It was the end of a 3-day iMedia conference in which I’d been inundated with all the latest and greatest trends in algorithms and data that are transforming the world of digital advertising. I’d been bombarded with terms like viewability, attribution and data-driven creativity. There were panels on neuromarketing and agile marketing models; real-time bidding and programmatic buying.
It was all a little overwhelming.
When we created NaturallyCurly, we weren’t looking at fancy spreadsheets, business plans or market research reports. It was an idea that came from our gut. We had curly hair, and every day was a challenge. Magazines seemed to ignore curls and coils. There weren’t any stylists who knew how to work with curls. And there were only a few products designed specifically for texture. Having lived this frustration our entire lives, we decided to create a place to help people like us. We didn’t have any training in the digital world. We didn’t have MBAs. We just had curly hair.
Sixteen years later, NaturallyCurly has grown into TextureMedia Inc., and the digital space has changed dramatically. Brands and media agencies have elaborate KPI analysis dashboards. They can identify the psychographics of the consumers most likely to be interested in a brand’s message, right down to the genre of television shows they watch. They look at heat maps to determine if a consumer engaged adequately with an ad unit, and what action they took after viewing it.
By the final night, my left brain was aching.
Was there any room left for passion and feelings? Were analytics winning out over creativity. NaturallyCurly has survived and thrived because we connect emotionally with people. We tell stories. Our audience tells stories.
Shenan Reed president of digital at MEC and a panelist at the iMedia event, said it best: "My biggest fear is we'll lose serendipity if we over analyze and overthink."
Which brings me to the last night of the conference. The dinner speaker was Annie Griffiths. She isn’t a media planner or a Google exec or a hotshot sales director. She’s a photographer. She was one of the first female photographers to work for National Geographic, and she has worked on dozens of magazine and book projects, traveling to all corners of the earth.
Her message was simple. It is important to connect on the emotional level.
She showed some examples of her incredible photos. While Griffiths obviously has immense technical knowledge about how to take pictures, what made the photos so powerful was her gift for evoking feelings. Some of the images made me laugh, while others left a lump in my throat. Her photos have inspired people to donate millions of dollars to programs protecting the environment and groups that empower women and girls. She doesn’t rely on spreadsheets or focus groups to do what she does. It’s about using her eye to capture images that will connect with people.
It was a powerful message for a room full of people trying to balance the growing importance of data with the creative side of advertising.
"Why are we so seduced by the automation and scale of everything?” Alan Schulman, vice president of global digital marketing & brand content for SapientNitro, asked earlier in the day. “Algorithms don't feel. People feel. “