Marketers are constantly trying to figure out what works, and that challenge drives them to try new things.

According to the fourth annual “State of Marketing” report, “On average, marketing leaders today say 34% of their budget is spent on channels they didn’t know existed five years ago — and they expect that to reach 40% by 2019.” (The graphic below shows the most popular channels.)

Source: "State of Marketing" report.

As marketers jump into new channels to to meet customers “where they are,” they’re also on the hook for backing creative ideas with hard numbers now more than ever. Let’s take a look at how marketing leaders find a balance on the teeter-totter of data and creativity.


Where does data come into the customer experience?


The number of likes, the click-through rate, and other metrics show engagement, but turning that data into better customer experiences can be tough. Regardless, marketers have to prove the worth of their ideas, and that means showing results.

“The reality is, we're in these businesses of creating shareholder value — value for our employees, for our customers,” said Scott McAllister, SVP of Digital Transformation, Comcast Cable. “And that's what you have to deliver and show for the senior executive management.”

Creating shareholder value is a pressure felt by anyone at any company, from marketers in big corporations who are beholden to senior management, to small business owners. They all must ask themselves, “Does my data show that I’ve improved the experience for my customers?”?”

Without data, marketers are flying blind, so data is at the core of every decision marketers make.

Maureen Sullivan, COO, Rent the Runway, says, “We think about [data] as an always-on pipeline, and . . . if we aren't looking at real-time customer data to inform that decision, then we're off-track. And we're off-track before we've even started.”

For Maureen Sullivan, COO, Rent the Runway, data — specifically real-time customer data — is the foundation of solid decision-making. This is probably no surprise, yet actually using data effectively still eludes many marketing teams. Salesforce’s fourth annual “State of Marketing report reveals that “creating a shared, single view of the customer” and “budgetary constraints” are two big data woes that continue to pester marketers.

In part, this is due to the sheer amount of data marketers are able to collect. “I think getting true signals through all that noise is the challenge,” said Jay Altschuler, VP, Media and Partnerships, Samsung Electronics America. In essence, where do marketers start within all that noise? What should they measure and why? How do they turn data into actual insights and insights into real decisions?

Two other marketing leaders also share their opinions about the challenges of making data more accessible.

“You really have to understand what you want to measure, why you want to measure it, [and] what that measurement gives you in terms of analysis,” says David Parker, Global Content Marketing & Digital Technology, Kimberly-Clark.

Andy Kaufman, VP, Digital Direct &, piggybacks on that sentiment. “It's one thing to have the data; it's another thing for people to be able to act on the data.”

How do marketers actually use all this data to enhance customer experiences? Where does data intersect with that creative aha moment?


Where does data meet creativity in the customer experience?


Altschuler, who admitted that breaking through the noise of data is a challenge, also said, “As much as we are data-led and data-driven, it's still really difficult to connect in a real personal way, in a human way.”

It’s not always easy to translate data into a creative concept that connects to people. Sarah Fay, Managing Director, Glasswing Adventures, said, “You have to come up with a creative idea that makes the best sense for reaching and moving that target audience.” There’s a lot of creative guesswork, even with data at marketers’ fingertips. There’s not necessarily one correct direction.

It might seem like we’re seeing data and creativity push and pull against one another, but the reality is that they’re two pieces of the same puzzle.

“The key theme these days is data-driven creativity,” says Ronalee Zarate-Bayani, Head of Global Integrated Marketing & Digital Advancement, Emerging Media & Digital Capabilities, The Hershey Company.

Marketers need to base creative decisions on data, and that means constant testing. Altschuler said, “You kind of have to put out something that may not be fully baked  and continually iterate on it as you go.” The creative process means presenting a version to the world, testing it, analyzing the data, changing the concept, and testing it again. Altschuler added, “I think we're always going to be in search for that perfection. I'm not sure it exists, but we're going to keep chasing it.”

That pursuit of the perfect creative solution, with data at its foundation, seems to be leading to a new type of marketer.


The new marketer is both data-driven and creative.


Marketers are sometimes pigeon-holed into specific roles, such as data analysts, creative directors, designers, and more.

Zarate-Bayani, who mentioned that “data-driven creativity” is crucial to marketing, thinks the relationship between data and creativity calls for more marketers who know how to bring specialty areas together. “One of the things that I say over and over again is that today's modern marketer is about being a modern marketing alchemist. By that, it's about not necessarily being an expert in everything.” Instead, it’s about making sure to understand all aspects of marketing.

As Sullivan said, marketers have an opportunity to link disparate parts of their brains. “I think there's a new skill set, that sometimes inherently, those two sides of the brain don't know how to get together and solve something. I think it's an opportunity for a next-generation marketer who does have that versatility that could be drafted on either team.”  

These marketing leaders aren’t alone in their thinking, as more boundaries between different parts of the marketing team and their skill sets start to blur. In fact, “59% percent of marketing leaders say traditional marketing roles limit their ability to engage customers,” according to Salesforce’s “State of Marketing” report.

Because quality customer service is becoming more and more important to companies, marketing leaders are competing for more effective marketers — ones that can put on more hats and be more effective in more roles.


Words of wisdom for the new and traditional marketer.


As data becomes ingrained in creative decision-making, marketing leaders are not only looking for someone who can bridge the gap, they’re  taking note of what it takes to be successful in such a changeable, competitive field. This is especially noteworthy when thinking about what it means to apply data to creative leaps of faith.

“Embrace change,” Sullivan said. “Get real comfortable with it real quick. Stretch your flexibility muscles, and constantly challenge any ideas that you have. Constantly challenge other people's ideas, and really intellectually debate, and learn, and listen so that you can learn. And then be decisive.”

Kaufman adds to Sullivan’s note about being decisive, saying that, while decisions might lead to failure, failure is part of the creative process:

“With the pace of innovation growing so exponentially, [failure] is inevitable. We're going to miss something. Getting okay with that is hard to accept.” He even mentions a quarterly award he gives out to encourage taking risks. “We call it the belly flop award. Every quarter it's given to someone who took the biggest risk that didn't pan out.”

For many marketers, failure is scary, but that’s where the industry is. Data-driven creativity is a measurable thing — but it’s also fluid and nuanced. As marketing leaders guide their teams, it’ll be intriguing to see how data and creativity continue to overlap.

This blog is part 6 of our Trailblazer CMO series. Check out the other blogs in the series for more insights from today’s top marketing leaders.

Watch the Fourth Annual State of Marketing video to learn more about how marketers are leading the charge to transform the customer experience.