Kate Howe: Why I’m excited to enter a new era of data-driven creativity in 2023

Kate Howe, Executive Director at MSQ on capitalising on the promise of a new age of tech-enabled, data-driven creativity.

Make no doubt about it, there are going to be some tough conversations had next year. With clients. With Procurement. With our own staff. I chair an IPA committee and already some of the candid conversations I’ve been hearing more recently causes one to shift uncomfortably in their chair.

But the brief of this article is to pick out the positives, to identify what we can look forward to in 2023. And whilst I think a healthy dose of realism is vital for us all to prepare properly – and stay sane – during what may for many be a more difficult time, I also think there’s a huge amount to be excited about.

Because adversity can also bring strength. It demands new ways of thinking. It encourages clients and agencies to embrace new models, have more open conversations and collaborate to innovate.

That’s why at MSQ we’re actually quite buoyant about next year. Our model has always been set for clients who want to work in a more agile way, without being encumbered by unwieldy processes and layers of generalists. When clients need to think differently, our answer isn’t ‘we’ll give you what we’ve always given you’, it’s being able to have grown-up conversations, identify what business challenges genuinely need to be solved and be able to provide the tools and specialisms needed to solve them.

One of the specialisms we’ve invested heavily in is upweighting our data team – we now have more than 70 data specialists in MSQ – and I believe data-driven creativity will become even more important in 2023. For me, that progression can’t come soon enough.

We’re entering a new age of tech-enabled, data-driven creativity. A whole new world of creative opportunity, where new ideas spring up from unlikely places, where narratives are refined and improved in real-time, where work is more personal, more accountable, more optimised.

Done well, using data as a creative compass can be really rewarding. Customers can get useful or entertaining content served dynamically at the time they need it. They get rewarded for loyalty in better, more relevant ways and feel closer to the brands that serve them well.

The time is now.

So you can see why I’m excited and confident that 2023 is the time for data-driven creativity to come to the fore. Partly of course, as mentioned at the top, we’re now in a pretty nasty recession. The pressure on brands is enormous. Marketers need to continue to deliver growth, but the cost of living crisis is real and how and where customers are going to spend is unpredictable. People are going to be more choosy and less loyal. And the only way to respond to that is to ensure you’re leveraging data to be as close to your customers as possible.

There’s also that other word people can’t get away from – Covid. Covid drove a rapid advance in digital transformation for many organisations, whether by design or necessity. That means businesses now have more data than they ever had before, which in turn means embracing data-driven creativity can open up a whole host of new possibilities.

“Creativity is alive and kicking, and it won’t be deterred in 2023. But as clients are forced to think differently, how we use data in our creative thinking will be more important than ever”.

On the face of it, data-driven creativity doesn’t sound sexy, I understand that. And I’m sure other ‘year ahead’ essays are going to cover more headline-grabbing themes. But my experience is that the best Creative Directors aren’t turning their nose up at the word ‘data’ anymore, either. They’ve seen the tech & data capabilities their agencies now have and they envision the possibilities these offer. A lot of the bigger pitches we’ve won as MSQ recently – big, much-loved brands like the AA and Hyland – have seen data play a huge role.

Data is not replacing creativity, it’s enhancing it. Creativity still sits at the heart of our industry and it’s never been more important. It’s our industry’s creative thinking that’s got people to vote, to not drink and drive, to put their seatbelts on. Creativity has advanced the empowerment of women, it’s regenerated areas and shown children experiencing anxiety that “nobody is normal” It’s why the United Nations is calling on agencies and creative thinkers to drive the change that can reduce carbon emissions and save the planet.

Creativity is alive and kicking, and it won’t be deterred in 2023. But as clients are forced to think differently, how we use data in our creative thinking will be more important than ever. I for one think the best agencies and brands are ready to roll up their sleeves and embrace that. Clients need us to do this now more than ever and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

This article first appeared on Creativebrief here.