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How data can drive better creative

It's an obvious truth, but the better you know someone, the easier and more rewarding it is to talk to that person. Our best friends hold that title because we know and understand them so well. The same goes for customers. The better you know your customers, the deeper and more meaningful the relationship. Personal relationships are often defined by close physical proximity -- your neighbor, college roommate, work colleague. For businesses, getting to know customers requires other avenues of communication that must still generate an emotional connection.

This is where creative comes in. Marketing designers and writers are tasked with conveying the look and feel of your business; being the face of your organization. Whether it's a website, direct mail piece, video, or blog, creative develops the words and images that convey your message. How accurate that picture is for the audience you are trying to reach depends on one thing -- data.

You could employ an internationally renowned designer and Pulitzer Prize winning writer to produce your marketing program, but if your customer data is inaccurate, out of date, or not analyzed correctly, your creative efforts will miss the mark. Data facilitates highly targeted creative execution by defining customer segments and locating where a customer is in the purchasing life-cycle. Your creative approach will depend on whether each customer is a:

Suspect: This person has a need, but is not aware of your company or brand or hasn't yet established contact.

Prospect: A potential customer who has made some type of contact to show interest.

New customer: A person who has taken action and made a purchase.

Repeat customer: This person has used and repurchased your product or service.

Advocate: A customer who is emotionally engaged with your brand and enthusiastically recommends you to others.

Specifically, how does this information help creative refine its message? Data can inform and help develop just the right creative touches for each audience segment because the data opens the doors to their personalities and attitudes. Here are five ways that data can optimize creative work.


Consider the different ways you communicate with the people in your life -- coworkers, spouses, acquaintances, close friends, or siblings. Words and tone change depending on your familiarity with a person. The same is true with customers. The beauty of accurate and detailed data is that you can determine how well they know your company. Tone, word choice, and general approach will be different when creating text for a suspect as opposed to an advocate. A suspect knows little about your company and will need some basic information about who you are and what you do. Advocates, on the other hand, know your company well and want to be reassured that you understand and appreciate their loyalty.


Like copy, images need to speak to customers. Imagery should reflect the life-cycle segments of the target audience. For instance, a retired segment will relate to communications containing images of people their age eating dinner with friends, engaging in exercise, or taking their grandchild to a ballgame. Seniors want to see active older people, but the images need to look realistic and relevant -- not "plastic" or stereotypical. Conversely, the young adult segment should see imagery of people with friends -- maybe in college -- moving into an apartment or sharing special moments. Connecting with your audience means connecting with their lifestyle.


The execution of the creative piece is also dependent on the audience segment. The senior audience will have an easier time reading with larger type in their communications and the design should avoid reversed out copy. This group will also be turned off by a busy layout, unlike younger audiences that find a variety of colors and lots going on in the layout very appealing. Online an older audience needs things to be kept clean and easy to use. A younger audience is more visually savvy and adapts more easily to new technology.


Appropriately targeted creative can help move a customer up through the purchase cycle by carefully crafting messages with offers and incentives. With accurate data at our disposal, we know that communications directed at a prospect will be centered on convincing that customer of the advantages of the product to incite them to a first time purchase -- maybe through a significant discount. For an advocate, the offer is framed as a reward for being a loyal customer.


Data can help us identify transaction history, which allows for more focused, relevant creative. We may know the types of products a repeat customer purchases, which helps formulate messages that will transition that person to become an advocate. Knowing the age and buying habits of prospects have a direct impact on the message intended to reinforce their purchase decisions.

Accurate data that is analyzed correctly should be the foundation on which creative is built. Collecting data isn't the domain of creatives, but as the users of data, we need to know the best ways to collect it. We should be encouraging our organizations to dig for every relevant piece of data that goes into our customer profiles, i.e., warranty registrations, customer service interactions, follow-on or accessory purchases, social media interactions (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.), contest entries, coupon sign-up and many more. Every "touch point" with each customer should be recorded and integrated into the database.

We now have the capabilities to know more about customers than ever before, and this knowledge should be used to develop copy and design that "speaks" directly to the customer wherever they are in the purchase cycle.

Michelle Van Santen is the creative director at Bridgz Marketing Group.

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"Group of adorable kids" image via Shutterstock.

Michelle Van Santen is the creative director at Minneapolis-based Bridgz Marketing Group. Midway through engineering school, Michelle discovered her true passion and became a designer. She brings this unusual mix of analytical thinking and...

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