Can data create inspiration?

At a talk I gave at Portland State University CEPE someone said, “I still believe in a romantic view of marketing, where marketing inspires and helps people” then asked, “can data helps us do that?"

Parts of the question I had an answer to, I know data, I use data every day to make strategic decisions about what creative works better, what audiences respond and how to make people convert. But that was not his question, his question was deeper, “How can data help brands connect with people?”

The romantic side of marketing tells us that the role of a brand should be to inspire and create connections with their audiences. The capitalistic side of marketing shows us that quality connections make loyal customers and generate sales.

Through all of my research about the topic I kept coming back to a sentence I overheard once:

— My yoga teacher

Pause for a second… people we want to hear from today, once, they, themselves, listened, learned and did, and then and only then became interesting. That, in my mind, is the duty of every brand. The brand needs to listen, learn of their audiences needs, of their behaviors and of their emotions. This is where data can help, data can help to listen.


The perfect example of these connections is created by TV shows. A good story line can create connections and emotional reactions that exist only in the imagination of the audience but can have real world consequences. To understand this, look no further than the deep strong connection that audiences of “This IS Us” had with the main character, Jack Pearson, and the unexpected response to the cause of his death in the show – a faulty Crock-Pot that initiated a house fire. After the episode aired, fans of the show took to Twitter to initiate a boycott of Crock-Pot products.

The question however remains: How do we create the connection? How do we inspire deep feelings about our brand? For that, we look at Amazon vs. Netflix and how they tried to create the best show based on data.

In 2013 Netflix and Amazon set out to analyze the vast amounts of data they each owned to develop a show that turned out to have a similar theme: life in the political life of the US Senate. One was a comedy “Alpha House” – Amazon, the other one was a drama “House of Cards” - Netflix. Netflix’s show was a huge success while Amazon’s didn’t survive after 2nd season.

Why? What did Netflix do that Amazon didn’t? Although data has many uses there is something that data cannot help with, as Amazon found out, the bigger picture, the essence of inspiration, the story. Netflix was able to join all individual data points to develop a compelling script to tell a story. While Amazon concentrated so much on the individual data points that forgot the big picture and how to connect with audiences.

Shekhar Kapur and Issac Mizrahi define inspiration and creativity coming from mistakes, tricks of the eye or even being born out of panic. To me this is the magic of having all the data and knowing how to put it together, even if unconsciously, that is the beauty of the brain. The brain will put the story together, Shekar Kapur says: “we are the stories we tell ourselves” this is the potentiality of our existence. If we can find through data what those stories are then we can be interesting & inspirational.

Data is just a tool, use it to help the brain create the story. Find the emotion and the reason and help audiences make the connection through the story that helps them make sense of it all.

Want to know more on how to interpret your data to know if your advertising is inspiring and if you are connecting with your audience? We can help.

By Naira Perez