4As: The Increasing Role of Data in a Post-COVID World

By Media Insights Archives
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Who could have imagined several years ago that data would play such a pivotal role in our industry? Today those companies poised to succeed in the media ecosystem must have an understanding of data and how it can best be used to inform decisions. At the recent 4As StratFest, a panel moderated by Raig Adolfo, Chief Strategy Officer at 360i discussed the increasing role of data in a post-pandemic world. Panelists included Jennifer Clark, Brand Experience Practice Lead, dentsu; E.T Franklin, President, Global Strategy and Cultural Fluency, Spark Foundry, and Jonathan Ricard, Senior Vice President, Resonate.

One of the biggest trends is that data is making its way into all areas of decision-making, including creative. "One thing many people are grappling with is striking the right balance between creative intuition and data intelligence," Adolfo said. "Sometimes these elements are one and the same and sometimes they contrast and conflict. The future is when these two sides work symbiotically."

How can the ephemeral, artistic aspects of media coincide with the structural quantitative aspects of data? For Franklin, there is no dichotomy. Data is vital and has created a dynamic where, "Intuition is supported and informed by data," she explained. "In our industry we know that data is critical. We have to be able to understand how to size. We have to understand where the trends and the information are going and where are the opportunities and challenges are. Data helps clarify those things for us in ways that are precise and allow us to solve for things that are very specific and clear." But balance is vital in the decision-making process. She warned that there is the risk of having "an over-reliance on big data. It was all about the data telling us where we needed to go and what we needed to do." A balance needs to be achieved.

When it comes to creativity and data, one can inform the other but each needs to be valued in its own space. "There is a concept of data-driven authenticity," noted Ricard. "You are looking for facts. You are looking for insights that drive the ability to have an authentic conversation." He believes that this approach has to drive the creative. "We could say, 'I think this is important' shaped by our individual lens or perceptions. You have to validate that [through data]," he explained. "There has to be a data-driven approach to it."

But "creativity should not be stifled by data," Clark asserted. "Data can be the foundation of a great idea, but it typically serves as the foundation." Sometimes it leads the effort, as in Spotify, where the data leads the creativity, "but that is rare," she explained. "Often it is taking a human insight and amplifying it. You have to find that nugget that feels right and build on top of that. That's when you will not break that creativity."

Examples of the Value of Data

Clark described an Oreo campaign where one morsel of data revealed and informed the entire campaign narrative. "Data can be very small," she noted. "One of my favorite campaigns was the Oreo Vote. The Oreo campaign started with a tweet which was 'Who Will Save the Oreos?' which was a small, tiny piece of data that someone picked up on and said, 'Wow this is interesting,' and started to look at the other data that the community was saying and built it out to a campaign."

Franklin, when looking at data, strives to find "the sparks," as she calls it. "You've got all of this information, but what is sparking something you didn't think about or a feeling of curiosity that makes you say, 'Hmm?' And the other thing I think about with data is, where is the humanity?" Make the explanation of data simple and understandable, "as if you are talking to your Grandma," she said.

Don't rely on a sample-of-one to forge your insights. "We are all going into this work with our own lens and biases," stated Clark, "You can get caught up in what you as planners think is the truth without examining what other people outside of the universe of what we do are thinking, saying and doing." In talking to real people, for example, she was able to learn that consumers confused electronic vehicles with self-driving vehicles. It was by only talking to consumers that this important insight was revealed.

The Difference Between Data and Insights

"In any piece of data, if you can't answer the 'so what?' then you probably don't have an insight," explained Ricard. "It's interesting today to be thinking about persuadable audiences in what we think of as media bubbles." The question is – how do you find the people within these media bubbles that you can persuade? "We know this population isn't homogeneous, but we don't know necessarily how to reach them. Data might be all those things like demographics, ethnicity and media consumption but that doesn't necessarily indicate what they care about. That doesn't give you that human element that is going to spark change." You have to go from an understanding of facts (the data) to a fuller understanding of motivations and elements of persuasion (the insights). "A powerful, authentic response," he concluded, "that could be driven by intuition."

"Data can feel and sound intimidating, but think of everything around you as data," Clark concluded. "All of these inputs. Don't get caught in needing secret big insights.

"Use your heart," she advised.

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