Why your agency might be missing a sweet spot

There has been no shortage of data vs creativity debate over the last year. Indeed, two of our top planning and creative minds – Ben Essen and Chris Baylis – spoke at Cannes last year on the very topic. Ben and Chris argued that data should be used to ‘find the right questions’ rather than relying on it to find all the answers.

And I think most people agree that – you simply can’t have rapid change, innovation, category-changing creative without a depth of insight and fact to anchor it, and to give you clarity and confidence.

But I still think that most agencies are missing that sweet spot. They don’t see these outputs as one and the same – data should fuel the creative and creativity should fuel the data. One cannot succeed without the other.

And being successful as a brand is about knowing what to do, what to say, where to be, and understanding the role your brand should play – and more importantly, when and where it should play it.

As with comedy – context and cultural reference really matter… but without timing, they count for nothing.

At iris we believe in ‘Participation’. It’s what I consider to be a bright and progressive view of branding that works by definition across media and disciplines, seamlessly, and when we’re lucky, catches (or really lucky, creates) culture – delivering amazing results for brands.

This is what we’ve built our business on at iris – helping a brand become part of culture – always ‘now’ rather than always ‘on’.

Which is why really effective branding is based on ‘marrying the left and right brain’ – coupling a brilliant creative product and execution with in-depth strategic insight and analysis. You absolutely need both in order to be able to identify the ‘sweet spot’ where a brand can make the biggest possible impact.

And lets face it. Talking about data and analytics isn’t quite as exciting as talking about creative ideas. And no, you shouldn’t be relying on data to give you all the answers. But for creativity data can be a real catalyst, to ask the right questions of consumers, to find anomalies and communities that can inspire amazing work that people care about, that people share, and in turn create a disproportionate return for clients.

Much has been talked about ‘real time marketing’ – we’ve even written a book on it (Newsjacking: The Urgent Genius of Real Time Advertising).

And it’s not an easy thing to get right. I feel in Asia we’re on the cusp of something really exciting – which is why we’ve invested not just in a brilliant creative team, but heavily in our strategic and analytics proposition across the region.

Around seven years ago, we acquired a consulting business called Concise in the UK – with lots of experience in CRM, data, analytics and change management. Over the years, we worked closer and closer – and they are now part of our business, deeply integrated across global clients, and when this works at its best, we can do things for clients businesses that no other agency in the world can.

In the last decade, business in Asia has enjoyed consistent (and at times, rapid) growth – and it’s not stopping any time soon. And of course as a result – agencies have grown by default too. That’s the key difference in my mind - agencies in this market have grown complacently – they haven’t felt the need to optimize, or innovate the way they operate.  

But this is slowly changing. We are under pressure (the good kind) to be more commercially focused, competitive, agile. Clients are seeing the value in working with agency partners that can make the all important transition in our modern world from managing customer relationships to actively enhancing customer participation.

Hence why it’s never been so important for agency’s to invest in strategy as well as creative talent. That’s why we recently moved two of our best from iris Concise in London to head up a growing team in Singapore – the opportunity here is huge.

There are still a few brands that feel they need more specialist agencies in order to ensure effectiveness across ever changing and evolving disciplines, and markets. That’s simply not true. Clients don’t need more agencies. They need better synergy between their various marketing activities. They need their budgets to work harder and to find better levels of return. Again, this is where having a robust data and analytics proposition engrained at the heart of your business, becomes so effective.

And achieving genuine Participation cannot be achieved without confident and vibrant creative, and clear and coherent insight. The two are inextricably linked, and so the closer your creative and strategic minds can work together, the better the final product will be.