Use "both-brain" marketing to balance creativity and analytics

Use "both-brain" marketing to balance creativity and analytics

The infusion of analytics presents a huge opportunity to improve marketing’s performance. The challenge is to build an organization that can integrate both creative and analytic skills.

  • min read


Use "both-brain" marketing to balance creativity and analytics

This article originally appeared in HBR.org.

Marketing was once largely the preserve of creative, right-brain types, but the function needs—and is getting—a much larger mixture of data and analytics. Sometimes, though, there’s a danger of relying too heavily on analytics. What’s needed is the right balance, what we call a “both-brain” approach.

Pockets of this “both-brain” approach have existed in marketing for a while, but it’s now gathering speed and will become essential to future marketing success. Of course, knowing this is not the same as putting it into practice. Both-braining bumps up against process and resource constraints. And it requires a change in mindset and organizational culture.

Marketers will need to make a concerted effort to reshape their organizations, involving at least four steps:

Set the right tone at the top. Leaders have to paint an ambitious and inspiring vision of a both-brain organization. They have to acknowledge and champion the change that’s needed and model the necessary behavior. At Google Creative Lab, for example, executives demand brilliant, creative thinking and insights at the core of any campaign. But they don’t expect perfect translation of these insights into marketing content and execution right out of the gate. Instead, they deliberately champion post-launch testing, expecting that the creative content will be refined and perfected based on a data-driven analysis of live feedback from the marketplace.

Integrate both approaches into the production cycle. Marketers have traditionally worked on a long creative cycle bookended by (often limited) analytics. Testing and iteration have played little part. But progressive marketers are moving to shorter creative cycles punctuated by frequent testing, analysis and revision. The process produces marketing that is more engaging, better targeted, and much more effective at driving results.

Volkswagen’s collaboration with Google and several agencies for a digital ad campaign to promote its SmileDrive app is an example of combining creativity with analytics in this way. The app allows users to document car journeys and post content, increasing their driving enjoyment. To encourage target consumers to use the app, VW asked a group of influential driving enthusiasts to document their own journeys in VW loaner cars, and then made this content accessible through display ads. Google’s analytic tools helped identify and target precise user segments for the ads. The combination of targeting using analytics and engaging creative content resulted in three times the typical engagement level.

Design clear decision-making processes. With the marketing analytics available today, there’s a real danger of analysis paralysis. So marketers need to identify the specific decisions that could benefit from analytic insights, clarify the criteria used to make each decision, and only then gather the required data and perform the needed analyses. To avoid turf wars, project or campaign leaders should assign clear roles to both analytic and creative team members for each of these key decisions. These leaders will themselves need to model the both-brain sensibility and serve as active liaisons between the two camps as necessary.

Nourish both-brain skills with thoughtful training and incentives. Leaders will need to seek out, hire, and promote both creative and analytic talent. They’ll also have to cross-train team members on the importance of both left-brain and right-brain skills. To further build trust between analytic teams and their creative counterparts, leaders can co-locate the two groups and create both-brain teamlets that work together on multiple campaigns over time. And when both-brain collaboration works the way it should, they should highlight those campaigns and reward the individuals involved.

The infusion of analytics presents a huge opportunity to improve marketing’s performance. The challenge is to build an organization that can integrate both creative and analytic skills. It’s a job that requires investment and effort, but the payoff will be marketing that is both inspiring and effective.

Aditya Joshi is a partner at Bain & Company and head of the firm’s Marketing Excellence area. He is the co-author of “Decision-driven marketing” in the July-August 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review.


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