Data Vs Soulful Marketing: Finding The Balance

Data is the absolute centerpiece of digital marketing in 2022. We are in an era where data fuels not only the digital marketing industry but much of the world around us.

Data is the absolute centerpiece of digital marketing in 2022. We are in an era where data fuels not only the digital marketing industry but much of the world around us.

Sport, to take just one example, is now littered with such a depth of information that it prompts the debate of whether we are losing sight of being able to judge things with our eyes. 

The same can be applied to the context of marketing. In a recent conversation with an agency leader, this focus on data was a key concern about how the industry is evolving.

During some pitches in 2021, this particular agency-side marketer felt a little of the heart and soul of the agency was lost in favor of an entirely data-led approach. That’s not to say that the data wasn’t useful, nor that it didn’t have its place, rather that data had become so much of a requirement in order to appeal to clients, that we have, in his opinion, started to lose sight of the creativity that is central to the industry. 

Making room for creative marketing

“What do you mean by creativity?” I hear you ask. This is where a more old-school approach is required. Knowing the client, building a relationship, understanding their pain, and alleviating it whilst showing empathy as to why they are in the situation they are in. 

An entirely surgical approach feels cold. It feels emotionless. While the numbers will always be important, the majority of the time people want to see results but also feel heard. It’s why we check trip advisor reviews before booking a holiday, we want the 5-star rating but also want to ensure we’ll feel that we have truly been listened to and accommodated whilst on our holiday. An arbitrary comparison I know, however, this also rings true in this day and age of digital marketing.

This process will of course differ from small to large agencies. The smaller ones find it far easier to foster tailored creativity on a project-by-project and client-by-client basis as there are fewer plates to keep spinning. However, as you grow, the number of plates increases, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to provide a tailored approach.

This is where you need to ensure that anywhere you can find inefficiencies you take the plunge and speculate in terms of spend in order to create time and resource relief so you can go ahead and provide that added value of empathy and understanding to clients. The soulful marketing that we all want to be able to achieve.

Being smart with data

So, part of retaining that creative element at the heart of your agency depends on being able to dedicate enough time to the part of the business. However, with the growing data-driven expectations of clients, the time spent on the cold hard numbers can often eat into this time. One thing I have noticed however is that many agencies don’t always take the most efficient approach when it comes to data, spending far too much time on some basic operations. Recent research has shown, for example, that some 54% of agencies are still using spreadsheets to build out reports, ranking manual data wrangling as their biggest challenge in 2022.

But it needn’t be this way. There are more efficient ways to work with data sets that enable marketing agencies to both deliver on the promise of additional data-driven value whilst also retaining the time and space to deliver truly inspired projects that drill right down to their client’s challenges. Ultimately, instead of looking at data as a time-consuming burden, agencies can instead explore how technology can take over much of the heavy-lifting letting creatives get back to what they do best - being creative!

Less data means being more creative with data

There may be some good news for old-fashioned creative, however. If we take into consideration the level of marketing data that has been stripped away since the introduction of GDPR, and consider the death of the cookie looming large, then we can begin to see that the world of “Mad Men” styled marketing may well be upon us once again. We are in very close proximity to the age-old statement from John Wanamaker “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”. 

But far from moving away from data-driven approaches entirely, these developments should be an opportunity to bring these two schools of thought close together. It is precisely because there is far less data available in audience-based terms that the larger data sets that are now available to us outside of this audience-based space must be used in a much smarter way. This is where an agency (as well as a brand) needs to be a little more, dare I say, creative in terms of how it uses the right data sets and blends them with market know-how in order to add real value for the end-client.

Finding the balance

People often feel that you have to have either a data or creative-led approach solely, and by trying to accommodate both you comprise one if not both. This belief has led to a fork in the road decision that agencies have had to make in terms of approach. It doesn’t have to be this way. Agencies should seek a balance between data-driven and soulful marketing.

Small and medium-sized agencies always carry this out pretty well, and it’s due to not focussing entirely on the bottom line. That will always come, so long as the tailored approach is maintained and scaled. The best way to balance these two approaches is with effective resource management, with regards to both people and tech, to ensure that time and gaps are found in order to add the value needed to keep clients happy.

We can have our cake and eat it, but only if we carefully curate the necessary ingredients of technology and resources to bake it perfectly.