In today’s world, we enjoy access to so much information about customers. We know who they are, where they live and work, what they spend their money on, what they read, and how they relax. As a result, the ability to speak to them and meet their individual needs is more prevalent than ever.
But this means that we can no longer treat customers as faceless mass groups. We need to leverage the sophistication of data (by distilling what’s important) to create personalised, relevant, engaging communication and in turn, effect change in customer, staff and stakeholder behaviours.
In short, we need to add more science (insights from data analytics) to the art of messaging (communication). Having recently served on the Jury at Cannes Lions 2017, I’m more convinced of this than ever.
Why science matters
Scientists use a specific skill set which includes asking questions, developing and testing hypotheses, and developing a theory for answering specific questions. If we apply these niche skills to marketing and communication, we are able to derive more robust, accurate answers to brand questions.
This suggests that data analytics and academic research are fundamentally important – and becoming more so – in developing strategic positionings for companies and brands. To put a fine point on it, a scientific or analytical approach to consumer data can make all the difference for a company.
We’ve seen this work especially well in healthcare, insurance, IT, legal, and banking companies.
What’s the status quo?
Traditional marketing and communications agencies tend not to hire individuals with data analytics and academic research skills, which can make it difficult for those agencies to draw meaningful insights from data. And yet, key to understanding customers’ needs and behaviours is data-centred discussion.
In addition, on the other side of the industry, traditional data and business consultancies tend to seek out talent with analytical and problem-solving abilities: incredibly intelligent individuals who come from finance, actuarial and engineering backgrounds. But these specialists lack the ability to consolidate information into simple messages and to make these messages engaging and experiential.
Design is, after all, the expression of an idea. It’s the ability to craft the output of an idea into the most magical piece for consumption (whether that is the packaging of a product or the demonstration of a strategy on a page). The better the design, the more likely it is to be engaged with and consumed.
Harmony is happening
This could explain, partly, the global trend in which big consulting companies pay big bucks to in-source design and communications expertise. More and more blue-chip consultancies, used to presenting 100+ page documents, are re-thinking the default communication formats for presenting their insights.
Across the board, it is usually the consultancy that develops a strategy and the client themselves or their communication agencies/partners that implements. But we believe that ‘the devil is in the detail’; namely, that owning both the strategy development and the outcome is a way to drive greater value.
The winning combination for the client is an equal focus on understanding and solving problems (including the technologies and solutions required to do this), and on the communication that will drive change and create buy-in. One of the ways to achieve this is by partnering with a service provider that knows the technicalities of the client’s business and can communicate change.
I’ve seen this first-hand. As a student I struggled to choose between the sciences and the arts, conflicting with my parents about picking a path. In retrospect I’m glad I stood my ground and did both. I’m a scientist (MSc Physiology), I studied drama, and I now work in communications. In my experience, the mix between science and art, plus a healthy dose of intuition, creates the greatest successes.
Lessons from Cannes Lions 2017
Having judged global creative awards in the past, including The Global Awards, part of New York Festivals and the Clio Awards, I see the growing convergence of science and technology as astoundingly evident this year.
Key trends at Cannes Lions 2017 included a very real convergence of technology and data analytics with traditional creativity. Campaigns like ‘Meet Graham’, which won awards in almost every category, used scientists, data, research and creativity to model Graham, the only human able to survive a car crash.
More generically, the use of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, bots and the like, merged with storytelling techniques, won the day – with science and data visualisation helping to tell relevant stories to many more people. For instance, Baidu’s ‘Know You Again’ campaign uses facial and voice recognition technologies to help Alzheimers patients recognise their loved ones; another beautiful example of convergence trends. Northwell Hospital’s The Fin is another noteworthy demonstration, using technology to improve the well-being of amputees with the world’s first-ever amphibious prosthetic leg.
In my Cannes Lions jury, the Pharma Jury, the dominant gold Lion award winning campaign was one involving a simple bracelet worn in Afghanistan to indicate a child’s vaccination schedule to doctors. The ‘Immunity Charm’ campaign, a comparatively low-tech solution to a complex global problem, visualised data in a simple bead structure.
What to look out for
If you’re a company looking for an all-round ‘agency/consultancy’ hybrid to solve your communication challenges, begin with this list of questions:
1. Is this a partner you have chemistry with?
2. Are they credible? How do you know?
3. Is there deep industry knowledge and experience, or institutional knowledge?
4. How creative are they? How do you know?
5. Do they have the ability to implement what they recommend?
6. Equally, do they have the ability to measure on their delivery, in order to demonstrate bottom line value?
The bottom line is this: Converged skill sets help us to push beyond the norm and create real innovation. The blend of tech, data analytics and advertising/communication makes magic happen.
Mandi Fine is chief executive officer of F/NE Group Global. She was on the Pharma Jury at Cannes Lions 2017.