Embedding Data in Your Creative Process

A more collaborative journey for art and science

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.

At the intersection of art and science, what are we meant to find? It's a common trope used to describe the interplay of creativity, insights, data and technology. It suggests these are separate forces meeting somewhere along individual routes. But is that right? Where are they headed if not toward the same goal?  

In nine years working with multidisciplinary teams at AKQA, and leading our data practice in Europe, I've interpreted the phrase as a challenge to find a common destination, and perhaps (even more importantly) carve out shared paths that will ensure we arrive where we intended, together.

Luckily, I've found many data advocates in the creative field who want a more collaborative journey and are willing to define new ways of working together. 

In doing so, I've picked up a few helpful tips:  

Embedding data in your process

One way to encourage more data utilization in the creative process is to make it an integral part of the process. That means getting the people at the front line of project planning and budget allocation more aware of the outputs and benefits of including data. It requires creating new templates for project workflows and redefining processes that embed data as critical partners to delivering success. 

To do that, we've needed to build much stronger relationships with client services and project management teams. By applying a data lens to common projects, we've asked, "How can data empower better work?"

Getting data involved earlier

Often data teams are not involved early enough, which limits their ability to define where they can add the most value on a project. The reasons range from "It's not a data project" to "The client didn't specifically ask for measurement," both of which represent missed opportunities. 

Firstly, data does not have to be the end product to add value to a project. In many cases, data can be an internal deliverable to help teams gain insight, plan and make decisions, or even set expectations. For example, data's contribution can be an insight about your target audience that sparks a creative idea. A competitive audit that identifies a gap in the market, allowing you to differentiate your messaging. Or it could be forecasting models that help estimate engagement and enable you to optimize for greater impact before a campaign goes live. 

Validating design decisions

More and more clients are coming to the table expecting agencies to have data/research on every slide to back up their creative ideas, assumptions and strategies. This external pressure has led to richer collaborations between data and other departments, where we've built validation into our processes. 

It's become common practice to pair an analyst and UX designer together to conduct deep interaction analysis, identify common issues in consumer journeys, or validate designs through prototypes and user testing at AKQA. In the same way, using social listening to validate and scale qualitative insights unearthed in customer interviews or focus groups now just seems very practical.

Empowering data champions 

It has taken a lot to shift mindsets from generally regarding data as a "nice to have" to a necessity. During that transition, it has proven invaluable to find allies and specialists in other disciplines who can help cultivate collaboration. It's been easy to find these partners in UX design and business strategy, where data naturally complements what they are doing. These specialists tend to find a lot of value from working with analysts, whose skills and tools increase the speed and scale of insight on projects.

Through work shares and one-sheeters, we've been able to cross-pollinate with these teams, better define our methodology, and package our products and services as common outputs.

Using data as an accelerant 

In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, with pressure mounting for digital acceleration and a growing need to have a more direct-to-consumer relationship, the most forward-thinking brands are focusing on long-term impact. More than just making enhancements to e-commerce, these brands understand the role data plays in building loyalty and delivering rich experiences that meet customer expectations. Here, data is an accelerant for all the creative thinking and design needed to deliver relevant content and services.

The luxury industry, for instance, is considering how to bring more of the in-store experience online through rich, highly interactive and personal shopping experiences that reflect the brand. Using AR to provide customers with a better view of a product, or creating digital showrooms that allow advisors and clients to have a video chat (along with product recommendations), allows brands to elevate their digital presence.

Thinking ahead

Clients are asking for real-world and practical applications of data that allow for smarter creativity and more relevant content across touchpoints. It's exciting to see so much opportunity, as data and creativity will have to work more closely than ever to reach a common goal. It may be best to plan the journey together rather than hope you'll cross paths at some point.

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