The Silent Heroes of Today’s Data-Driven Content

May 31, 2017

Article ImageWhenever you come across a particularly intriguing piece of content, do you ever wonder, “How’d this get here?”

When we consider the type of content that’s being created and consumed in today’s marketplace, who’s really calling the shots? Is it the content creators, the agencies, or the brands? Or is it the silent partner--the audience?

Let’s look at Netflix as an example. In 2006 the company announced the Netflix Prize, a competition for creating an algorithm that would improve the prediction accuracy for how much viewers would enjoy a particular movie based on their past preferences. The data points included metrics like the times of day people watched scary movies and when they watched comedies. It logged when they started and stopped viewing, what scenes they revisited to watch again, and what devices they were viewing on. Netflix also focused its efforts on analyzing what was trending among aggregate users. Pulling insights from this data, Netflix was able to customize each and every user dashboard. At this point it’s impossible to imagine all the different combinations that are out there. My account looks nothing like my son’s, my best friend’s, or anybody else’s.

So how do these insights influence the content? Where does the genius behind green-lighting House of Cards, Stranger Things, and Narcos come from? With all that data it’s easy to imagine a world where data is driving all creative decisions. In that world, would we still be able to call what we deliver creative?

If someone walks up to an artist and hands her a single color to paint with, a brush that’s designed to form a specific stroke, a canvas that has pre-drawn lines on it, and tasks her to create art that follows strict parameters to ensure hype, fame, and sales, can you call what the person creates art? I’ve struggled with this quite a bit, and my conclusion is that part of the problem is our vocabulary needs to shift. The word “creative” is simply being tossed around in a space where it doesn’t belong. The aforementioned artist is no longer creating art, but merely delivering. This needs to be recognized within our industry: We are mostly being tasked to hand over “deliverables.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t opportunities to deliver actual creative. I acknowledge that there are a million ways to deliver on a single message, and that requires creativity in how it’s approached.

The bottom line is that insights are being utilized more effectively every day. It started with dynamic creative--taking content and deciding who sees it where and why, followed by personalized creative that demands attention by calling out owned or acquired information. Today, contextual intelligence is essentially leading to the fine-tuning of predictive marketing, where Alexa knows what you need before you do. As we develop better data that predicts the right kind of content, let’s just simply say that we are executing on deliverables, not creative. 

With marketers and agencies being tasked to deliver less creative and more performance, we need to push the true creators and creatives out of the shadows: the people who decide whether content lives or dies. These are the people who are innovating and dictating the color, brush, canvas, and lines that get handed down to the artist. Audience, you have the power.

The good news is that we can leverage innovation to deliver content that sticks. One way is to feed it to the hounds. I like to think of it as the modern day focus group. It means being bold with content, being different, and putting it out there to see how it performs without the expectation of great performance. Risky enough?

This is what modern day creatives are doing. Think about the influencers, YouTubers, content creators, and on and on. They’re taking risks, having fun, and delivering “different.” These are my heroes, the creatives’ salvation.

On-demand, user-generated, bite-sized, relevant, and personalized experiences are trends we should learn from. When you tie real creative, innovation, and riskiness to data, it naturally leads to success.

Audiences have the power to join forces and decide on your content’s usefulness, and ultimately how it’s shaped. We can’t ignore this. Our audience is in no way silent, and with every quiet click, back arrow, and “x” at the top right corner, their choices shape content. We create for them and they decide if we meet the standard. Good creators make content with that understanding and find inspiration first, without the burden of too much data to box them in. We know that in our world, he who understands the customer best wins -- but we also know that he who inspires and innovates changes the game.

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