News & Views

Opinion / How to Stop Data People Ruining Your Creative

by Contagious Contributor
Dr Michael Anton, Head of Insight at Mr. President, explains how modern data planners can bring their expertise into the creative process.



unsplash-logo Markus Spiske

Data people are ruining your creative output.

We are, and I’m sorry about that. Some of us made that Trivago advert happen. We can’t help it, we just want to optimise everything. And, unchecked, we will, even at the cost of creativity.

But there’s something we can all do to fix it. Stop thinking of us as just ‘data people’.

Let’s stop pretending we’re different. That dated ‘PC and Mac’ division between those who ‘do data’ and those who ‘do creativity’ is not just lazy and old-fashioned, it’s actively destructive. At best, the divide is breaking potential links between analytical and creative brains by keeping them in separate departments and conversations, at worst it’s reinforcing the mistaken notion that people who ‘do data’ can’t be creative (and vice-versa).

Reconfiguring the ways we use data, so that it becomes a tool for creative inspiration, not just creative validation and optimisation, is the best way to begin breaking down this divide. In our experience, this means shifting the role of data-focused personnel away from just number crunching and towards a new form of creative data planning.

Creative data planning not only makes ideas stronger, bolder and more effective, but it helps forge a renewed relationship between creative and analytical minds. But getting started means shaking up the role that analysts have traditionally played, rethinking the relationships between creative and analytical departments, and adjusting the processes that drive data gathering and information sharing.

Collaborate from day one

Creatives and analysts may sit across from each other in the office, and may be in each other’s presentations, but how many chances do they get to talk openly and frankly about their needs and abilities?

Kick start their collaboration by getting both sides of the equation together for Q&A kick-offs. Creatives should come prepared with the types of questions they’re looking to answer, and data planners should have an idea of the types of answers they can provide within the time frame. The key here is to set boundaries and expectations.

Use big data to find the small stories

Big data sets, and the overviews they provide are great ways to set the scene when sharing data for creative inspiration. Yet, it’s the small human stories, which are often hidden in outliers or qualitative data, that can resonate the most with a creative team hungry for inspiration.



When Mr President worked with Freesat to create its 2016 brand campaign we knew that, whilst awareness was low, those who had made the switch from Sky to Freesat were extremely satisfied with Freesat. It was only when we dove into the reasons behind these high satisfaction scores that we discovered the insight that would go on to fuel the creative campaign.

‘Switching to Freesat was the best day of my life.’ The BEST? Really? What about your marriage? The birth of your child? This was a genuine quote from a switcher. And there were more. ‘This might have saved our marriage’, ‘I’ve bought myself a super car’, ‘I prefer Freesat over my children’.

The quotes are unbelievable, but they are true. And they were the direct inspiration for the Unbelievably Good campaign that Freesat now runs in TV, print, OOH and social. The hyperbolic creative use of real data has driven a three-year high in awareness for Freesat. And it is seeing even more Sky consumers switching to Freesat.

Inspiring with data is about narration

Stanford University Professor of Marketing, Jennifer L. Aaker, put it best when she said that ‘when data and stories are used together, they resonate with audiences on both an intellectual and emotional level’. That’s the goal, to use data to change how people think and feel about the business problem that they’ve been tasked with finding a creative solution for.

To do this, the modern data planner needs to transform the mundane into the memorable. They’ll need to become experts at crafting emotionally affecting arguments, which are not only rigorously backed up with intellectual credibility, but are narrated to an audience in an impactful way.

Brushing up on the principles of storytelling and taking onboard some of Cole Knaflic’s tenets of visual data design can help. But the real work is in interrogating the needs of your creative audience, and constructing a narrative designed to lead them on a brief but faithful tour of the findings. One that provides context to data, joins strands of information together in a way that creates new knowledge, and comes to a close on a curated set of insights that bring a new perspective to the problem.

Curation is the key

I was going to make you a short presentation, but I didn’t have time, so I made 200 slides instead – it’s an unforgivable mistake most analysts have been guilty of, and a sure-fire way to make sure creative teams miss the point of a presentation. There should be no excuse for missing the essential phase of deleting, rewriting and reordering that turns a good, but long document into an outstanding and inspirational piece of curated, insight-packed gold.

Practically, this means building a buffer for editing time into any data analysis process. It also means adjusting mindsets away from the endless glut of graphs and dashboards that big data often promises, returning to the small but powerful stories that come from human analysis and insight.

The right people

These points, and the process, actions and relationships they lead to, are all useless without one thing: the right people. In our experience, the best data planners to bridge the gaps between analytics and creative, are those trained to see data as just one of many means to an end.

The specialist skills of data scientists can be indispensable in first steps of collection, storage and analysis. However, it’s often those with broader research-focused backgrounds, who can be taught the practical quantitative techniques that will unlock their ability to turn raw data into crafted and curated insights that will inspire the next big idea.

But don’t call them just ‘data people’.