Big Data: from Analytics to Creativity

Big Data: from Analytics to Creativity

A recent Marketing Week article covering our June Big Data and Creativity Conference features the case study of the Caravan Club and the issues it faces in dealing with the large quantities of data it generates.  According to Tony Lewis, their Head of Member Marketing, they find it difficult to squeeze out the full value of the data collected from different sources.  I really liked his comment that “not until you work out what shape to mould it into, does it take any shape and make sense.” 

The sculpture metaphor is particularly apt and captures much of the thinking that came out of our Conference.  I couldn’t have said it better myself: it really is about creativity and art! Whether it’s about deciding what data to collect, what questions to ask of the data, how it will be used, how to interpret it or how to communicate it, it really is a question of “moulding” it into a valuable, actionable resource.  It’s about taking rows of numbers and turning them into real-life insights into human emotions and preferences; it’s about inferring intentions from behaviours, trends, oddities, contradictions. Without the touch of the sculptor, the data remains like cold, damp clay: inanimate, uninspired and of little value.

Another perspective in the Marketing Week article comes from Marie Myles, Director of Analytics and Consulting at Experian Marketing Services.  She points to the hype surrounding Big Data and compares it to the fate of CRM systems in many companies. The potential is there, but the plot gets lost when ownership is left in the hands of IT professionals. Trust me, I have nothing against IT professionals! They’re the ones who make it possible for us to get our hands on the data in the first place.  But in the same way that we don’t have newspaper printers create advertising campaigns, we need to bring data to those who cannot only mould it, but also use it! Data belongs in the decision-making process. This point was driven home repeatedly during our one-day conference.

Speaking of process, specifically, creative process – are we talking “top-down” or “bottom-up”?  Do we start with a burning business question and find the data that helps answer it, or do we find nuggets of data that help make intelligent business decisions?  Well, it seems that great artists work both ways.  Sometimes inspiration comes from beautiful material, other times it’s driven by a clear vision of the finished masterpiece.  My experience is that the same goes for data -top-down, or bottom-up – both can deliver great results.

When we first set out to organize our Big Data and Creativity Conference, we were met with some skepticism – Big Data and Creativity??? Well, not only did the subject resonate strongly with our guest speakers, but I’m encouraged to see that people like Tony Lewis and Marie Myles are confirming our hunch – once you migrate it beyond the realm of pure analytics and add a sprinkle of creativity, Big Data opens up a world of insights for creative marketers looking to better understand their customers and to make better-informed decisions.

By Marie Taillard, CMC Director and Professor at ESCP Business School.