Recently, I’ve had a go at positioning and awareness (and I’m not finished yet!) and how it has no place in brand building today. Well, now it is time to have a go at creativity! I’m sure the agencies will be gnashing their teeth today!

For decades, information concerning consumers, their purchase criteria and the link between promotion and purchase was either too expensive or too difficult for companies to obtain. And even if data could be obtained, it took weeks or even months for the data to flow from stores and branches or field staff back to headquarters. Often, by the time it got back to HQ, it was too late to make any difference.

As a result, to build brands, companies had to put their faith in creativity, hoping that an innovative image, tagline or promotion would resonate with prospects and boost sales. In the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, with few conduits to consumers and limited competition, this type of creative driven branding often worked. Companies responsible for products including Clear Coke & Crystal or Storm Pepsi, 7up Gold, PAN AM, Mobikom, Pelangi Air and recently Mega TV as well as many others used this approach. Mass media, which was so powerful during this mass-market economy, was the logical vehicle to enhance the impact of creative-driven branding with reach and repetition.

But the mass-market economy no longer exists. Today’s customers are increasingly overwhelmed with those creative images, taglines and promotions. In Malaysia, for example, the average household receives 79 TV channels and up to 20 radio stations. Supermarkets carry between 15,000 to 25,000 Stock keeping units (SKUs). The number of titles handled by the average magazine wholesaler has doubled in 10 years to about 5,000. It is estimated that there are 800 billboards in Petaling Jaya alone. Ads appear on taxis, buses, lampposts and so on. And over 40 billion web pages are linked to the Internet. To make it even harder to succeed in the customer economy, budgets are tighter, competition fierce and customers are more demanding and knowledgeable.

Despite this proliferation of media conduits to consumers and the bombardment of messages received by those consumers, agencies and consultants continue to recommend firms build brands by using ‘cool’ advertising, creative or symbolic logo’s with pretty colours, catchy taglines and so on.

Data driven branding on the other hand, gives CEOs and managing directors accountability and ROI-based justification. While data was slow to materialize or hard to obtain during the mass-market era, the rise of the Internet, increasing computer power and sophisticated research techniques now enable executives to quickly obtain the information and insights they require about consumers and their buying habits, demographics, competitor products and actions, sales trends, promotional results, and other information.

Data from such research benefits executives in multiple areas. Information from data-driven branding can be used to not only determine where and when to advertise, but also other important areas critical to profitability. These include operations, customer service, research & development, logistics and customer relationships. Data enables benchmarking, enabling companies to determine whether marketing or other promotional or sales activities are effective over time.

Finally, and most important, data enables better executive decision-making. If research shows a certain segment is buying a product or service, executives can design strategies to pursue those specific segments, ensuring valuable funds are not wasted pursuing uninterested segments. Basically, without data, strategy and other executive decisions are guesswork.

Creative ideas are great, but information and knowledge are better. That’s why the smarter Asian and international companies are adopting research, data and analysis as the heart of their brand strategies because the Internet, more knowledgeable customers and increased global competition have changed the rules of the branding business.



  1. good piece. i’m not a marketeer (yet), but I would like to pose a question.

    No doubt data driver branding helps, but this also limits the branding. we can’t harness *all* the data. we only harness data that will be related to the product / branding.

    How do u explore other opportunities which is not confined within data? Don’t we need to get creative? Of course the ROI will not be as great as data-driven branding, but we need to take risk.

    I believe we need to have combination of both data driven + creative driven branding. we should also explore other parts of branding that is not confined with data alone.

    Just my 2 cents. great article!


  2. Hi Nilesh

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I apologise for my slow response.

    In a nutshell, what I am saying is that data driven branding is key to strategic brand building. The research you do and what you research is also important. For instance, learning that 95% of 21 – 35 year old males are aware of your product/company/service is not much use to you.

    What you want to know is how can you get them to buy your product/service etc.

    I’m also saying that creativity will not build a brand on its own but it has an important role to play but the content must resonate with the market you are targetting. The right research will give you the data to do that.


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