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Data vs. Creativity in Branding

One of the articles in today’s sidebar posits that data can’t tell every story. The author, Bastien Frediani, claims we need good, old-fashioned human intuition to move people with bold ideas and spur them to action. The author further claims that decisions based solely on data often turn out to be bad ones. But my experience tells me the opposite is also true. Decisions based on no information at all frequently turn out to be disastrous. You’d be wise to proceed with caution when encountering people who say they make their decisions, “From the gut.” Truth is, and I think Frediani would agree, to make wise marketing or branding decisions, we need both data and creativity. Of course, we need the intuition to be bold and craft the kind of messaging that cuts through the clutter and engages target markets in positive ways. But we also need enough good information about those target markets that we can trust the ideas we intuit. It’s how I think about the creative leap for a commercial purpose. First, you must do your preparation. Then comes the creative leap, that mysterious idea-generating “something” that no one can explain. Finally, follow through.

Preparation
If you were going to leap over an actual chasm of some sort, you would certainly prepare yourself. You’d check out the different approaches to the precipice. Where is the best footing? Where can you gain momentum? Where is the safest place to land on the other side? What you’re doing is gathering data. Wise marketers also collect data – about the target market, about the competition, about what kind of results past marketing efforts have achieved. The more data you can collect, the better. As Frediani infers, lazy or indecisive marketers allow themselves to be ruled by the data. They allow the data alone to dictate the messaging. This results in tepid, ineffectual marketing that seldom gets results. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked them what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’” The marketer’s, there, job is to get more data, to go deeper, to find out why the market thinks it wants faster horses. But when all that data is gathered, the preparation is not over. Next, the data needs to be analyzed and insights must be gleaned from it. These insights represent what’s true about the marketing challenge at hand. Now, finally, it’s time to put on your creative hat.

The Creative Leap
As mentioned above, no one can really explain where ideas come from. There are certain practices one can rely upon to foster creativity but there’s no guarantee they’ll work. Some people claim they have no creativity at all. They’re either being overly modest or they’re forgetting something … like how easy it is for them to whip up a meal. Most people will acknowledge having some creativity. Some can make a decent living at it. Others are deemed to be so creative that society labels them as geniuses. But in every case, creativity remains unexplained.

At the founding of this agency, I was assigned the task of coining a name for it. I worked hard on the problem, coming up with dozens of viable names, none of which passed muster with my co-founding partner. After more than a week of struggle, I put the issue aside and moved on to other work. Then, one night, literally as my head was about to hit the pillow, I realized that a portmanteau of my partner’s name and mine would yield Boardwalk. And that was it. It’s been our name for 30 years. Why did I suddenly think of that name that night? Still couldn’t tell you. Something about how the brain makes connections, I think. Creativity is a mysterious force. Pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts business people can’t predict or measure it so they are loathe to rely on it. But rely on it they must because it’s creativity that makes their businesses noticeable, memorable and interesting to their market.

Follow through
Once you leap over the chasm, you take a few steps to slow yourself down safely. And once your marketing or branding idea is born, you still have a few steps to take. You have to execute the idea efficiently. You have to measure its effectiveness, make adjustments and repeat.

All the preparation and all the subsequent follow through are separated by one second of unexplainable inspiration. Sure weeks, even months, can go into the creative work. Ideas are sketched out, revised and refined, then, mostly, discarded. But that moment of genius, when it finally arrives, comes in a nano-second. But it won’t come at all unless it’s grounded in data.

BEST BRANDING READS – WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 28, 2020

Developing Intuition to Tell a Brand Story Data Can’t
Neither intuition nor data can tell a good story without the other.

Building Brands On The Concept Of Neighborhood
Not a bad thing if your brand is regarded as a good neighbor.

Truth – the Anchor of Luxury
Not sure how much I buy into this – to tell the truth.

How to build a ‘regenerative brand’
Fascinating article with some key predictions that seem really spot-on.

Purpose Is a Spectrum – Where Does Your Company Fall?
Another way of looking at it. Purpose as a spectrum.

Why So Many Brand Promises Aren’t True
I keep saying: A brand is a promise kept. But it’s easier said than done.

Interview: Purpose & Trust in Banking Brands, with John Woods, Zenus Bank
British banker talking about British banks but the lessons hold true everywhere.

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Best Branding Reads
Week of October 19, 2020

The wild history of ballot designs—and what they say about our democracy
This is a brief but fascinating glimpse into our past. It used to be much worse.

The Harmful Effects Of Business Growth
Growth is change. And change is the enemy of the brand. Proceed with care.

Everything I Know About Naming I Learned From 'The Simpsons'
Actually, a pretty good article. Pretty funny too.

Exclusive Interview with Philip Kotler, Distinguished Prof. of International Marketing
I bought his book “Marketing Professional Services” back in the 1980s. It’s still on my bookshelf.

Medium reveals (another) new logo – and it's a head-scratcher
Third rebrand in five years. What’s going on?

Smucker unveils new corporate identity
My guess is this is a corporate brand change only and won’t appear on their packaging. Or will it?

A Simple Definition of Brand Positioning
The author quotes Philip Kotler.