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There seems to be a sort of an unspoken understanding among marketing professionals that data and creativity are somehow complete opposites. Data is rational, creativity is irrational. Data is knowledge, creativity is a product of the imagination. Data is certainty, creativity is not.

So, are the two mutually exclusive? Should marketers, whose profession has long relied on creativity and imagination, make a 180-turn and become hardcore data scientists? No, and no.

Quite on the contrary: Data can help marketers take their creativity to the next level. In fact, the more data you have, the more questions you can ask of it. And more creative those questions, the more you will differentiate yourself in the long run.

“Creativity creates value and with it difference,” writes advertising executive John Hegarty. "And difference is vital for giving a brand a competitive edge.”

Creativity without data is a shot in the dark

The fact of the matter is that even if you don’t realize it, you’re likely making your marketing or other (business) decisions based on data. “Even when [creative professionals] favor instinct over research, they’re still using data—the data they’ve collected through experiences and observation over the course of their lifetime,” writes content marketing expert Greg Weinstein.

In a way, your gut feeling is a lot closer to big data than you might expect.

What’s more, “technological advancements in market research can supercharge the creative process by providing rich insights into highly targeted niche consumer groups. When used correctly, data is not the enemy of creative; it can be its most powerful ally,” Weinstein adds.

So, how exactly can data and creativity work together? It is important to understand that the two need to complement each other in the process of making strong business decisions. Big data should in no way replace your gut feeling but instead refine it. It should add to your creativity and help perfect your ideas.

After all, data may provide knowledge and new insights, but it cannot create an emotional bond with the consumer. “Data does not make magic. That is the job of persuasion. And it is what makes brands valuable,” Hegarty adds.

Striking a balance between data and creativity

Having data and creativity exist in a symbiotic relationship sounds great, but it is often easier said than done. The rise of data has made brands and agencies alike feel the need to embrace it as part of their day-to-day business activities. While that has been more than a necessary step for industry players that want to stay competitive, it has also created an environment where marketing has been forced into the sales space. The result, according to advertising company Adshel, is an increasing reliance on data for justification, proof and measurement.

“There is a risk then that data can be used in too literal a way. Short-term pressures mean the safe choice – the option based on metrics – becomes the default position at the expense of creativity,” Adshel writes. “While data can help inform the brief and the idea, the industry is producing work so diluted by data it isn’t engaging people.”

The challenge of handling increasing amounts of data on a daily basis is that it can, in fact, become too big of a focus, leaving human interpretation and creativity behind. Understanding customers based on the data they generate is important, but connecting and communicating with them in a way that they can relate to is crucial.

“Creativity without data is just art. But data without creativity is neglect.” 

Steve Babcock, Chief Creative Officer at Vaynerchuck Media

Brands and agencies need to be able to design their customer journey with the customer in mind, with data guiding them along the way. Embracing data analytics tools can help speed up data collection and processing, thus leaving more time for marketers to generate insights and ask relevant questions.

At the end of the day, finding the right balance between leveraging data and creativity at the same time can be tough, but it is becoming ever-so-important if businesses are to optimize their sales by catering to the specific wants and needs of their customers. Let data be the insight that helps you color the blank canvas! 

“We’ve entered the world of big data, but now it’s about making that data actionable. Marketers have to unite data, creative content, and technology to achieve success. Understanding your audience comes first, but using that information to create more relevant, valuable, creative, and empowering experiences for consumers is the path to greater business success. And that’s the future of how data drives value for brands.” 

Lisa Utzschneider, Chief Revenue Officer at Yahoo

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Written by Mina Nacheva

Content marketer and strategist. With a background in media and business, Mina is particularly excited about the new trends in digital journalism, marketing and everything social media. Loves blogging, good jokes, and dreams about flying to Mars.

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