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Interview: Becky Wang on the Role of Creativity and Data in Marketing Interview

By Ruxandra Mindruta on April 7th 2017

The brilliant and creative digital strategist Becky Wang is a powerhouse in the New York City digital scene. The phrase Renaissance woman comes to mind whenever you hear her name. 

Currently the CEO of Crossbeat, she has extensive experience in a number of high-innovation industries including advertising and media, financial services technology, consumer marketing, and even film production. 

When the opportunity arose to participate in the research for her new book, “Creativity and Data Marketing“, we didn’t hesitate to provide any interviews she requested. We knew anything she wrote would be just as thought-provoking as her panel discussion on deep machine learning and the inevitable rise of the machines (and all things AI) at the Now You Know Conference last year in Chicago. 

A rising issue in the industry is how to approach data from a creative perspective. During these uncertain times of fake news and alternative facts, as we try to get closer to the truth through data, perhaps creative thinking and new approaches are the way to more certainty and confidence in our work as marketers and in business practices. 

I had the chance to talk to Becky to get her experienced advice on how to be more creative as a data-driven professional. 

Becky – I’d love to hear about your professional background and your interest in data and creativity.

I currently run a content and innovation studio named Crossbeat and we have been in business now for three years.

Before that, I had co-founded essentially a rep company called ‘Sunday Dinner‘ which was really getting connected with all the digital talent and digital creative that were leaving agencies and were setting up shops. So, strategy and the eco-system and creativity are things that are really important to me.

I started my career as a Product Manager and assumed Head of Product for a financial tech company. We all know financial tech is very data driven which was the background that I needed to understand how data could change the narrative of a company and how a company’s narrative could change its stock price. So, the story of the relationship between the two started then.

Then I went to make movies, then I worked in social media, then I worked in agencies. So, the idea that there is a place where you can take all of this information and it can be reflected in data has followed me through all the categories that I have been in.

I have always been an advocate of innovation, led both by people and ideas and using data as a tool or as a way to see which direction we should go.

What is the role of creativity and data in marketing and why have you decided to focus particularly on these two pillars in your book?

When I was in the agency world, working specifically on advertising, the strategy was always led by the bigger idea, so the brand strategist was the most forward leaning and interacted most with the client, and it was the digital strategist who came in afterwards to help with communication planning and analytics.

I think now to me to be a skilled strategist you need to be good at all three and creativity and data are sort of the bookends that cover everything in-between.

It shouldn’t just be creativity leading and data following or even data leading and creativity following. I think they are both tools that come together in the design thinking process which has a lot of roots in the scientific method to solve today’s marketing and communication challenges.

What are the first examples that come to mind when you think of a business or a case study of a brand doing a great job of combining the power of data and creativity?

There are a few companies that I highlighted in the book. The first one is Zappos. I think that they did a really amazing job as a company that is less than 20 years old.

In a number of different ways, the truth of it is like they have obviously many talented people but they have a method in which to track and optimize towards a specific goal. So, in their years of growth, they really focused on increasing the number of customers in a way that makes them happy. Happiness is a really big piece of it.

What I find interesting is that their marketing covers both the growth phase, centered on increasing the number of customers, and growing the brand, which is to keep people coming back to justify premium programs.

So, they switched over to a best customer strategy which is driven by data. But it is also driven by an aesthetic too. They focused on their most loyal customers, who they are, what attributes do they have and they put together a profile combining their actual data and the direction they wanted the company to be going in.

They had a quantitative way of solving a key problem, which is not putting things on sale anymore because they noticed in the data that there are a lot of people who just park things in the shopping cart and they wait for it to go on sale, and then the moment they go on sale they buy it.

That is a lot of volume, there were a lot of people doing that. So, while they may have lost that certain percentage in volume, when they looked at metrics like pure profit they realized that they actually had an increase.

So the amount of time to service people who are only looking for deals and discounts, holding onto inventory for them just because they were waiting for it to go on sale – monitoring all those factors actually helped to deliver a profit.

Another important question is how do you use creativity to understand the things they like to keep them coming back? So, through the creative development process and with this data they introduced loyalty cards and went a step further by taking time to properly curate their catalogue. They understood that as a retail company, catalogues are a great way to connect with people visually.

The second example is an experience company, Cirque du Soleil. So, Cirque de Soleil really transformed itself as a creative company by integrating more data processes.

They got to a point in their business where they were opening shows in so many places that people didn’t go to them, and what they realized looking back using data was, what are the fundamentals of this creative business?

People come to it, so on some level you have to care about what people locally think. Had they done some market research, collected data on preferences and interests they would have known not to open certain shows.

Then they used data to optimize every piece of the experience before and after the show to keep it, not just people coming to the show, but buying memorabilia – all these things.

How do you think marketers can leverage both creativity and data in a way that puts the customer in the limelight?

The best way marketers can serve their customers is to use data to listen and use data and creativity to help create the most ideal interaction.

By listening to many customers you can create an experience that is really important and engaging to them.

You need to create an internal solution that will service them and I think that the other great thing about data and creativity is it also can be combined together to make different products.

So, what if you could use the data and reflect it back to the customer as an information product?

An example of data and creativity really helping to optimize better customer support is one of our clients asking us to help filter the customer support calls using artificial intelligence, like Chatbox.

That is not just a customer pushing one for customer support, two for billing, three for complaints, etc. but actually engaging in a few sentences of dialogue and questions to help route people to the best place.

That is another way that data and creativity can be more customer centric.

In marketing, data driven storytelling is highly capable of sourcing what direction a story can go in. I think that the best stories have universal messages, but very specific details make it feel real.

Getting that specificity can be tricky without digging in deep in the data and making sure the message resonates with the audience.

In your book, you actually combine the two terms ‘creativity’ and ‘data’ and you talk about ‘creative data’. What is creative data?

The original title of the book was Creative Data and Marketing. The reason that we pulled back from it was the emphasis was on data that is creative.

The Cannes Lions now honors innovation and excellence in creative data and in their very first year they themselves did not award the Titanium to anyone because they hadn’t seen entries that really reflected that.

So my definition of it is about using data to either create creative stories or creative experiences.

I think the Cannes Lions is a great starting definition in the advertising field, one of the ones honored was the British Airways activation where whenever a plane went overhead, the billboard which was underneath Heathrow airport would change and you would see a child pointing to the plane.

You could argue that it was data, you could argue that it was technology, you could argue that it was digital, but a lot of really compelling digital products are data-driven.

To me, creative data is the use of data to create meaningful experiences that you remember, respond to, and interact with every day.

What would go deeper for me on the British Airways example is, that was the first step in generating the awareness, but how do you then extend that into the experiences of their actual trips on British Airways?

I recently heard an interview with Ben Jones who is a Creative Director at Google and he started something called, ‘unskippable ads,’ and what was interesting to me is that a lot of creative data is actually really good branded entertainment.

The most innovative uses of data don’t simply tell stories, but improve customer experience

What would be your top tip for marketers that are looking for creative ways of working with data?

It’s important to start having conversations with people you perceive to be experts and socialize the conversation.

There are already companies that have implemented this combined creativity and data process and they have got more stories and some of them have created products, some of them have created services.

I think the important thing is to go out and speak to the people who are tackling this.

What are the most effective ways to begin the process of transformation to a digital, customer-centric organization?

That is ultimately about experience. Part of it is understanding your audience and where they are in terms of being receptive and being able to participate in digital in your company.

I think you really need to start with, what is your goal as it relates to the audience? To generate new audiences? Engage more deeply with your current audience? And then once you understand that then it is about what is the user experience that they need to have? Okay, most of them are going to do it over their mobile phone so it needs to be mobile first.

Surprisingly, it might be that you need to come up with a strategic partnership and you are not going to build another app, or you are going to build a Google extension.

So being more digital to me is not just put more media on digital, it is not about banners.

With thanks to Becky Wang for agreeing to speak with us.


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