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Magic Numbers: Natalie Howells on Letting the Data Inspire Creativity

24th November 2022

Natalie Howells, Armadillo’s Senior Conceptual Copywriter, recently spoke to Little Black Book about being creative within constraints, opportunities to make customers feel loved and why they don’t mind helpful use of their data. 

 

LBB: What’s the number one question that clients are coming to you with when it comes to how they can better use data to enhance the creativity of their content and experiences?

Natalie: How to use data to enable connected, relevant customer experiences across channels and throughout the funnel. And how to use that data in a creative and compelling way to enhance the brand experience.

 

LBB: How can you make sure that data is elevating creative rather than forming a windtunnel effect and knocking all the interesting or unique edges off that make something distinctive?

Natalie: This is one of the areas I’m especially passionate about. I know some creatives worry that the data will create homogeneity and pull us away from the more interesting and unique parts of creativity. I disagree.

Data will absolutely give us a direction, but so will plenty of other things – clients will have a direction they want to follow, and laws and regulations impose barriers to what we can and can’t do. So, we should all be used to being creative within some constraints. But, more importantly, data doesn’t actually constrain us – if we’re clever in how we use it, it can spark new ideas, breathe life into old ones, and validate approaches we may not have been able to try before. It’s up to us as creatives to let the data inspire us rather than discourage us.

 

LBB: Can you share with us any examples of projects you’ve worked on where the data really helped boost the creative output in a really exciting way?

Natalie: We created an anniversary campaign for McDonald’s, where app-users would receive a personalised email celebrating their use of the app for the prior 12 months. We used data to identify the times of day that people preferred to order, the channels they used the most, and their most popular menu item.

Then we presented this is an interactive email where the user could expand content panels to find out how their results compared to the rest of the UK. An individual might receive an email dubbing them a ‘Night owl orderer’ and a ‘Drive-thru and thru-er’, along with an offer and personalised menu suggestions.

 

LBB: More brands are working to create their own first party data practice – how can a brand figure out whether that’s something that is relevant or important for their business? 

Natalie: I think the question is ‘what brand wouldn’t want a first party data practice’? It’s relevant to everyone. Think about it – if you could create an audience of your most engaged and most valuable customers, what could you do with it?

First party data gives us an audience that have explicitly indicated their interest in a brand. The data gives us opportunities to make those customers feel loved and appreciated. It enables us to make media, across all areas, more focused and efficient. And it helps us develop relationships by giving real value to our customers.

 

LBB: We talk about data driving creativity, but what are your thoughts about approaching the use of data in a creative way?

Natalie: I think the possibilities are endless. One of my favourite books is Information is Beautiful, which presents data in visually stunning ways. It takes raw data and presents it in a way that is not only easy to understand, but is designed with a clever nod to what the data represents. Spotify uses its listener data in really fun ways – some of its billboard campaigns over the years have taken data and used it not only to create entertaining copy, but also create some personalisation even in a broad public setting. It’s not just about graphs and charts – data can create incredibly compelling stories.

 

LBB: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” – how can brands and creative make sure that they’re really seeing what they think they’re seeing (or want to see) in the data, or that they’re not misusing data?

Natalie: One way to have faith in the data is to continually test it. In fact, it’s one of the things that we at Armadillo have a whole workstream covering. We test our assumptions constantly, and often find the data comes out differently than we predicted. The more you experience that, the less likely you are to see what you’re looking for rather than what’s there. Plus, it adds the fun of trying to figure out what’s really going on and why your assumptions were wrong. Another key thing is to start with the data or at least start with a question, rather than trying to find data that supports an idea you want to pursue. That way, you’re looking for an answer that will tell you whether that idea works or not, or using data to spark an idea, rather than misusing the data to your own ends.

 

LBB: What are your thoughts about trust in data – to what extent is uncertainty and a lack of trust in data (or data sources) an issue and what are your thoughts on that?

Natalie: One of the great things for us about working in CRM is that our audience is made up of people who have opted to give us their data. The important thing after that is treating their data with security and respect. If data is misused or used in ways not agreed, then of course consumers will lose trust (as they should).

Appropriate data governance is vital – as is delivering on the promise you gave when you were granted access to that data in the first place. There’s a value exchange at play, and it’s absolutely imperative that any brands meets the expectations of that exchange to ensure consumers don’t lose trust.

 

LBB: With so many different regulatory systems in different markets regarding data and privacy around the world – as well as different cultural views about privacy – what’s the key to creating a joined up data strategy at a global level that’s also adaptable to local nuances?

Natalie: The key here is doing nothing in isolation. Most companies need an infrastructure that is joined up, but we have to always keep in mind that one size fits one, not all. Starting with a minimum viable product that works broadly, allows you to then use local experts indifferent markets to adapt that starting point to the needs of each activation market. Localisation is essential and working with local experts is key to getting it right. Never assume anything.

 

LBB: What does a responsible data practice look like?

Natalie: Secure, transparent, fair, ethical. The core of any data practice is security – best in class security systems from a technological point of view, and excellent data management from a personnel perspective. People should only have access to the data they need and nothing extra. Transparency is crucial, especially when consumers are rightly concerned about what is being done with their data. An easy to find and easy to read data or privacy policy is really important part of this.

 

LBB: In your view, what’s the biggest misconception people have around the use of data in marketing?

Natalie: That people hate their data being used at all.

There’s a line between being helpful and being intrusive, and when marketing uses data well, consumers aren’t against it as many think. If a consumer is interested in something on an ecommerce website and gets a discount code for that item, that’s using their data in a way that benefits them. People don’t hate that. What they hate is their data being sold to other companies, being spammed with irrelevant communications, and feeling like a commodity. The trick is in finding that balance. As I’ve mentioned, it’s about a value exchange. If someone gives you valuable data – like their email address or buying habits – they expect something equally valuable in return.

 

LBB: In terms of live issues in the field, what are the debates or developments that we should be paying attention to right now? 

Natalie: The ongoing developments in regulations, particularly around privacy. Given that they’re continually changing, understanding what consent means at any given time is a development that needs to be monitored constantly. We know that passive opt in and implied consent are no longer enough, and that ‘legitimate interest’ is constantly being tested. Keeping up with these developments is vital, and each change to the regulations makes it clear that it’s becoming more and more important to have first party data.

 

 

Article first published on 21/10/22 by Little Black Book.

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