The Case for Data-Inspired Creativity in an Age of Change

Adapting at speed with rich, real-time insights

This essay is part of Data + Creativity 2020, a Muse by Clio insight report exploring that critical intersection in marketing—and how to leverage it to create more impactful work. Click here to download the full PDF report of 12 essays, or here to read them on the Muse site.

It's been quite a year so far. The change in our world, our daily lives and our industries has been both rapid and profound. So, too, has the way creativity has evolved, with approaches to marketing and storytelling pivoting in response to shifts in our behavior and mindset.

With the seismic events of 2020, agencies and brands have needed to adapt and innovate at unprecedented speed, almost without exception. The future is undefined and uncertain, but in that vein, it is also full of opportunity. At this pivotal moment, brands are asking what role they can and must play. It's a chance for marketers to speak to the present culture, while also shaping and steering the future. We're seeing the power of creativity magnified, as well as a growing need for big ideas informed by rich, real-time insights.

Data and insights have always provided critical springboards to help creatives respond with brilliantly sharp, memorable and effective work. But given the sheer amount and fluctuating nature of today's signals, we need to be even clearer about what we are trying to glean from them and how best to do it. Our agency partners recognize how critical it is to identify the right questions to ask and the right tools to address them, and that's where we'll see the most energy, debate and progress around marketing communications in the coming months.

Crafting messages in real time

At the onset of the pandemic, we anticipated agencies and clients would need production support, given in-person shoots were shut down, but they were very quick to adapt here. Instead, the No. 1 ask to us was richer data, insights and signals. This type of request is by no means new to our partnerships, but it has taken on an entirely new level of value in this state of flux.

As is so often the case, creative direction continues to be best inspired by hidden or surprising truths in the data. A fascinating example is the challenge an online dating brand found itself with when stay-home orders first became widespread. The brand immediately paused all media spend. After all, how do you promote a service based squarely on connecting in person? 

The initial expectation was that single people would put any plans of meeting someone on hold. But Google Trends data showed searches for "dating during coronavirus" and "how to date during coronavirus" spiked sharply in the second week of March, just as major cities began to shelter in place. Shortly afterwards, a variety of YouTube videos began appearing on the subject, too. As every relationship became long distance and individuals worldwide searched for human connection, single people more than ever sought out information about dating. 

Taking cues from the data, we partnered with the brand to develop a campaign that helped people learn the new rules of the dating game. One YouTube spot, for instance, showed singles getting to know each other by the titles on their bookshelves in a video call. Our search insights gave the brand the ability to confidently pivot its messaging to navigate a wildly disrupted market, while still staying true to its purpose. As online dating literally became online dating, the brand realized it could uniquely speak to, and shape, love in the time of coronavirus.

Just as data has provided guidance for brands navigating the evolving pandemic, so too is it helping understand and inform the present conversation around racial equity. We are looking at recent search trends among other signals throughout this movement, with the ultimate goal to help marketers authentically show up and impactfully contribute toward creating change moving forward. 

The path forward, forged by data

As we prepare for the second half of the year, brands and agencies are increasingly seeking indicators of emerging consumer behavior that can help them understand the medium- to long-term outlook of this ever-changing world we now live in.

This is a great time to upskill internally—to be sure teams throughout the organization know how to tap into the right valuable data and insight tools, and are trained on them to be more self-sufficient, especially with such rapid rates of change. We've partnered with many agencies to do just that. For instance, we recently doubled down in this area in our partnership with BBDO. We ran a program for their employees worldwide to help them become experts in Google's tools and resources. The agency has already integrated the use of these tools and sources of insight into their creative process globally.

We are asking many of the same questions alongside other agencies and clients. What trends can we predict in the coming months? How does commercial messaging live alongside a purpose-driven commitment? Which new behaviors are here to stay, and which are temporary blips? How might we apply an agile creative mindset to back-to-school, the holiday season, and beyond? What are we seeing today that might influence how a brand and business is building for tomorrow?

Insights like this, so meaningful in 2020, promise to reframe the discussion within our industry around how we forge forward.

A chance to lead

A creative process driven by deep, strategic intelligence is one that outlives times of crisis and change—and ultimately, empowers agencies to more confidently take risks, sell in ideas, and demonstrate value to clients and their businesses. Data affords creativity a new frontier and new level of impact.

This year has newly equipped agencies and brands to create and react at pace in response to what's really happening in our culture today. We are hopeful that this hard-won agility will influence a new wave of storytelling that taps into culture, emotions and sentiment in real-time, yet also extends beyond reactive response to instead meaningfully and strategically shape the future.

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Sadie Thoma
Sadie Thoma is director of creative development at Google.

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