Engineers Bring A New Era Of Creativity To Marketing

peterreinhardtData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Peter Reinhardt, co-founder and CEO at Segment.

Despite the rise of data-driven marketing, I would argue the future of marketing is still very much creative – albeit deeply engineering-enabled.

Effectively acting on all the data now at our fingertips requires new marketing skills, including the ability to query large data sets, build automated campaigns around the results and set up systems for funneling those insights across marketing tools and channels.

In general, marketing teams have become more technical. CMOs have hired more technical marketers and become more technically savvy themselves. They’ve embedded engineers on marketing teams. These teams understand the mechanisms by which data can be used to personalize the customer journey – whether it’s building the pipes or connecting data to a campaign in a particular channel.

Building this future requires that we think differently about what it means to balance art and science.

Data Is Not The Enemy Of Art

Previously, when trying to engage the masses, marketers had to meet the expectations of the average person. However, they found out that “average” is a myth. People don’t react in an average way; they don’t always do what they say or say what they feel. That makes it really challenging to connect with consumers in an impactful way at scale. The only way to do it is to use data to help understand how people really feel and learn from their behaviors based on what they actually do as individuals.

Programmatic technologies and machine learning have changed how we think about the interplay between marketing creative and data. It’s now possible to measure, and even predict, what is most appealing to a particular person, based not just on their demographics and the websites they’ve visited, but also newly available data streams like facial expressions and eye tracking patterns.

Modern marketers have structured their teams differently to accommodate new workflows, thinking and talents. You can see this in the roles that some of Silicon Valley’s leading companies are hiring for. The Instagram marketing team is looking for a decision analyst, who operates “at the intersection of data, marketing and product” and helps the marketing team make better decisions. It is also hiring a research manager to develop structures and processes, both quantitative and qualitative, that will help the team better understand how to reach hundreds of millions of people.

Gusto wants a head of customer acquisition who can lead “quantitative first-principles thinkers” in creating “well-crafted nurture campaigns,” while Slack is hiring data analysts who can demonstrate curiosity and strong communications skills. All of these roles necessarily blend analytical skills with creativity.

Marketing Is ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’

There’s no longer such a thing as a one-size-fits-all marketing campaign – customers implicitly or explicitly tell us what path they want to take, and each step provides more information about how they want to be presented with brands and products. Marketers must map out an almost infinite number of potential journeys, experiment with targeting, messaging and creative, test and measure, and then optimize for the best outcomes.

Achieving this level of complexity requires an engineering mindset for designing a system to gather that data along path to purchase, along with the creative capability to design various paths in the first place. The result is a complex customer journey that looks something like this:


This balance tells me that despite the rise of decision analysts and technical marketers, there will always be a role for less technical marketers too. It’s their job to talk to customers, distill their needs and create unique messages. Engineers are shaping the flow of data, and marketers are shaping how those messages manifest.

All of this means that while working cross-functionally has always been important, it’s essential on this new marketing team, which is itself a cross-functional team.

I believe we’ll all be better for considering data and creativity as complements in the next era of marketing. When we’re able to use data to its potential, we are then only limited by our creativity in how we use that data. By understanding the data, faster, better and more engaging customer journeys will emerge, along with new opportunities for our businesses to grow.

Follow Segment (@Segment) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Vincent Balusseau

    Great piece. Just a couple of thoughts. The level of “creativity” you are talking about here is rather low… The best creative minds, capable of designing integrated campaigns for big brands would not want to waste their talents on designing scenarios like these. Copywriters and graphic designers involved with this are not the same creative breed as they guys who, say, work at Droga5. What you are referring to is the adaptive layer of advertising communication. There has always been some level of creativity there (at the very least, choosing the right words and the right images). But it does not involve the same creative talents as the ones who work on big brand campaigns, or, to quote Norm Johnston, the “foundational layer” of advertising. It seems to me that they are very different realms, that tend to operate with different rules and talents. Adtech does not play so much of a role there, at least for now.