The Dream Team: Fully Integrated Creative & Analytics

It is no surprise that most digital agencies and internal digital marketing departments now have a separate team focused on Analytics. What is surprising is the often poor working relationship and lackluster integration between the Analytics and Creative teams--which, unfortunately, is extremely detrimental to the end-results and overall success of marketing strategies and campaigns.

I have seen too many situations where the Analytics and Creative teams act more like warring factions in a high school game of Risk than partners on the same team. This adversarial relationship typically starts off with misperceptions on both sides. The Analytics team often feels that the Creative team doesn't care about any performance metrics and the Creative team believes that the Analytics team has no insight into the emotional mindset of the consumer.

How Creative & Analytics Teams Should Work
Enough of what doesn't work. Let's talk about how it does work in successful organizations. First, it starts with strong leadership from senior management. It must be made clear that everyone is in this together and that everyone either succeeds or fails together. The Analytics team isn't there to judge creative; they are there to provide insights to the Creative team to help the creative perform better.

Adding Insights
From the moment a new digital campaign brief arrives, both teams need to work together. The analytics team needs to provide insights, not just data, on how similar campaigns have performed in the past. What have we learned from our past experience? Some of these insights can be simple yet powerful; some examples for direct response-oriented creative insights include:

1. Web site landing pages in horizontal formats perform better than vertical ones.
2. There should be a balance of iconography and descriptive text.
3. Flash modules perform better if they are booked ended with a call to action.

Other examples for more brand-oriented campaigns:

1. Consistent and prominent branding improves recall.
2. Rich experiences that incorporate playful interactivity improve engagement.

Forecasting Results
Additionally, the Analytics and Creative teams need to jointly decide what success looks like from a metrics standpoint and jointly present this back to their clients. Naturally, what constitutes success will vary depending on what the objective are for the campaign. In this way both teams have ownership in the results.

Also, it should be the job of the Analytics team to forecast the results of the campaign before it is launched. Considerations include the supporting media and search plans, campaign messages, creative execution and of course the strength of the product offering. Effective forecasting is difficult; it is equal parts art and science. And sometimes, the Analytics team will forecast incorrectly and miss agreed upon targets--which has nothing to do with poor creative but has everything to do with poor forecasting. This also forces the Analytics team to have skin in the game--and moves them from a role of just measuring to having a meaningful deliverable that impacts the final results.

The Power of Testing
As the Creative team works through the brief, the Analytics team should set up multivariate or A/B testing to run at the launch of the campaign. After a minimum number of impressions are delivered, the better performing combination of ad and landing page elements should remain in rotation. Instead of hindering the creative team, this can actually empower them. It can give the Creative team more options to test and explore. After all, this is the power of digital, so it is the job of the Analytics team to give their Creative partners the flexibility to try different options and test different approaches all the while providing a safety net to ensure delivery of the campaign objectives.

Building from this idea of flexibility can be a beautiful thing. Often the Creative team has a concept that they firmly believe is a winner, but the client believes is too risky. Imagine a scenario where the Creative team develops this concept, perhaps at their agency's expense, and then presents it to the client, in combination with a more typical campaign execution. The Analytics team can set up a simple test at the launch of the campaign. Both executions are initially trafficked and the agreed upon success criteria will pick a winner when a minimum number of impressions are reached. And if the new concept wins, which I have seen happen many times, the client agrees to keep it in rotation.

This approach is very powerful. The Analytics team has helped get approval for the campaign that the Creative team felt would be the most successful. This is collaboration, a true partnership, and how Analytics and Creative should work together.

Analytics & Creative Collaboration Will Drive Better Results
Once this type of collaboration takes hold there is a powerful, free flowing exchange of ideas. The Creative team often has great new ideas for measurement and analysis. I have learned a great deal about better measurement and optimization from my Creative partners. And I have also seen the analytics team contribute to the creative development of a successful campaign. Good ideas can come from anywhere but only if a mutually respectful, collaborative, environment is in place.

The primary reason to bring these two groups together is very simple--to deliver better campaign results. To begin with, there is the improvement from ongoing optimization while the campaign is still in flight. This requires a quick turnaround of initial measurement against objectives and the ability to deliver even quicker changes to creative. This only sounds "pedestrian" to those who have not had to deliver it. It requires seamless integration between these two teams along with a close working relationship with the technology and account teams. Anything but a total commitment to the success of each other teams will cause this process to spin wildly out of control and key deadlines will certainly be missed.

Beyond live campaign optimization, and perhaps even more valuable, are the consumer and business insights that can be discovered when the Analytics and Creative teams are truly integrated. Each team often brings a different perspective and a different set of skills to bear on the same problem. The creative team may have a hypothesis about why engagement scores are below average and the analytics team can provide a testing framework to confirm that hypothesis.

The partnership between Analytics and Creative should be about exploration--an exploration of new ideas and concepts. This is increasingly important in the ever-evolving digital landscape. These groups have a tremendous potential to add to the success of each other. I have seen well integrated Analytics and Creative teams deliver ROI improvements of 3--5x what can be accomplished when the teams are not integrated and don't care about their mutual success. But let's not forget that the fundamental underpinning of any partnership is trust. Trust is not something that happens by accident. It is fostered and built up over time within an environment of shared values that include mutual respect and a commitment to the success of others.

In today's marketing environment, a well integrated Analytics and Creative team is not an option it is a necessity. So take the time to make sure that these critical groups are well aligned. Make sure they understand and respect each other's challenges and contributions. Create an environment were a shared responsibility in mutual success is the norm. Better work will follow--GO TEAM!

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