Let’s start with a point that we can all agree on: Robust information makes everyone smarter. And let’s take the next step to agree that well-informed design tends to work harder and perform better. And let’s just get really wild and assume that everyone wants the assets the ad team creates to drive sales harder and perform better. Because if it doesn’t, we will all soon be looking for work. When it’s done right, understanding how customers respond to design, and how design drives customer behavior make us all better — and more job-secure. I’m sure that so far, most marketers agree, on principle. But in practice, what I see are a lot of data and creative teams who still work in silos, with plenty of barriers that stand in the way of a free and frequent exchange of information.
We see it in our agency relationships, where we sometimes work on client data but not creative, or creative without data, but I strongly suspect this happens between internal creative and data teams as well. Here are the most common things I hear:
- “Here are two past creative samples, assume everything looks roughly like this.”
- “Why do you need the data? You’re our creative agency. Do creative design stuff and we’ll give you the direction.”
- “Here’s some research and testing we did in 1998. I’m sure nothing has changed since then.”
- “Yes, let’s do that someday. This week? No, that’s too busy. Next week isn’t looking good either …”
Here’s a few scenarios where making sure that the data and creative teams communicate early and often and collaborate is of utmost importance:
Building Strategy Out of a Creative Evolution
If there’s one time it’s essential for data and creative teams to communicate well it’s during creative evolution. Many companies today are facing an aging customer base, and are looking for ways to attract a younger audience. Often, this results in a complete creative makeover to a younger, fresher artistic viewpoint that’s meant to appeal to the desired Millennial audience.
However, a company must understand the impact that the evolution will have on the existing customer. Creative and data teams should coordinate to create a cohesive testing strategy that allows analysts to project the impact that the redesign will have on existing customers. In other words, test into it slowly so you don’t watch your sales suddenly dive off a cliff.
Preparing for Gifting Season
Let’s pretend that your primary customer profile is “Sonya,” and you know a great deal about her through customer research. She’s 55, drives an Audi, likes to take in some theater on the weekends and has two kids around college age. She likes to browse a catalog, but she’ll go online to place an order. She buys from your natural beauty product company twice a year, and she does so because she likes the natural ingredients and the unique scents.
Your creative team knows all about her. You talk about her at every project kickoff and strategic meeting. But what didn’t get shared is that starting in mid-October, Sonya decides on gifts to buy for her friends and family. On top of that, gifting drives a lot of new customers to your website, shifting your business in this time of year from 25% gifting to 55% gifting.
So around that time, when your creative team chooses images for the “hero” spot on your home page, email blasts and catalog cover, they find a beautiful image in your image library, which showcases the quality of your products.
And your copywriter writes a headline about your great quality natural ingredients, but isn’t clued in to the importance of the gifting angle. So you end up with a nice presentation, that’s less relevant than it could have been.
A little more communication, and it would be a powerful tap-on-the-shoulder to that all-important in Q4 gifting audience driving more relevant clicks and lucrative gift-bundle sales.
Determining How Your Customer Shops
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the primary customer profile hasn’t been shared with the creative team, but what does happen frequently is a failure to see proper context.
Take this example from an Athleta catalog. The copy is stacked at the bottom of the page creating a clean and modern aesthetic that absolutely works with a young customer profile. But imagine how this might challenge an older demographic, who will struggle to match a tiny key code to the small-type block below.
The point here is that there’s not just artistic considerations — matching a customer archetype to images that appeal to them — but practical considerations that extend to how products are positioned on the page.
It’s critical that the creative team understands the demographics of the audience they are designing for and the differences in how they shop.
Designing for Category and Product Rankings
Creatives are often tasked to design an ad or page without sales information, which puts them at an unfortunate disadvantage.
In a slideshow ad — a format frequently used for social ads or digital display — a series of images are displayed one by one, like in this example from Stitch Fix. For the sake of illustration, I’ve placed the individual slides side by side, and the left-most image would appear first. Click data tells us that the first image in this slideshow is the most important, as it gets seen and clicked more frequently.
In a perfect world, the sales information — or at least product ranking — would have been shared with the designer at handoff. This way when they create the ad, they’d be able to place the best-selling outfit combo as the first slide, increasing the changes of a click and conversion.
Sales data is also incredibly useful to catalog designers, as it’s a guideline for how to organize the categories within a catalog as well as products on a page. Bestselling categories should appear in “hot spots” (front and back of the catalog) and top-selling products should be moved to the top right corner, where the catalog shopper’s eye goes first.
On a web page, it’s the opposite. Eye-flow studies show us that the eye goes to the top-left first and then moves right and down the page, so bestsellers should be arranged left-to-right when designing landing pages.
When a creative team is given a method for prioritizing products and information, the results are going to be more thoroughly thought-out and perform better after launch into the marketplace.
Pulling Click Data Into Offline Applications
To a data-driven marketer, the speed and agility with which digital can launch and measure results is an astonishing wealth of information. But digital isn’t the only team that can benefit from that wealth of information.
The catalog team, like a lot of teams, will often work in a silo, working from data and insights gleaned from the previous catalog drop. So that’s a start, but they also should be armed with the latest intelligence about what’s new and working well online in terms of product sales.
It doesn’t stop there — digital teams should be doing regular testing, and these valuable insights should be shared with the offline teams for true multichannel coordination. I’d caution that customers often behave differently in different channels, so it’s not a directive so much as another insight to be vetted in that particular environment.
Through creative testing, one apparel client discovered that a full outfit on the catalog cover helped to sell both garments. The creative team, prepping for an upcoming photo shoot, responded to that data insight by changing the shot-list from focusing on a single hero item to creating multi-piece outfits. This strategic shift benefited both the consumer and the company, leading to a higher AOV.
Bringing Data and Creative Together
So, if we agree in theory that data and creative work best when working together, how can we put it into practice? Here’s a few steps.
- As a team leader, make it a policy that data and creative both get a seat at the table at regular meetings. Invite key members of the creative team into the data review, and invite the data people to the creative kickoff.
- Encourage participation and discussion from both sides. Where creative is invited into what’s primarily a data meeting, encourage them to ask questions and offer ideas. Conversely, challenge the data-people on how insights translate to creative presentations.
- Ensure that KPI dashboards cover not just the facts and figures, but always include a review of the creative in order to put it in proper context.
One thing is certain: When you get data analysts and creative people in a room, it’s bound to provoke lively discussion. But discovering new information is the best way to learn from each other, build on each other’s strengths and challenge each other — and the status quo.
Lauren Ackerman is an Digital Strategist, Marketing Analyst and media junkie with over a decade in marketing and advertising. She's an expert in marketing analytics, direct marketing, multichannel marketing, email marketing, and catalog marketing. She's a graduate of Rockhurst University, and strongly believes the adage that "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself."