks for itself. 

It doesn’t. In fact, data is a really horrible public speaker, and if you leave it to speak for itself you will, at best, bore your audience, and at worst make them confused, hostile or mistrustful.

The best data professionals know that gathering and analysing is only half the battle. You must be able to communicate what you’ve learnt to wider audiences. Presentation skills, empathy and storytelling are just as vital to the process as analytical and mathematical skills.

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