“These goddam machines and that Sorrel bastard are going to be the end of us!”, spat the agency owner. Clients had been asking for more and more analytics, endless AB testing, and whether they could use AI to generate real-time targeted content for their multiple audiences. The client had seen a Youtube video, of course, cunningly served to them by algorithms, probably programmed by Sorrel himself, that showcased machine learning and AI as the new way to save on creative costs by automating everything from copywriting to image use. “Now they want to hand our work over to the IT department; first the accountants thought they could do it better, now this.”

An episode like this may very well be a reality facing agencies across the world. Data science is the new oil and everyone is speculating and trying to shoehorn it into their business process. This is good news and bad news for the creative industry, luckily, and I will tell you how you can avoid going the way of the whaling fleets of the 19th century.

Beating the data science nerds

The first thing we have to do is get over the fear of data and statistics. As with any machine, there has to be an idea behind it for it to solve a problem. Data (or preferably insight) is the outcome of a concept, our opportunity is to craft the concept and idea of what needs to be measured and what it will achieve. I have worked with many companies that have started a data science department or hired a data scientist to lead the company’s triumphant entry into the 4th industrial revolution. The problem is, that when you get an open-ended brief, there are too many options, too many opportunities, and too many grey areas, and, in the end, both the end-user and the designer (data scientist, in this case) blame each other for lack of good outcomes. We have the opportunity to work within the organization to dream up big ideas that need complex solutions.

Agency creatives have always been data scientists

One of the major functions of data science is to find insights from masses of data that nobody else has discovered – and act on it. The creative industry has been doing this for years, the best creatives being those who have varied experience, absorbing insights from consumer, client, industry, and unrelated fields and bringing their unique insights into an innovative concept that has not been seen before. The parallel is unmistakable and I call this “creative data science”. Where our value to the world of data science lies is in our ability to view client problems from a neutral perspective but bring in unrelated or “left field” insights that help customers see the brand in a new yet relevant way. I believe that, in order for agencies to maintain their relevance and continue to be seen as valuable to their clients, they have to harness the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning as an additional tool in their creative process.

I will now attempt to give a few examples of how to add data science into your creative process.

Staying 5 minutes ahead of your clients

It is not necessary for us to be in the category of Nostradamus or Greta Thunberg to see into the future. Our clients’ work is generally required for the short term, 6-12 months ahead. This means that we only need to be 5 minutes ahead of our clients and consumers when it comes to our understanding and grasp of new technology. What do I mean by this? Data science is moving at quite a pace, there are a host of new technologies entering the market and many of them are quite new and have limited exposure in corporate circles. Our clients are typically hard-working and may not have time to become experts in data science and all the wonderful solutions that are there to be applied to their problems. They do, however, read headlines and have reports from consultants explaining what technology they are expected to use. There are a few tools we can use to make sure we are on top of or at least slightly ahead of the game.

The resources you could use are:

Gartner Hype Wave
I find this very useful as it will make sure that you are aware of new jargon in the industry. I use Gartner Hype Cycle to make sure you are at least conversant with the strategic themes that your client will have been exposed to or interested in.

Frase is great as it curates the most relevant topics you are searching for and provides the major topics currently getting top billing in articles and competitor discussions/sites.

Once set up correctly, Semrush gives you up-to-the-minute insights into what customers and competitors are focusing their attention and digital budgets on.

The key theme here is to make sure that you understand the terminology that you are going to come across in customer engagements and to be on top of or ahead of the AI narrative.

It will help if your business is starting to think about bringing in technology that will help both your internal team add value to your client conversations and your clients in more effective execution. There are many new tools out there, so I would suggest keeping your focus on the major platforms for simplicity.

You may be thinking this does not look like data science, but the term “data science” is used in a rather nebulous way, it encompasses a huge range of concepts and, in many cases, is not very complex or uses technology that has been in action for decades.

Final thoughts

No matter how technologically advanced the world gets, we all want to be seen as individuals and not as a statistic. The customer has their own internal algorithm and, like Google, is trying to outwit or stay ahead of people or technology trying to manipulate it. In the original Terminator, the robot was able to integrate into society because of his fancy flesh suit; nobody wanted to see the robotics running it inside.

In an increasingly data-driven world, we have the role of adding a human layer to the cold and calculating business machine trying to sell products. Our roles are still relevant in this new data age as creatives are needed to humanize the data-science-driven world we find ourselves in.

Creativity, it’s our only hope.

Cover image source: Tima Miroshnichenko