Spark Interview: Painting a Picture with Data.

Lee Benecke — Head of Digital Engagement at Wavemaker North — explains how data can help you be more creative, and how a creative use of data can lead to new insights.
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Rachel Kador
October 29, 2019 - 4 min. read

Are you more “left brain” analytical or “right brain” creative? If you work in marketing, you know the answer has to be both.

We’re all responsible for the success of our campaigns — and that comes down to effective communication and accurate measurement. While we may work within a speciality area that prioritizes one over the other, successful marketers must be well-versed in the worlds of storytelling and data analysis.

Lee Benecke has long worked to integrate these two aspects into one supercharged marketing team. As the Head of Digital Engagement at Wavemaker North, a full-service media, content and tech agency, Lee has over 10 years of experience in digital marketing, with a special focus on how to combine data and storytelling to become a “full brain” marketer.

Lee will join us November 14 at Spark — our digital marketing conference — to lead a session on how to combine analytical and creative processes to create a greater impact with both. We had the chance to pick his brain on his view of data-driven marketing.

Join us at Spark and attend Lee’s full presentation.

Q: Data-driven marketing is not exactly a new concept, but I think most of us are used to thinking of it as a way to identify audience segments, set up targeting, predict campaign performance, etc. You’re talking about data as a way to inspire creativity – can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that?

When I refer to the use of data to inspire creativity, I’m talking about two things – firstly the use of data to inspire or inform a creative idea and secondly the use of data as the idea itself. Neither are new concepts either, but they add a more creative layer to the data-driven marketing you’re talking about in terms of targeting, performance, etc. It also challenges pop psychology that dissects people based on them being either left brain analytical or right brain creative.

I think we can be both and use data to either be the soil to grow new creative ideas or the fuel that turns data into compelling stories. That’s what I am inspired by and what I am going to be talking about in Copenhagen.

Q: What are some examples of creative ideas your team has developed based on data? What is that development process like?

In Manchester I am responsible for a team of specialist thinkers and doers who work across social media, influencer marketing, digital PR and content marketing. The process of using data to inspire creativity works differently depending on the channel, but each member of my team has the ability to do two things: 1) read data, and 2) tell a story. That manifests itself as the social team using data to inspire the creative feed, the messaging on a post, or how we manage communities every day.

You also see it, for example, with digital PR taking multiple complex data sets (anything from social listening data to surveys to public data sources) and finding the common thread or news angle that sparks interest from the client, the journalist, and the various audiences.

Q: When it comes to content marketing, I often think of the process in three steps: idea generation, content development, and content distribution. How does data fit into each of these areas? Are there some hidden opportunities here that most content marketers are ignoring?

Done correctly, data fits into all three areas. In ideation, as already referenced, data can be both the soil that helps ideas grow as well as the idea itself. Data’s ability to inspire an idea is a strong everyday part of my work, but don’t discount how amazing data visualisation can be. When done well, it’s one of the best storytelling techniques, in my opinion.

In development, data validates an idea. Whether that is confirming that your creative idea has relevance to an audience or whether that is using data to give concrete evidence to your creative claims or ideas.

In distribution it returns to data marketing where audience segmentation, targeting and performance tracking govern where your content lives and thrives.

Q: What kind of data sources do you use to find inspiration? I’m constantly monitoring performance, but that’s quite internally oriented. What other kinds of data are you collecting and reviewing?

Data collection is a different topic under GDPR, but analysis is different and – in short – we’re analysing any valid data source we’re able to. If it is relevant to a client, to an audience, to building a conversation or to uncovering something in culture we can explore, then we’re open to analysing it.

In recent months that has included obvious sources such as social listening, audience insight and research tools but it also includes outlier sources including publicly available data from the Government or public databases like IMDB. You mention performance data, and that is part of the recipe too. Anything that we are allowed to analyse and gets us to the root of an idea is considered.

Q: How do you find creative alignment across your team? When you’re working with a creative group – writers, designers, strategists, etc – what is your process for getting everyone to work together toward a shared vision?

In comes back to what I’ve already said about people understanding that their role is to both understand the data and then use that data to tell a story. If you understand that then creative alignment is easy. Doesn’t matter if you’re a creative, a channel specialist or a data scientist, the shared vision is to find data that tells the most compelling story, gives us the strongest idea, or provides the most intriguing news hook.