Big Data, Smart Data, Fast Data…. Creative Data?

    by Ian Gibbs
    July 25, 2016
    Photo from

    The following piece is a guest post from Ian Gibbs, head of commercial insight at Guardian News & Media. Ian is on the reader advisory board of MetricShift. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.

    While the world of editorial content and branded content face similar data challenges in the measurement and effectiveness space, for branded content, publisher data increasingly has an important role to play in inspiring creative thinking, enabling brands to ascertain what content areas will their audience will really engage with.

    “You might be making mistakes on the margin of error, but I believe the speed of which you get data and make decisions is more important than the accuracy of the answer you get.”

    KPMG survey highlights top CEO concerns.

    KPMG survey highlights top CEO concerns.

    So said Jorn Socquet, AB InBev’s vice president of U.S. marketing, in an interview with Marketing Week last month in which he endorsed the use of “fast data” analytics in business decision making. It’s a comment that doubtless sent a cold shiver down the spines of research die-hards. Margins of error, statistical significance tests and sampling methodologies — they exist for a reason, right? Do we really want to discard years of carefully crafted market research and analysis theory — theory that has been developed explicitly to provide us with an as accurate as possible estimation of the truth — just for the sake of some quick and dirty real-time insight?

    Perhaps this comes as no surprise? Much comment has been made of late around how we now live in a post-truth world. Facts just simply don’t seem to matter in political discourse anymore, as evidenced by the result of the Brexit referendum. So why should they matter elsewhere?


    Data is all about context

    According to KPMG’s recently released Global CEO Outlook Survey, 86 percent of global CEOs say they lack time to think strategically about forces of disruption and innovation — but that 84 percent also say that they are concerned about the quality of data they have to base decisions on. So what is it that they really want: fast inaccurate data, or slow high-quality data?

    This is a glib response, of course, and I do actually think Jorn Socquet makes a good point. As with everything, it’s all about context. If you’re making important strategic decisions about the long-term future of your business or brand, take your time with the analysis and stay robust. But if you’re simply trying to inspire creative thinking, go fast. And that’s the crucial point here: Data don’t just have to point to one single truth; they can simply perform a function in inspiring creative thinking and ideas. In other words data can be used as one of many means to a creative end, rather than the end point itself.

    This is just what we’ve been doing at the Guardian recently.

    We are harnessing the power of our first-party data to inspire creative content ideas in our advertiser clients. By placing a DMP-generated pixel tag on client digital properties, we can now create an advertiser-centric view of our data rather than a Guardian-centric view. In other words, we can tell our clients about their audience’s quality-content consumption habits to find out what makes them tick. For one educational establishment about to launch a forensic science degree, for example, we were able to see that their audience was really engaged with crosswords and “Scandinavian Noir” content (very “Guardian” I hear you say!). What better way to raise awareness of the new degree program than through an online interactive crime scene perhaps — satisfying the desire to solve puzzles and solve crimes simultaneously? We’re not suggesting that they stake the future of their business on this one piece of insight, but this is the kind of data can be provided fast and can unearth potentially exciting creative ideas for brands.

    Photo from Unsplash

    Photo from Unsplash

    Inspiring Creative Thinking in Media

    I read of a data sceptic once who questioned what piece of data drove the decision to use a drumming gorilla to advertise a chocolate brand, but I don’t think this is as farfetched as it sounds. Data can be a lens by which we make creative decisions: not the be all and end all, but an interesting reference point nonetheless. I see no reason why data can’t inspire such creative thinking. And of course as Cannes Lions are always quick to remind us: Creativity matters, and it drives real business results.

    The final point I’d make is that perhaps fast insight and robust insight aren’t going to be as mutually exclusive in the future as they sound right now. I read with interest last week the news from Savitz Consulting that through the identification of inliers, research sample sizes can now be reduced without forfeiting robustness. Research costs are reduced by up to 33 percent. Music to the ears of many a research budget holder no doubt.

    At the end of the day, you just need to be clear on your objectives before you set out. If you’re a die-hard market researcher or data analyst, don’t get too caught up in the detail if the aim is just to inspire some creative thinking. But on the flip side, if you’re a senior business decision-maker or strategist, don’t put undue pressure on your analytics people to deliver fast data that might compromise credibility when you’re staking important strategic decisions on the outcome.

    Get fast with your data, but not loose!

    Follow me @IGDataStories.

    With over ten years of experience in media and advertising research and insight, Ian Gibbs currently heads up the Guardian’s Commercial Insight team with a remit to provide the strategic data and insight required to fulfill the Guardian’s long term commercial ambitions.

    Tagged: advertising analytics branded content content marketing

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