Viewpoint: Nicola Mendelsohn, partner at Karmarama and president of the IPA

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Data has been called ‘the new oil’ but numbers can only ever be used to identify what the problems are. They don’t do a good enough job of telling you what the solution is.

You need the data to back up what the issue is, but you also need the creativity to figure out what to do about it. You can then use the numbers again to measure any change or effect, but only afterwards.

How you balance data with creativity depends on the scale of your ambition. If you want to retain your market share, then rely on the numbers. But a creative instinct will grow your market share.

I was in China recently, and saw that the Chinese are experiencing double-digit growth because they are making bold decisions based on what is in their heart – even if it flies in the face of research and data. It’s genuine entrepreneurship.

They’re building companies to last the next century. Meanwhile, we’re scrambling around reducing the prices of our products and knackering our brands.

I’ve also been to Silicon Valley, where companies make ten investments with the expectation that nine will fail and one will strike gold. If you look at the great companies that typically make up the global power 100 lists, a lot of them are still the ones from 100 years ago, started by entrepreneurs who weren’t looking at the data but listening to their hearts.

When we started working with Costa Coffee, the first research told us that customers felt all coffees are the same and will choose where to go based on convenience.

Costa’s strategy could have been just to open more stores than anyone else, but what the brand decided to do was to educate customers that there is such a thing as good coffee. That is a creative response to data, rather than just holding up a mirror to reflect the data.

If you want to maintain market share, then use just the data. But Costa wanted to be market leader and was behind by a massive gap. If you want to fill a gap like that, you have to be braver and think creatively – then go and use the insight in the right way.

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