Data’s Challenge to Creativity: The Evolution of the Marketer

Written By Rob Van Kranenburg, Community Manager, EU Project Sociotal
Edited By Florent D’Souza, Medill IMC Class Of 2015

Published on 10/21/2015


As we make more and more progress in the field of smart cities, the smart grid, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and smart appliances, the Internet of Things (IoT) is pushing the limits of automating the use of data. Our devices are getting smarter and are able to undertake tasks automatically by interacting with other devices, thus putting data mining, analytics and Internet activity to use — to cater to human needs in an intuitive manner.

The IoT is greatly influencing the media industry. Because of Big Data analytics and an increasing number of smartphone and Internet users, the IoT not only helps in automating content and media delivery but also optimizes the process. The IoT touches on marketing communications in fields such as segmentation, consumer insights, programmatic media buying and message delivery. Thus, the question arises: are Big Data and the IoT revolutionizing a marketer’s job, or simply changing the marketer’s role in the equation? Are machines automating the process, or are they influencing decision-making that was traditionally based on creativity and intuition?

More Data = Better Decisions

Automation is what brought about the Industrial Revolution. Other than the capitalists, history has shown us that many people were impacted by this economic transformation negatively. Machinery replaced craftsmanship and computerization replaced human interaction in the customer-brand relationship. However, this is not an essay on Marxist ideologies, but rather on the impact of automation on people.

Fast-forward to today — there are numerous examples of how data is influencing our lives: how devices can measure our heart rate and sync it to our other devices, how our online search activity influences the messages we see across our electronics, so on and so forth. In essence, our devices are getting smarter. This pushes data mining, analytics and intuition from being valued human skills to tasks that can be performed by machines.

Goodbye Intuition. Hello Data!

When Coca-Cola went about putting consumers through a blind test to compare their product with their competitor Pepsi, an experiment was conducted with a relatively small sample size. Though considered a promotional campaign for the brand, it gives us an idea of how market research was more traditionally conducted — a smaller sample size, with a lot of direct human feedback.

As strange as it may sound, if an experiment of such sort were to be conducted by Coca-Cola today, there would most likely be no real human involvement. A snapshot of consumer data, mined from various sources, gives a more accurate and holistic brand perception of the product than any marketer could have sourced in the past. Surveys and focus groups are becoming things of the past.

Combine this with yet another phenomenon: the convergence of different industries, enabling a world where credit card information can be synthesized with medical records and linked to a Fitbit to see a consumer’s consumption patterns and lifestyle. The sheer magnitude of data that can be collected in this way cannot be compared to the simple, sample-size-calculating human effort. With the advent of the IoT, more data can be collected more quickly. The marketer is getting increasingly data focused and data driven.

Humanizing Data = the Beginning of the End of Creativity

Once the magnitude of data has been collected, the next step would be to analyze this data, find patterns in it and make predictions based on it, and utilize cluster and factor analysis to define and target segments. Surely these are processes that require human effort! This process requires creativity, intuition and predictions — nothing that one machine can communicate to another. But we see this automated process almost every day on a small scale. Turn on your Netflix page and it suggests what you should be watching based on data you already fed to it. Open up your Amazon account and you will find suggested purchases based on your previous purchases. From Uber to Pandora to even your smart fridge and your car, brands are sending you push notifications based on the “data” you feed them.

On a very small scale, these are algorithms created to collect data, analyze and find patterns in it and predict what you might want to buy next. Such algorithms, on steroids, can take on much more complex tasks. Such predictions change not only how one company shapes or designs its next product or service, but the entire framework of how industries approach their customers. If Big Data analysis can provide us with such predictions, then how important will creativity and intuition be in a marketer’s job?

The Marketer — Endangered, Redefined or Enlightened?

The field of marketing is definitely increasingly important. Every industry across most, if not all, fields truly believes that some sort of marketing communications is that oomph factor that will get their idea, product or service to break through the clutter and make its mark in the consumer’s mind.

The marketing world is shifting and expanding because of technological innovations and an ever-changing media landscape, and marketing functions are becoming mandatory elements within the job descriptions of all professions. But more importantly, in the advent of Big Data, the IoT and marketing automation, there was the simmer of hope that marketers were still going to be the voice of creativity and intuition in strategic marketing decision-making. Today we see even that is swiftly being taken away by technology and data. What does the marketer of the future look like? Or will the marketer of the future not even exist?

This is why it is the most exciting time to be a marketer. Marketers are at the cusp of this evolution — an Industrial Revolution-like change across all industries — a Data Revolution. With marketers’ minds not being occupied with issues like the lack of data, perhaps this will push the boundaries of creativity to a new level. Can marketing lead the path towards being the most creative generation yet? In many ways, because of the Data Revolution, the marketer has become more of an artist than a business function to drive sales. [END]


Rob van Kranenburg Rob van Kranenburg is the author of “The Internet of Things: A Critique of Ambient Technology and the All-Seeing Network of RFID,” prepared for the Institute of Network Cultures. Rob currently works as community manager at the EU Project Sociotal. He is also the founder of council for
Florent D’Souza worked with BBC World News’ prime time political debate show, The Doha Debates, leading web and online. He spent time with Qatar Foundation’s web and digital team, and later went on to consult for German communications agency, fischerAppelt. Florent received a bachelor’s degree in communication studies (media industries and technology) from Northwestern.

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