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How to Get Creatives to Harmonize With Metrics

A version of this article was originally published in September’s CCO magazine.

To create a high-performance team and successful campaigns, content leaders must break away from legacy thinking that segregates the art of creativity from the science of marketing.

On the surface, this challenge may appear to be only about getting creative team members comfortable with data. But the issues and the solutions run deeper. They require fostering processes and cultures where content creators effectively and willingly use marketing data in their work.

To create high-performance teams, foster processes and cultures where #content creators willingly use marketing #data in their work, says @ByJenGregory via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Reaching the ideal (or just moving closer to it) pays dividends in quality content that resonates with customers. It also can increase stakeholder recognition of your creative team’s value to the organization, which can contribute to higher job satisfaction. That adds up to better marketing performance – and better business results.

Shift your perspective

Melissa Zehner, senior director of content marketing at financing platform Lendio, says some creatives operate from a mindset that they need to be creative all the time – to the exclusion of other considerations critical to content marketing success.

Many assume creatives often enter the marketing field to parlay their artistic craftsmanship – a knack for writing compelling stories or a great eye for design – into a viable career. But from where Melissa sits – and in the creative teams that she influences and drives – a strong, symbiotic relationship with data is part and parcel to the creative process.

“We need to all move past the idea that if you are creative, you can’t also be scientific and analytical. If we want to see measurable results, creatives need to find the intersection where data and creativity meet,” she explains.

To see measurable results, creatives must find the intersection of data and creativity, says @liswrites via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In his work as creative director at financial market data business Refinitiv, Mark Lulsens thinks the creative process must be influenced by data, but not turned into a paint-by-numbers system.

“What we can’t do is say, ‘Data analytics people aren’t creative, they are just the geeks.’ But we also can’t say, ‘Creatives aren’t data and analytical people.’ We have the (analytical) side of our brain as well – we just lean on the creative side more,” he says. “Our mindset needs to shift to, ‘We are all data creatives. We all use data to create new and better content, more exciting, more relevant content.’ Only then are we speaking the same language.”

Use data to define – and demonstrate – successful outcomes

Many organizations rush into training exercises or adoption of new processes to improve how content creators apply data in their work. That approach ignores a key obstacle: showing creatives why they should care about metrics and data.

Neil Marion, executive creative director at marketing agency Pace Communications, says creatives want their work to connect with people and to make a difference to the business. To reach that dual goal, he recommends showing creatives how metrics can prove whether their content connects emotionally and impacts their audiences.

Show creatives how #metrics can prove if their #content connects emotionally and impacts audiences, says @jneilmarion of @PaceComm via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For example, creatives traditionally wait until a campaign’s end to see performance results and then are disappointed if their content was not well received. Neil finds that showing creatives how to use real-time data to focus their efforts from the start and increase their potential to achieve greater success over time often helps secure their buy-in.

Team leaders can apply a similar attitude-adjustment approach to illustrate how data can raise the creative’s industry profile and improve their standing in the organization.

Mark suggests mentioning metrics during company meetings or in other public settings to acknowledge creative team wins, giving creators an emotional boost and encouragement. Because many brands use metrics to focus on the negative and what doesn’t work, telling people to check out the metrics because the team is smashing it shows creatives that metrics can improve how colleagues, supervisors, and stakeholders receive their work.

Provide real-time insights

As mentioned, creatives are often separated from the data until the campaign is over, which means they cannot make quick changes to wording, images, headlines, or other features that could enhance its performance. Mark says this issue arises because workflows aren’t built to allow for data sharing to be done efficiently.

By updating your editorial processes and systems so creatives receive real-time data at key stages throughout the campaign creation, you can allow them to play a more direct role in optimizing content and increasing its impact.

Update editorial processes and systems so creatives receive real-time data at key stages throughout campaign creation, says @ByJenGregory via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“When you have an organization of 18,000 employees marketing to over 100 countries, you have multiple campaigns in many different locations happening at the same time,” Mark says. “Using traditional methods of collecting and reporting, it’s simply not practical to get the information back to creatives in a timely fashion and creates too many barriers to execution.”

To overcome this challenge, Mark works with his insight and analytics, strategy, creative, and planning teams to create dashboards. They combine analytics with artificial intelligence to deliver meaningful insights about what is happening right now. However, he cautions, simply reviewing complex and deep marketing analytics in a timely fashion does not automatically make the process easier. The insights must be delivered in ways that fit into the creative process and are easy to understand quickly – without the need for a data science degree.

Gear data training to creative minds

Traditional data analytics training isn’t the answer for creatives. Sitting through a day (or even two hours) of education geared toward data people will cause them to tune out – and often become turned off by – marketing math. Instead, personalize training using a building-block approach and gradually move into more complex concepts and metrics.

To begin, host a 15-minute demonstration with a small or granular content variable, such as headline choices, image placement, or font colors. Show creators how to access relevant data – either through an analytics report or a dedicated dashboard. Then illustrate ways they can apply those insights to their content decisions without constraining their creativity.

Connect creatives to data with a 15-minute demo of a granular content variable like headline choice or image placement, says @ByJenGregory via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Melissa, for example, uses simple A/B tests to demonstrate the value of doing a little marketing math during the creative process. Her Lendio team found that their ads using the word “funding” got higher traffic than when they used the word “financing.” However, upon deeper analysis, they found that leads from ads containing the word “financing” were more qualified, which brought greater revenue to the company.

Foster cross-team cooperation

At many brands and agencies, creatives and data analysts have separate workflows, systems, and communication styles. When there’s little overlap, it can feel like the two teams speak entirely different languages.

The way teams are structured and even the company’s culture can further widen this communication gap, putting more stress on everyone and resulting in less successful content. Melissa says it is possible for both types of team members to come together, but leaders must work to establish the right communication and collaboration processes to enable it.

By implementing a cross-team approach to content marketing projects (vs. operating within traditional silos), both the data and creative teams can pursue shared goals, while gaining a better understanding of the other’s process and role.

However, each still must retain flexibility to regroup with their functional teams when they need to focus on their primary role. Consider partnering your data scientists and creative experts for project portions to develop a collaborative relationship.

Analytical thinking and creative expression are not mutually exclusive

With the right tools, processes, and leadership, even the most staunchly creative minds can learn to master the science of optimizing content marketing performance. By creating a common goal and language, marketing leaders can help their teams find the right balance and produce amazing content for their audience.

“As leaders, we need to create a process that lets us take the ‘good stuff’ from the data,” Mark says, “while at the same time, giving our creative team members the freedom to be themselves and express themselves through their work – but with insight.”

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute