Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 31, 2010 7:26 AM

Creativity In The Age of Web Analytics

Is Mad Men a true representation of how great creative happens in Marketing?

In a typical Mad Men episode, research comes back saying something plain about the insights surrounding a brand. But the creatives, led by a cape-wearing Don Draper, rage against the machine and follow their gut instinct to create breakthrough creative that could have never happened had the team followed what research was telling them. It's the kind of Americana story that we all love to hear: those who won't follow what "The Man" is telling them, coupled with that burning desire to express themselves and put one's genius out into the world. It's a story as warm as apple pie and baseball (or maple syrup and hockey, depending on your chosen country). And - as with everything - there are always two (or more) sides to the story.

Creatives in marketing have to constantly grapple with what research and strategy is bringing to the table.

Most of the time, the research "lies" or isn't able to define any true insight that will ignite the creativity towards the red carpet at Cannes. Web analytics has come a long way, and actually being able to see what consumers are doing (and the ability to even know why they're doing it) gives us more insight than even the best creative brief can. Despite all that real data, marketing professionals en masse can't seem to wrap their heads around it. In fact, if you look at the majority of online campaigns - even the ones that are taking home the Cannes Lion Cyber award - they are not leveraging even the basest web analytics to optimize and adjust the campaigns based on what consumers are actually doing.

The left brain doesn't like the right brain. The right brain doesn't like the left brain.

Both sides of the brain (and the entire body that goes along with it) are being stubborn... and stupid. The truly amazing creative directors of the near future (will the next Alex Bogusky please stand up!) will be the ones who realize that you can't have one without the other. Prior to the maturation of these web analytics tools, it made sense to buck the trends from research and push creativity out of your subconscious on to Photoshop, but now there's no excuse not to change, adjust and optimize the creative process to use these metrics and analytics as a way to be many times more creative.

Think about this from a primal angle. If the analytics told you - in plain numbers - that when you use the color red instead of green you get a 20 per cent better conversion, what would you do?

Some traditional creative directors might see this as a limitation, but others might argue (myself included) that knowing this key piece of information -- and being able to overcome it -- is the true definition of creativity. Avinash Kaushik is the Analytics Evangelist for Google. He has a tremendously popular blog on the topic of Web Analytics, and he is the author of two best-selling books on the topic (Web Analytics - An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0). Upon broaching the subject of dealing with creative teams when web analytics are in play, he pointed me to a post of his titled, Experiment or Die. Five Reasons And Awesome Testing Ideas.

As Avinash puts it:

"It is less risky to try big and bold things online than it is in the offline world of faith-based initiatives. So why not let your creativity soar? Why not let all of your ideas democratically flourish? Why have HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person's Opinions) second-guess and make decisions? Why not think of awesome insane crazy magnificent things? With web analytics and marketing optimization tools, anybody can construct a quick test. Why are marketers so afraid to let their customers tell them what works? Testing is awesome for all of us (both the qualitative and quantitative people).  I love showing creative people that one thing the analytics can help do amazingly is to help them focus on what's important and what to fix, rather than just going by what you think is wrong or where to focus on to get the biggest bang for the buck."

Thinking like this requires a fundamental shift in how we create our creative.

Instead of the creative brief leading to production, we are well into an era when, prior to final production, we can test multiple variants in-market, follow the analytics and optimize the campaign. From there, we can launch the campaign and still have the humility to know that it might change, adapt and even be redone based on how it performs.

Why don't the majority of advertising agencies do this? What are we so afraid of? Why do our egos hold us back?

In the end, would that episode of Mad Men have been as exciting if Draper and his team listened to research, followed the analytics and put out creative that just simply worked? The story may not be as exciting, but it does line those corporate pockets and provide bottom-line economic value to the corporation it serves. While it may not be a story worthy of it's own hit television series, it is a great story.

It is also a story that is well worth pursuing if we're looking at bringing marketing to the C-suite.

And that is what this is all about: marketing deserves to be an integral part of the corporate head table, and the sooner creatives embrace web analytics, the sooner everyone will be able to truly blend world-class creativity with mind-blowing results. These are the kind of campaigns that will get the real attention they deserve. These are the campaign of the future.

Now it's your turn: what do you think about the place of creativity in the age of web analytics?

The above posting is an article from Applied Arts Magazine. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

By Mitch Joel