With the pace of media today, a successful marketing strategy requires an analytical approach driven by market research, audience data and performance metrics. Sound decision-making isn’t just informed by data, it’s governed by it.

In fact, the majority of marketers manage at least 20% of their ad spend programmatically, using algorithms that leverage everything from weather patterns to stock prices to optimize ad performance. Recently, programmatic buying is even starting to move beyond digital to more traditional media channels like TV. While data continues to drive automation and optimization in the media industry, it can also be a vital source of insight and inspiration in the creative process.

New forms of measurement are letting marketers quantify the effects advertising creative has on performance. By indexing content according to topics, tone and other stylistic elements, marketers can better understand what’s working from a storytelling perspective. Factors like logo placements, copy length and visual effects can all be measured and optimized through rigorous analysis and A/B testing.

Consider AT&T who conducted three data projects including an analysis of 40 copy-test variables and 370 different pieces of creative tagged based on the type of humor, character interaction and more. Rigorous testing led to the “It’s Not Complicated” TV campaign that generated an additional $50 million in sales according to AT&T’s estimates.

Visually’s marketplace is another prime example, where visual content from their community can be searched and analyzed by type (infographic, video, presentation), topic (business, health, how to) and popularity (views, like, comments). Thanks to all this metadata, a marketer can search through their community’s collection for inspiration and insights before kicking off production.

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Thanks to the growth of social, marketers are also able to better understand consumer motivations to drive the creative process. Marketers have always led with audience insights, but largely relied on qualitative methods like focus groups or dial tests where self-reporting biases and limited sample size compromised results.

Today, social serves as a global focus group, providing powerful signals that shape both media and creative strategy. For example, Kmart’s social media team analyzed consumers’ responses to their wildly successful “Ship My Pants” campaign online before running the spot on TV. They were able to view engagement, sentiment and tone to get a nuanced view of customer sentiment which ultimately guided their media investment and future messaging. At this year’s Super Bowl, many brands followed suit, seeding ads on YouTube and Facebook well in advance of the game. Using digital as a test bed can also be an important mitigation strategy for brand risk, with the fallout from a narrowly targeted dark post much easier to contain than a nationally-televised, prime time TV spot.

Brands will increasingly use this strategy to inform creation, turning Tumblr posts into TV ads and email banners into billboards. This multi-channel R&D approach is simple: make a minimum viable investment in micro-content first to optimize the return on your non-working dollars.

Data will always be a vital component, but a sound creative strategy is ultimately a balance of art and science. Focusing exclusively on historical performance data can also run the risk of stifling new ideas; no doubt we’ve all seen the challenges presented when optimizing creative for a single metric or SEO. Data paralysis can lead to click bait, borrowed interest and not a whole lot of original thinking. Any good creative strategist should use data directionally, not prescriptively.

Ready to get started optimizing your creative? Join Percolate and Visually for a special co-presentation on Wednesday, March 4th at 2pm on how to use data to optimize your creative strategy.