Are marketers focusing on metrics and ROI at the expense of their creativity and self-esteem?

Having read several articles and blog posts relating to this topic lately, it seems to be quite controversial in the marketing community. Some say that it’s ridiculous and that creativity and effectiveness are inexorably linked (it seemed to be the consensus of the marketing society forum), whilst others are convinced that all these data points and the whole idea of “big data” is putting marketers under even more pressure to perform.

My personal opinion is that modern marketing is gifted to have so much data available, so many tools available to assist us with automating, not just the delivery, but the analysis of our efforts that I’d find it hard to see how any of this could hamper our efforts in any way. If I’d been asked the question a month or two ago of whether the focus on metrics and ROI is harming marketing creativity I’d have laughed and dismissed it. Today my view has changed somewhat, but probably not in the way you think…

First a confession, I love data (conversely I hate spreadsheets but that’s a rant for another day). If I can get numbers on an idea before putting any effort in, it’s great, half the work is done right there. I have an idea and statistically it’ll work, great, heres the money! The first challenge is overcome, selling it up the management ladder, and no creativity was required although it was assumed in the numbers.

The second challenge comes when you’ve sold the idea and you have to implement it, which is usually where the creativity kicks in. What happens next though can vary wildly depending on the environment you’re working within, if you’re under very strict time and budget requirements (i.e. rabbit-out-of-a-hat scenario) you may rush the idea through to move onto the next big thing and along the way forget to step back and get a little creative with it. If you’re lucky enough to have that little bit of space and time to think you’ll probably come up with something unique, memorable and overall successful.

The danger with data and metrics is that when an idea can be sold so easily on stats alone, even if it fails, the marketer can always fall-back on the numbers, to quote Nicola Kemp “it can also prop up a second-rate marketer by offering a seemingly logical basis for decisions that might prove to be poor ones.”. The challenge is to use all this data to support creativity, not hamper it. This performance anxiety comes from the boardroom down, management loves numbers, you can use this to sell the idea but once the idea has become reality, the numbers won’t lie about its performance and its important to remember that. Not all ideas are brilliant, but if a plan fails, make sure something’s learnt for the next time.

Of course all that said, you still need to get a little creative to come up with the idea in the first place. Depending on your industry, this can prove to a challenge to begin with. The old “our industry/products/services are too boring to do anything fun/engaging/interesting” seems to get talked about quite a bit lately. Suffice it to say, this is never the case….

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