Striking the Balance: Agencies' Mastery of Creativity and Data-Driven Tactics

How do agencies maintain an effective balance between creativity and data-driven strategies? We hear from Emily Hart, digital director at AKA UK.

The question of utilising both data and creativity is one that I think is consistently relevant, and is certainly a topic that is high on the agenda for agencies - especially us at AKA.

As a full-service agency, AKA's in-house audience, creative and BI teams equip us with the insight to plan a campaign, the creative to activate it, and the data to maximise its performance.

I love both creativity and data. Creativity is the thing that people remember, arguably the more “fun” individual in this rather important relationship, whereas data is the slightly more “serious” one, essential for validating our actions and strategies. The emphasis on measurability and numbers can sometimes overshadow the equally crucial aspects of message relevance and situational context, leading to a one-dimensional view of success based solely on metrics.

Being measurable is overpraised. I believe we’re too focused on numbers, and deem success solely on the metrics. There are crucial aspects, including the message and its relevance, that can often be overlooked. We have a responsibility as an industry to better educate clients and marketing teams on “what success looks like''. When digital first entered the media space, agencies and clients alike felt they’d finally found a way to directly attribute media to sales through KPI’s such as ROAS & CPA - great! There is of course still a place for this but by fixating on these metrics we’re limiting the space that could be made for creativity within our media mix. 

Creativity is defined as the act of using imagination or original ideas to bring something new into existence. It serves as the cornerstone of any marketing media campaign, a foundational idea that blossoms and adapts over time. Creativity manifests in two forms: the creative concept itself and the strategy behind its application. 

We are often fortunate to have an abundance of creative content for our campaigns, the challenge then becomes strategically deploying it by interpreting data to determine the most effective placements - but that’s also the most fun part!

Creativity: The Unquantifiable Essence of Campaigns That Leaves a Lasting Impression

Looking towards the cookieless future, there will undoubtedly be a shift to more creative practices in media buying; bolder moves, bigger partnerships, “risks” taken. There has to be. With the measurability of data depleting, how will we measure the success of our campaigns? For us, we endeavour to do this by looking at the overall “success” across the plan, i.e. (target) audiences saw our ads, tickets were sold, people came and had a lovely time.

Data is defined as: facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis. Things that are known as facts - that make the basis of reasoning. Essentially, data allows you to measure the effectiveness of creative ideas.

As an industry, we have a real culture of measurability and quantifiability, and that actually sets the bar for clients to look at things in that way too, putting pressure on data-driven strategies rather than creative methodologies. We see, as I’m sure all other agencies do, that if we don’t successfully feed the top of the funnel then our performance results are at risk. I think that marketers are worried that data driven actions might be deemed boring, but ultimately the balance between the two is pretty essential.

Automation and AI is taking over the creative process in some media channels (if you let it!). We find that having a range of creative and creative strategies is key to the success of a campaign. The AI algorithms vouch to optimise towards the best performing creative, and I have no doubt that they do, and I have seen that they do, but the algorithms don’t necessarily take into account all aspects of what an audience might want to see. Who’s to say that a particular audience won’t like a particular creative? Who are we to decide what people want to see?

Machine learning helps us better optimise a campaign, which in turn will lead to greater performance - that much we know is true. But as marketeers, it's our continued role to critique our campaigns against broader aspects that live on and off of the marketing plan - PR, Grassroots, seasonality, world news - only by doing this will we successfully unlock the next level of creativity within our campaign. Add in a sprinkle of AI to your “machine learning and human instinct” mix, and you have the potential to create world class marketing campaigns that are both best in class creatively and underpinned by the data to inform activity.

Creativity is at the heart of what we do, we want to enthral our audiences but also convert them.

Navigating the Next Phase: Insights & Innovations in Media Campaigns

After the launch of a media campaign, the point where creativity and data come together is a lovely little moment where we have some facts and insights to learn from and use as a basis for the next phase, whilst still continuing to be creative with the planning. Testing and learning is key, adding in new creative formats, new audiences and new channels. 

Data can be extremely powerful, it’s reassuring in performance, gives us proof that we’re doing the right thing and ultimately bolsters the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. 

As agencies it’s our responsibility to better educate clients into the realm of “attention based” metrics, which will no doubt lead to better use of creativity at all stages of the marketing funnel.

Creating and maintaining the symbiotic relationship between art and science is the key to a memorable, effective and successful media campaign.