5 Ways to Inspire Creativity With Data

Where to find data that matters to inspire creativity that counts. (Originally published on LinkedIn)

Interested in developing creative concepts your best brand audience cares about and wants to share? Start with data. Survey-based tools are great but they tell a different, slower story than what you see from passive observation of digital behaviors. It’s the difference between a face-to-face conversation with a few and being a fly on a million walls.

Here are 5 approaches and vendors to help you be that fly on millions of digital walls and maybe kick off your next creative effort with some fresh data.

1. Discover what your perfect target cares about

If you know that customers who spend the most money on your website are huge fans of Lady Gaga and Doritos, you’d include that information when you briefed a creative team, right?

Give users the option to sign into your website or sweepstakes landing page with Facebook and you gain access to much more than just their contact information. What kind of music do they like? What other brands do they like? Where do they work?

Start things off with a vendor like Umbel that serves up thousands of data points in lightning-fast clickable dashboards that layer social with CRM, Axiom and cookie data even anti-social CMO’s will drool over.

2. Identify where content like yours is being shared

If you knew people were three times more likely to tweet about your product than share it on Pinterest, wouldn’t you tell your creative team to skip the pin-it-to-win-it concepts?

Many publishers still rely on 3 party sharing widgets to make it easy for readers to share content. The teams behind those widgets quietly indexed the content, where it was being shared, and handed everybody a cookie on the way out the door. Now they’ve even begun to layer on device-specific data so you know if something happened on a tablet, desktop, or mobile device.

You may already know ShareThis or AddThis as a media partner but you should also consider them a source of insights on how large groups of people share content about your category or specific product.

Disclosure: Mullen/mediahub has a strategic partnership with ShareThis for what I hope are obvious reasons.

3. Get on location with your target

If you want to be the mayor of data-driven creativity, you need to know where people who look like your target are bothering to whip out their phones and engage with content or their surroundings.

In spite of how weird it seems to me personally that somebody would always want to share their location, checking in online when you show up someplace offline has captured the interest of millions. Lucky for marketers, Foursquare quickly realized that better data was more important than more users and is offering their intelligence to brands. They don’t yet offer a subscription-based data offering so you’ll need to cozy up to your digital media team and have them negotiate for additional data.

Start things off with Foursquare and PlaceIQ to see where adding a location to your consumer data stack can spark some fresh ideas.

4. Know what your target is looking for

Say you’re talking to a dog food brand about a new campaign, wouldn’t you want to know that it’s not just puppies that are popular online, but bulldog puppies?

Finding the questions people ask that could be answered by your brand is a wonderful place to begin when you’re wondering what to look at besides survey results.

Google has done a solid job of serving up search trends in their toolkits but few people seem to care about them or use them. That’s unfortunate. If you’re really feeling adventurous, go beyond the top search engines and ask top media partners about site-specific search trends so you know what your target is looking for but can’t find immediately when they visit the site.

5. See what topical influencers care to share

If you’re attempting to develop creative concepts that people who influence your target will want to share, wouldn’t you love to already have your finger on the pulse of what those influencers share every day?

While everybody else is obsessed with trying to make branded content that relates to macro trending topics like the Royal Baby or Kimye, I highly suggest you step away from the Oreo-obsessed fray and look instead at relevant micro trends and the people who influence them.

The approach is slightly different depending on the platform but here’s a simple example: Pick 100 active Twitter users with substantial followings who talk about things that are relevant to your brand. Enter all their usernames as author filters into a tool like Netbase and you’ll get a real-time stream of topics the people your target listens to will share.

You can also look to vendors like TopsyKloutCuralateTailwind and Traackr for help finding platform-specific influencers and bloggers who write about topics that matter to your brand.

If you’ve found other tools helpful or approaches to data that inspire creative thinking based on digital behaviors, do the world a favor and add your thoughts in a comment on LinkedIn here. Proprietary today is commonplace tomorrow and we all benefit when we share.

Delight is Always Surprising

Cookie Monster

In the face of every pressure to concoct something people have never seen, remember that delight is a surprise.

You can use the latest web technology that requires the most recent version of just one browser and it might get press for being first but only a few will find it delightful and only for a moment. The rest will turn away with a grimace because it took too much work to get to something they didn’t recognize or understand. Continue reading…

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 8.17.09 AM

Everybody knew this was coming. It was only a matter of when. Now the only reference to Instagram is a tiny link in the album offering the option to ‘view on Instagram.’ Continue reading…


I honestly think our GDP would increase if we traded an hour of meetings each day for a nap.

In order to make that happen, here are 5 techniques to help eliminate unnecessary meetings. Continue reading…

My Favorite Room at Mullen

Mullen Room

It’s got a standing-level table, two 65″ screens, and a cork wall because a lot of things still start out on paper. The white walls in this photo are usually glass so it’s a dry erase extravaganza and there’s lots of natural light during the day without tons of glare.


I had just walked out of Wholefoods with a bag containing items you’d expect (quinoa, kefir, kombucha, tuna, and the appended kiwiberries) when I saw a young woman walking in my direction. Rather, she was walking toward the store behind me, her dedication to Thursday Bikram classes, Skinny Bitch cosmos, and dressing-free salads sheathed in Lululemon.

She looked fantastic until an old woman in a cherry red Volvo s40 wagon ran over her. Continue reading…

Andrew Mason’s Parting Words After Groupon Firing


“If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!”

Read his entire statement here.

I did that

You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what that is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening — everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, “I did that.”

- Ricky Gervais

Fishing For Link Bait


More brands should use social media campaigns to build search rank on hyper-competitive terms.

If you don’t know the search terms that are meaningful for your business, go find out. If you already know, go back to my first sentence and sleep on it. You’ll know what to do in the morning. Continue reading…