A friend recently posted a survey on LinkedIn that asked which of these three factors were most important to succeed in modern marketing: Data Analysis, Creative, or Strategy.
Or as I framed it for someone, take your marketing budget and divide it into four equal parts. Each of the first three areas gets 25% of the budget, but only one of them gets the remaining 25%. Which one do you pick?
Being a creative professional, I said the Creative was the most important. The analysts said Data Analysis, and the strategists said that was dumb and that I was correct.
Just kidding, the strategists said Strategy was the most important.
And of course, there were those predictable few who thought all worked hand-in-hand and they were equally important, and no parent should ever have a favorite child and blah blah blah.
A quick aside
Some people are bad at thought exercises. When you’re presented with one, the goal is to make you weigh the options, consider each one, and then pick the answer you believe is correct. You’re not committed to anything, and no one is going to judge you for your choice.
In a thought exercise, you don’t have the option of whining, “Oh, but they’re all equally important!” And you don’t get to come up with some other option. That’s weasel thinking by someone who couldn’t make a firm commitment if their life depended on it. If it were a real-life decision, I could see the importance of trying to find an equitable solution. But this isn’t that.
The point of a thought exercise is to think and make a choice, and then defend your choice. Ruminate on the results. Consider what would happen because of the choice you made. Try to predict the future based on what you chose.
Don’t be so wishy-washy about your decision. It won’t kill you to commit to an idea for two minutes.
Back to the article
My logic was this:
The Creative element is the most important in the marketing department because if you create mediocre content, a great strategy will only ensure that more people see your polished turd. And data analysis will tell you how many people actually saw it.
Bad or mediocre content won’t convert, it won’t create fans, it won’t move people down the sales funnel. They won’t sign up for your newsletter, they won’t follow you on Twitter and Instagram, and they won’t remember you when it comes time to make a purchase.
So do you really want to improve the number of people who see your content by putting all your money into the strategy element? And do you really want to know, down to the last decimal place, how many people thought your content was awful? Because data analysis has never sold anything, it only tells you what worked and what didn’t. It never tells you what will work, it only tells you what already worked, and then you can infer from the data that you should do it again.
I’ve told the story elsewhere of the data analyst who once got annoyed with me because I wrote about putting vehicle wraps on tournament fishing boats for a client. The client was known for doing vehicle wraps, as well as other commercial signage, and the boat wraps were something one of their franchisees was doing.
The analyst said, “No one has ever come to the website looking for boat wraps! Why would you waste the energy to make that?”
I said, “How much content do we have on boat wraps now?”
“That’s why no one has ever come looking for it.”
The following month, our boat wrap article was the second-most visited article on the entire blog, only behind the front page.
During our next meeting, I said, “Did you see this month’s numbers?”
The analyst said, “Yes, I did.”
“Did you see where the boat wraps article ranked?”
I wrote another boat wrap article the following month and it stayed in the top 10 for a few months. I know, because I asked the analyst about it at each monthly meeting.
The big lesson I learned was that analytics should never, ever drive content, it should only measure what was done. Being a data-driven marketer means you’re a reactive marketer, not proactive. You’ll never try something new because the data hasn’t told you to try it.
For that reason alone, analytics has to be dropped from consideration for the extra 25% of our budget.
Choosing between creative and strategic elements of marketing
This is a tougher choice, and if I made a wishy-washy weasel choice, I would split the remaining 25% of my budget between these two areas. But that’s not possible, so I have to make a choice.
And yes, I will admit that I’m biased as a creative professional myself.
But I also believe that well-done content leads to more engagement than mediocre content. So if I have to choose between getting my work in front of 10,000 people with a 20% engagement or 50,000 people with a 2% engagement, I’ll take the smaller audience with the bigger engagement every time.
I see this a lot with self-published book authors on Twitter. These are the Twitter cheaters who grow their follower count to low six-figures, and then blast out message after message about “Buy my books! Buy my books!”
They don’t engage, they don’t have conversations, they don’t ask or answer questions. They just follow a bunch of people, get them to follow back, and then bombard them with nothing but advertisements.
They do all this work in gaining an audience, and then put out nothing of value or interest. If they at least put in some time and energy and created some interactive content, they’d probably have a lot more customers.
Instead, they focused completely on strategy and didn’t do anything at all for the Creative. Are their books any good? Who knows? Their ads were so bad, I didn’t want to find out. If anything, their content and strategy turned me off of their books.
They got a low six-figure audience, which is a great strategy, but couldn’t do anything with it. It’s like getting a high-powered car and then letting it sit in your driveway because you didn’t put any fuel into it.
So Strategy doesn’t get the remaining 25% either.
Which means Creative is the most important part of your marketing, and it gets the remainder of the budget. Which is what happens when Creative people are in charge of writing their own stories.
Two lessons: First, don’t be afraid of a thought exercise. It’s a survey that no one (except me) is going to remember in 24 hours, and no one will lambast you because of your choice. (Unless you gave a Kumbaya, “Why Can’t We All Get Along” answer, in which case you should be roundly mocked.)
Second, good creative work will do more for your successful marketing than the strategy or analytics ever could.
Put more of your marketing budget into getting good creative work. Come up with the best strategy you can for the money you have. And then look at your analytics and see what’s performing the best. If you’re a small business or have a limited product line, it’s not like you need a Ph.D. data scientist anyway, so don’t spend more than you have to.
What do you think? Where would you put the remaining 25% of your marketing budget? Make a choice, defend your answer, and don’t give me any of this “they’re all equally important” nonsense. Commit and defend!