- Tony Quin
I was listening to the news this morning and heard the amazing story about the Rosetta spacecraft that has finally caught up with a comet it was sent to chase ten years ago. More unbelievable is that the plan is now to land the spacecraft on the comet by firing harpoons at the surface, which will pull the craft down. By the time you read this we should know if this wild plan was successful.
Clearly somebody 10 years ago had an extraordinary vision. The odds on catching the comet were slim and the odds of getting to the surface even slimmer. But despite that they managed to persuade someone to green light the money. Some cold-hearted, penny-pinching bureaucrat said yes to this outrageous plan. When I think of the small daily battles we have in marketing to get our clients to take risks it makes me feel truly humble.
Risk is of course the route to reward. As we are all told: the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Of course, the safer more predictable an investment, the more likely everyone will be doing it and the less likely it will be to produce a game-changing result. Yet it is that game-changing result that all our clients want, and actually deserve. They want the video that gets millions of viral views, the slogan that’s on everyone’s lips, the app that you simply must have. But at the same time, unlike at Rosetta’s organization, the typical corporate appetite for risk is small. This is nowhere more on display than from watching what’s happening in marketing today.
Companies, understandably, prefer investments in which they can accurately predict their risk. That’s really hard with creative, because how do you quantify the emotional impact of a new idea; it’s much easier with data. As a result you can already see the tremendous interest companies have in data. Already the corporate focus on data has started to squeeze out the focus on creative and originality. Instead of how do we capture people’s imagination, the talk is about programmatic buying, analytics, big data and so on. Companies love the idea of turning marketing into a predictable machine so they jump on all these technology investments in the belief that they will eliminate risk and uncertainty from the equation.
This is all well and good, but it ignores the final step in the journey; making the connection with the person. You note I said the person, not the consumer, because we are all people in the final analysis, not cogs in a giant marketing machine. I’m not saying that data is not valuable. At my agency, for example, we map all the customer touch points, aggregate the data and turn it into insights, which in turn leads us to original creative approaches that are more likely to resonate. Data does not replace the role of creative, but rather makes it smarter.
Data is good at telling us what has already happened and can predict, with some accuracy, what will happen in the future under similar circumstances. The problem is that data isn’t so effective when applied to new ideas. As Steve Jobs, who famously eschewed market research, said “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” So the secret is in the marriage of data and creativity. Data informs the process of originality and innovation, but is not its master.
Don’t tell that to business today, however. Unfortunately, we are entering a phase in the marketing world where the momentum is to connect all the data silos into one unified system that promises to deliver marketing data Shangri-La. Companies will flock to this idea that data and systems will take the risk out of marketing, and will invest like crazy in platforms to predict and manage every thought consumers have. This will all come at the expense of creativity and in the end, I’m afraid, will still leave them short of that magical connection with the target audience. That will still take something that an algorithm will never produce, a completely original, emotionally impactful, idea, sort of like harpooning a comet.
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