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What Happens When Data Meets Creative (and How to Make it a Reality at Your Company)


There are quite a few people out there that just don’t *get* creative. They don’t understand the way in which we work or make decisions. And, indeed, creative teams are known to be cost centers rather than revenue generators. To certain execs, creatives are simply the sneaker-wearing hipsters who are brought in to make things look pretty or sound good.

While this is a far cry from reality, it’s also not that hard to understand why. As creatives, we understand the value of good creative work. Proving that value, however, can be difficult. So here are a few tips for proving the ROI of your creative team and incorporating data within your creative process.

Tip #1: Know and Speak the Language of Business.

Smart creative work requires an objective-based approach. Objective-based creative is driven by data—often in the form of user feedback, website analytics, and strategic business goals. As a designer or copywriter, your job is to gather and digest this data and apply it to your work.  

When pitching your concepts to your stakeholders, most aren’t going to accept work that just “looks” better. It’s important that you are able to articulate the business problem, your target audience and the objective-based reasoning behind your decisions. This ensures that your work is influenced by hard data and research, rather than just design preferences.

On the other side, it’s important to train your stakeholders in the art of objective-based feedback. That is, feedback in the context of whether or not your work is effective in addressing the objective at hand. Doing this takes time, practice and a lot of patience, but the payoff is huge. Your executives will feel more confident after seeing that your creative team is aligned and hyper-focused on providing measurable value.

Tip #2: Use Testing to Eradicate B.S. in the Creative Process.

Brooks Bell was founded on the idea that you can eliminate creative guesswork by applying the scientific method. But at many companies, creative and UX teams rarely engage with testing teams. While this might make sense from the perspective of your org chart, few realize just how much collaboration between these functions could positively impact a business.

A few years back, my team and I were brought in to work with one of our retail clients. Looking at their website data, our analysts realized that a large majority of people were abandoning the express checkout form for the full checkout form. This seemed counterintuitive to us: less friction is always better, right? Why would anyone prefer to fill out the long form!?

In order to develop a strategy to test, we needed more data—so we turned to user research. We polled a select group of users about their purchasing experience and uncovered some potential reasons for their behavior.

We discovered that many users preferred to use alternative or saved payment methods, yet the account login and gift card payment options were only available in the full checkout experience. We ran a test adding these options to the express checkout flow, which resulted in a 5% lift. When implemented, this test translated to a $5M increase in revenue.

The impact of this was significant—and not just from a revenue perspective. Through this process, we were able to identify other areas where users could be experiencing anxiety. It also prevented us from over-designing in the future. For this company’s customers, a simple and clear message and a less cluttered experience were enough to quell their anxiety.

For data-starved creatives, these types of insights can be extremely valuable and can greatly influence the company’s overall design aesthetic.

Tip #3: Be Sure You Recruit Relevant User Groups for Discovery Research

This tip is for you if—upon presenting the results of your user research—you’ve ever been asked “why did you talk to [audience group]?” or the alternative: ”why didn’t you talk to [audience group]?”

Sure, conducting guerilla research on random mall-goers or your coworkers at lunchtime will get you basic usability feedback. But if you want actionable insights, you need to not only research the group that’s generating the most business for your company, but also the group that’s most impacted by the problem you’re trying to solve.

If return users drive the majority of your revenue, don’t research new users. Similarly, don’t ask someone to look at your mobile design if they don’t fit the demographics of the segment you’re trying to reach.

Here at Brooks Bell, we believe it’s important for our clients to be closely involved in the process of selecting user segments for research. This not only manages the scope of the project and ensures maximum impact, but it also helps to avoid the frustrating line of questioning I mentioned above.

Tip #4: Embrace Survey-Based Research

If you’re well-versed in usability testing, you know that elaborate usability tests are a waste of resources and you really can get the best results from testing no more than 5 users.  But to an executive, that number 5 can seem awfully small. And no matter how many times you reference or point them to this blog post, they still might just not buy it.

This is where survey-based research comes in. We’ve had tremendous success in conducting survey-based research for our clients, and find it is often better received by executives.

Executives respond well to survey research for a couple of reasons: You can survey a larger population of people. It’s fast—most of the time we get responses back within a day or two. And finally, depending on the types of questions you ask, it’s largely quantifiable.

While surveys are different from usability tests, oftentimes, you can use survey results to back up your usability test results.

Finally, it’s important that you also become the master of your research domains and empower yourself to dig in on your own.  For this, pivot tables are a great tool. Pivot tables unlock the magic of Excel by allowing us to take all of our survey results and slice and dice them any way we want… filtering answers by segments, averaging, counting, and creating data visualizations all without ever having to talk to an analyst.

How many of you thought you’d leave this post adding Excel to your list of preferred programs? 😉

Tip #5: Don’t Hoard Your Ideas – Bring Others Into the Creative Process

It’s every designer’s tale of despair: you spend tons of time on a project—putting in extra hours to make sure every pixel has been pushed into the perfect position, every line kerned and leaded—only to have your work completely shat on upon unveiling it.

Trust me on this one: hoarding your ideas and excluding other from your design process really only sets you up for disappointment, depression and frustration.  

So stop with the big reveal and instead invite others into the design process. Voice your ideas in a collaborative way. Position yourself as a guide within a creative process in which the objective is to build something collaboratively. Without a doubt, you’ll find you’ll get things approved faster and more frequently.

Interested in learning how Brooks Bell can help empower your creative and UX teams with data? Learn more about our services or contact us today.