Searching for Marketing’s El Dorado

Clay Schouest is the Chief Strategy Officer of Carat APAC.
This was originally
presented at the Advertiser International Association 2016 conference in Beijing on 25 June.

The marketing world is chasing the dream of data, but in our pursuit, are we losing something equally important? And how will this affect our hiring policy?

5 – 7 minute read


El Dorado is an allegory. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, El Dorado is a legendary lost city, one overflowing with gold and precious stones in fabulous abundance. Over time, and creative interpretations, El Dorado has been used as a metaphor to represent the ultimate prize that one might spend one’s life seeking [1]—wealth, success, happiness, etc.

In Voltaire’s Candide, El Dorado represents an ideal society where everything is perfect—Paradise, you might say. The main character of the book commits his entire life to obsessively searching for the lost city, searching for Paradise.

Sadly El Dorado turns out to be only in his imagination—a place that does not and never will exist.

I’d like to spend a few minutes pondering what I believe to be our industry’s search for El Dorado: data, specifically the idea of data as the answer to all our dreams. We currently seem to have a myopic obsession with all things related to data.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: the Digital Economy

We are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution: the First powered our trains and the transportation industry with steam; the Second increased productivity through electricity; the Third revolutionised our world through computing; and now the Fourth is about new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds [2].

Our industry has never been more exciting. The fourth industrial revolution provides new means for better outputs and is impacting all disciplines, economies and industries—even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

In marketing we often refer to the Fourth Industrial Revolution as the Digital Economy. By 2020 we prophesize our industry will be 100% digital and organised around data. China is leading the charge and will most likely be the first market to get there.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds.

There are now more bytes of data left behind by our behavioural digital footprints than there are stars in the universe. To be exact, there are over 40 trillion terabytes of data and that number is growing every day. All this data represents the opportunity to get closer to consumers like never before, even predicting what they want before they know they want it. For example, AI technologies are now commonplace within our industry. We are using them to communicate, get to know our consumers and provide products and services based upon their interests.

We are now closing the gap between interaction and transaction. By 2020, all the media we consume, whatever the format, will link content with brand commerce. That is a brilliant thing for both business and consumers. As an industry, the ability to maximise ROI at the moment of receptivity with message and media makes our work more accountable. We know from studies that ROI improves up to 55% when we develop connected experiences that link content and commerce.

The future is bright; there is no denying that. One might say El Dorado is now within reach—or is it?

How this affects hiring policy

I can’t help but feel uneasy about how our industry is preparing for our bright future, and more specifically, the type of talent and capabilities we are hiring to help get us there. We seem to have an unbalanced hiring policy towards the talent that we recruit to realise our future vision. Our cumulative marketing brain talent pool has become lopsided—seemingly favouring the left, more analytical side, over the right, based on creativity and lateral thinking.

Why? That’s partly because it’s new and partly because people are coming to grips with how to manage, organise and classify data. In a recent survey of what keeps CMOs up at night “data” was cited as the #1 driver of how companies and organisations are structuring themselves. So it’s no surprise that when we look at LinkedIn, up to 70% of the new job postings from within the past year have “analytics” in the title or job description.

Our cumulative marketing brain talent pool has become lopsided—seemingly favouring the left, more analytical side, over the right, based on creativity and lateral thinking.

Are we headed in the wrong direction?

So here’s my point of controversy:

Today when I look around the industry, I see a bunch of organisations, clients and agencies who are convinced that data is their El Dorado. I believe data is a means not the end. The end is fundamentally about touching the human spirit, creating an emotional connection—that is what will fuel growth.

In fact, when you look at the top driver of business value, it is creativity, by far. Creativity contributes to business value far more than any other factor. Additionally, if you look at the skillsets required to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as outlined by the World Economic Forum, creativity also tops that list [2]. The power of an idea is just as important as ever; that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the ability to design and amplify ideas in the digital economy.

So let’s make sure we develop and stimulate the right brain again. Let’s hire more creative minds to help deliver great ideas that fuel those data-led approaches. And when I say creative minds, I don’t mean creative in the traditional sense. I don’t mean copy editors; I mean lateral thinkers.

Data is a means not the end. Creativity contributes to business value far more than any other factor.

Let’s remember data is not our El Dorado. It is not the end goal. To truly succeed in the digital economy, we need data solutions that inspire more creativity. In order to realise that ambition, we need to attract and retain more creative thinkers, not just data analysts. Let’s think and plan for our long term future.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Dorado
  2. The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab

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