Big Data Takes Centre Ice

November 28, 2012  |  Jonathan Paul  |  Comments

This story originally appeared in the Nov. 30 issue of Marketing

The explosion of information means stronger creative based on data, not just instinct

These days, it’s all about performance. It’s no secret that since the economy tanked marketers have placed greater stock in accountability, examining every dollar they spend with increased scrutiny to ensure the efficacy of their programs.

With that mentality so prevalent, the need to justify clients’ marketing spend, and for agencies to validate their methodologies, has sparked a big love for big data and it’s only getting bigger.
Big data—the kind of intel that makes sense of erratic consumer habits by tracking social activity—is now readily available in real time, thanks, of course, to the advent of social media and other digital platforms. Marketers already know this.

The trick for agencies has become showing clients how all that info can help them achieve their business objectives. Marketers are becoming more open to that process, actively asking questions like, “What’s the real value in a Facebook like or of a retweet?”

With that kind of thinking catching on, agencies have been mobilizing to codify big data analysis—using social listening tools like Sysomos or Radian6, platform-specific tools like Facebook Insights and online analytics tools like Google Analytics or Adobe Buzzmetrics­­—to better demonstrate to clients how data can be overlaid on top of business intelligence to produce helpful consumer insights.

The goal, ultimately, is to help brands align with consumer desires or needs at that moment. Their efforts are galvanizing the development and tactical execution of advertising creative, as well as the entire strategic planning process. They’re also seeing clients bringing performance-minded digital agencies to the table from the get-go to help crack the right creative code.

“When we do those social listening exercises we’re able to figure out what people are saying, how they’re talking, what platforms they’re communicating on, how they’re communicating, or what words they’re using to describe a product,” says Ian Barr, VP and general manager at Rocket XL in Toronto. “When you marry those real-time social insights with business data, the picture becomes a lot more clear and aligned with what the consumer is actually craving from you as a brand,” he says. “When they write the creative brief they can go to market in a much more efficient way.”

Integrated agency Elvis Communications recently coined a term in relation to that process, “Calculated Creativity,” which also describes its overarching philosophy.

“Elvis has a real root in making sure that data drives our decisions so that we can validate back as well,” says Toronto-based Chris Brewer, vice-president of Elvis Communications North America. “We can say to clients we’ve been successful, here’s why, and we can show you that and how we made decisions along the way. It’s really thinking about the context of that data and how it’s going to inform the creative process. It brings together the creative thinkers on the ground and the analytic thinkers.”

In leveraging big data, the advantage isn’t simply the ability to reach out to potential customers at the right time with the right message and the right place, but to go a few steps further and come at them with the right creative and thinking.

That, says Barr, played a big part in the way his team developed concepts for a Facebook-based campaign it executed last year for Modelez’s (the new candy business spun out from Kraft) Mr. Big brand. Lacking relevance with its target, the candy bar brand sought to re-invigorate its appeal and the first step was researching the digital behaviours of 17-year-old males.

“One thing that was really apparent was that they all saw themselves as being really big deals,” says Barr. “They had these digital personas that pumped up their ego and we used that insight. For 17-year-olds, it’s all about online ego and the age of instant celebrity. The ways that they express themselves [online] reflect that.”

Through social listening, Rocket XL was also able to determine the sorts of athletes the teens hype up, entertainment they look for and kinds of things they collect.

That information affected the way the campaign concepts were developed, says Barr. It resulted in a slate of creative featuring Mr. Big Deal himself, NHL star Alex Ovechkin, and a media mix that spanned online games, collectibility with different packaging and quirky five-second online spots, favoured by the target audience due to a shorter attention span, ultimately culminating in a specialty TV buy.

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