Content creators are masters at thinking creatively – a strength they rely on to produce content that incites passion among their audiences. Yet marketing roles increasingly require them to embrace the mathematical and methodical – linear thought processes, data calculations, and analytical applications – to drive their brand’s goals and optimize their content’s performance.

The need to integrate these conflicting thought processes can make it challenging for the writers and designers on your content team to effectively apply quantitative principles to their creative efforts.

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 all about helping creative team members get comfortable with data. But both the issues and the solutions run deeper than that. What’s needed are processes and cultures where content creators effectively and willingly use marketing data in their work.

It’s not a simple or easy undertaking – far from it. But reaching this ideal (or even just moving closer to it) pays dividends in quality content that resonates with customers. It can also increase stakeholder recognition of the value your creative team brings to the organization, which can contribute to higher job satisfaction. That adds up to better marketing performance – and better business results.

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, says @ByJenGregory via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It all starts with a shift in 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 that are just as critical to content marketing success.

There’s an assumption that creatives often enter the marketing field as a way 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 – she recognizes the importance of having a strong, symbiotic relationship with data and making it 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.

In his work as creative director at financial market data business Refinitiv, Mark Lulsens aims to foster a healthy relationship between data analytics insights and creativity in its purest form. While his focus is on creating something new and uniquely valuable for customers, he often finds he can’t achieve that if he is simply being fed data and analytical insights – especially since customer data doesn’t always articulate what they truly want from the content they consume.

As a strong believer and user of data, Mark also thinks the 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. However, this approach overlooks 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 both connect with people and make a difference to the business. To help them reach that dual goal, he recommends showing creatives how metrics can prove whether their content is connecting emotionally and impacting their audiences in a positive way.

For example, traditionally creatives have to wait until the end of a campaign to see performance results and then be disappointed if their content wasn’t well received. Neil finds 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.

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

Provide real-time insights using AI-based dashboards

As I mentioned, creatives are often removed from the data until the campaign is over, which means they cannot make quick changes to wording, images, headlines, or other content features that could potentially enhance its performance. Mark says this issue arises, not because marketing teams don’t want to share the data with creatives but because the workflows aren’t built to allow for it to be done efficiently.

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

“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,” says Mark. “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, he is working with his insight and analytics, strategy, creative, and planning teams to create dashboards that use analytics combined with artificial intelligence to deliver meaningful insights about what is happening right now. However, he cautions that simply reviewing complex and deep marketing analytics in a more timely fashion will not 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.

Provide data training geared for creative minds

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

To begin, set time aside for a 15-minute demonstration with a small or granular content variable, such as headline choices, image placements, or font colors. Show creators how to access relevant data – either through your analytics reports or a dedicated dashboard – and then illustrate ways they can apply those insights to their content decisions without constraining their creativity.

Melissa, for example, says she uses simple A/B tests to demonstrate the value of doing a little marketing math during the creative process. Her team at Lendio found that when they ran an ad using the word “funding,” it got higher traffic than when it 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 a culture that builds 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 start to 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, which puts more stress on everyone and can result in less successful content. Melissa says that it is very 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.
Implementing a cross-team approach to content creation makes it easier for your data and creative teams to pursue shared goals, while gaining a better understanding of each other’s processes and role, says @ByJenGregory via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
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, it is important that each still retains some 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 portions of the project to develop a collaborative relationship on both sides.

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,” says Mark, “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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