Opinion

Can data-driven marketing be emotional?

By Nicolas Deskos | 24 March 2017

If last year’s Advertising Week Europe conference focused on how brands and advertisers can combat ad blocking, this year’s event was all about how, and if, data can be used to connect with consumers on an emotional level.

After four days with adland’s top executives and creatives, it’s clear there’s a healthy debate on how advertising's traditional cruxes (emotional value, big brand ideas and serendipitous moments) are underpinned by precision data and targeting. However, there are some in the industry who still believe that advertising is an art and data is a science, that data alone cannot equal the emotional impact of creative advertising.

The overdependence on data as insight as opposed to validation means that brands and agencies often create content that disregards the human factor, resulting in ads that fail to resonate with consumers. Is there a tension between emotive, gut-wrenching communication versus data-driven, optimized messaging? Does one drive action while the other merely catches people in the right place at the right time?

Speaking on the Guardian Stage on the second day of Advertising Week, David Shing, AOL’s Digital Prophet, said, “Creative that’s led by data can be emotional, if it’s done well. If 75% of purchasing decisions are made emotionally, it’s all about how you use data to inform that decision.”

Cory Treffiletti, the CMO of Oracle Data Cloud, claimed that many people in the industry still think that data means automation, even though it can be a source of insight and inspiration to get to creativity. “As a creative, you can choose to ignore the data and put the big idea out there. Or you can choose to follow the data and develop the insights and follow that path towards the big idea.” As we found in our own study, less than 40% of brands currently use big data to unlock new brand experiences.

One brand proving that data can actually enhance creativity, not mute it, is Spotify. The music streaming service is the leader in using big data to create memorable and personal brand experiences. Spotify’s recent out-of-home ad camapign playfully used its vast amount of user data to highlight bizarre listening habits, and resonate with its global listeners. But while data might create emotional value when used to create product features or one-off campaigns, how can you achieve the same results in real time?

According to Treffiletti, creativity can flourish in real time if data is utilised in a predictive way: “If you can predict that certain types of messages are going to resonate, at certain stages, for certain types of audiences, then you can build who those audiences are.” He continued, “When you identify your audience and predict their behavior, then it’s not real time development of creative, it’s real time recognition of who they are and where they are, so you can deliver that highly creative and impactful type of story.”

So, is it possible to balance data and emotion within a brand strategy to drive engaging communication with consumers? I would argue yes, but the real challenge is creating these moments at scale, in real time, without becoming predictable. Using data for targeting is becoming more and more complex by the day, as there are a number of different data points that you can layer to ensure your message is relevant to your target audience. To create data-driven marketing that’s emotional, brands need to move away from numbers-driven, demographic buckets to an awareness of people’s personal beliefs and values.

Nicolas Deskos
Editor
When he's not cycling around Amsterdam, Nicolas is curating OnBrand events and writing frank, no-nonsense articles on branding and marketing trends. Coming soon to an event near you.