In the red corner we have data – cool, calm and calculating. In the blue corner, creative – unpredictable, flamboyant and entertaining. But who should win in a fight for the marketer’s budget? Although the headline of this article pitches data against creative, the truth of the matter is that successful marketing in today’s digital world is all about making them work together. Anyone who thinks it’s a case of one or the other stands to lose out on the true power of digital marketing.

Let’s look at this from two sides, client and agency.

What’s happening in agency creative departments at the moment is something of a ‘do or die’ revolution. Either creatives learn to produce ideas that work for the web, social media, email marketing etc or chances are, the agency they earn fees for won’t be around very much longer. This is nothing new. I’m not old enough to remember luckily, but this has happened before. Advertising agencies were initially sceptical when radio was invented and similarly with television, but of course it was the agencies that ran with it who won out in the end. And thus, the same is true with digital. Any creative worth their fee should be embracing the possibilities of digital, the huge benefits it provides and how much easier (and cheaper) it’s made it to get their ideas out into the world.

The same can be said for the client’s side of things, although I think most have recognised this by now. The danger here though is that in the rush for Google rankings and PPC clicks, good creative gets forgotten. Just because the digital channel is a technology based medium, doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful, engaging, funny or thought provoking. The only difference with digital, is that whatever the creatives come up with has to be easy for people to interact with, not just sit and stare at as with TV or print advertising. There might be a whole new set of rules for creatives to work to when designing for the web, but the best agencies are proving day in, day out that form and function can be made to work together.

Along with the incredibly cost-effective audience penetration of digital, the single biggest advantage to marketers has to be the detailed reporting that is now available. Measuring the effectiveness of traditional marketing channels is costly and time consuming. With website and email analytics, it’s instant and very often free. Unsure which email design will send more traffic to your website? Test a few and you can find out quickly and easily. Want to know which product page design works best on your ecommerce site, or which checkout process? Again, try a few variations over time and watch carefully to see what happens. It’s an old marketing adage, but ‘the market is always right’. Your customers will tell you which email works best or which website design. All you have to do is watch and react.

So has all of this rendered the ‘big idea’ obsolete? Well, no. The best campaigns are still those with a fantastic idea behind them. The keyword is ‘integration’. That’s why when you see a great ad on TV, there’ll now be a Facebook address at the end, you’ll find the same ad on YouTube and the same tone of voice used on Twitter, in addition to the traditional channels. Effective creative marketing has – and always will be – about creating something that gets you noticed and engages with your audience in the places that they want to be engaged.

Data versus creative? No, the smart money is on data featuring creative.