Back in the 90’s, I worked for a very famous advertising agency owner who told me a story about his work on the Mercedes Benz account.
His agency used to use a market researcher, who used to kick off his meetings with “So what do you want to prove?”
This story was nearly as popular as the one about my boss storming into the office of a client that owed him money and planting a fire axe through his desk with a note pinned to it that read “Where’s my fucking money?”
The first story was a great illustration of the perils of relying on data. You don’t have to look very hard or far to find data to support any theory you want. Actually so is the second one, but more of that later.
Anyone who relies purely on data to drive sales, ends up with digital ads selling light fixtures to people that have just bought light fixtures. It’s an algorithm of the crudest data.
As someone with a keen interest in the sales process, I can absolutely confirm that data only gets you 80% of the way to closing a deal. It gives you the who? what? when? and where? but never the why?
The why? is the creative bit. It’s the bit that opens the door. It’s the bit that closes the sale, it’s the bit that makes you immediately drop what you are doing and go straight to a company’s web site to order.
Name me a hit song that has been composed on data. Name me an Oscar-winning movie directed with data. Data is cold. Creative is the thing that triggers your emotions. This is why we will never completely replace humans with cyborgs, because cyborgs don’t know how to push our emotional buttons. CMOs do.
A good CMO or a good sales person will use data to get them into position and then, at the right time deploy the creative to seal the deal.
A great sale begins with great targeting; the right person, with the right product at the right time in the right place. But it is always quickly followed by superb empathy and emotional triggers. A trigger could be fear of missing out, or how good someone will look driving a particular car, or how much younger a person would look using this make-up. Or in the case of my former boss, a trigger could be a fire axe through a desk that follows months of finely targeted letters and invoices.
The actor Edward Norton summed it up beautifully recently, talking about his movie ‘Motherless in Brooklyn’: “What audiences want is an experience, where they enter into a thing that feels authentic on its own terms. They want characters they can connect with and get carried through worlds that take them away. People get hung up on the wrong metrics. I don’t think audiences think about [a film’s] length or comprehension.” He’s right. If a film – or a piece of music for that matter – is powerful enough and drives our emotions, then we’ll go with it and attach all sorts of emotions to it.
And this is what I believe the art of being a good CMO or even a great sales person; emotion. Data cannot tell you what I’m feeling or why I might be tempted to buy your product. Data might have told you where I am, who I am, what I might want and when I might want it but only creativity will provide my emotions with a reason to take the next step. The why?
The reason we have data is not so that we can dispense with creativity. It’s not a binary choice, ironically. It can be a lovely blend of data and creativity. Techniques honed on both ends of the proposition – beautifully targeted and the right message with the right trigger.
Please don’t ever be afraid of being creative. It’s the personality behind your brand. If you rely wholly on data to do your marketing, you find the personality behind the brand is Mark Zuckerberg and personally, I could think of nothing scarier than those eyes, staring unblinkingly back at me. He’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes…