Data Mindful, Not Data Driven: Patrick Armitage, RPA

Originally Posted On

In the latest interview for our "New Year, New Media" series, we chatted with RPA's Associate Director of Digital Strategy, Patrick Armitage, about having a platform-first approach to media and the fine line between being data-informed vs data driven.

The rise of social media platforms has made them key to brand recognition. In what ways does your agency utilize social media to inform/engage your audience and how do you see that evolving?

The best way for us to use social media effectively starts by listening and watching. If we’re not listening to the conversations happening online, watching how people engage and create, or understanding the unique characteristics of each social media platform, our message won’t resonate or connect. For us, it’s being nuanced and purposeful enough to go from thinking social-first to platform-first. Instead of asking “How can this work on social?”, we want to start asking “How can this work on TikTok?” And beyond that, how should this work for our given audience within a platform? There are universal tools for creative and strategic effectiveness, but there are countless more niche tools that work within specific subcultures and audience groups on every platform that brands can take advantage of to drive outsized performance.

Besides integrating social media as a core set of assets and activations within our campaign work, we also like to think of social as our laboratory to test new creative, new messages, and new audiences. Because of the largely ephemeral nature of social content, the downside risk to testing and potentially failing isn’t nearly as high compared to channels with typically higher creative costs and flights like television. This bottom-up approach to creative allows us to amplify something we see succeeding in a test or within a smaller audience and identify opportunities to scale that work up and out.

How has the pandemic affected the way consumers use social media and which platform is the most relevant to your agency?

Social stepped in to keep us connected with friends, family and co-workers in the face of physical distancing and remote work throughout this pandemic. And as a result, we’re on our phones more than ever. (Year of Mobile v31.) Will we go back to pre-pandemic screen times? Or not? Either way, this spike has made everyone a savvier social media user, shopper, and creator. As a result, you’re seeing advertisers having to get savvier as well. Lo-fi production values that mimic organic content, influencer advertising, livestreaming, and native creative are all gaining traction. It’s often an “advertising that doesn’t feel like advertising” approach to break through in new, unexpected ways.

From a creative performance standpoint, Meta (Facebook/Instagram) tends to be the most relevant in terms of driving efficient and effective campaigns at scale with repeatable predictability. Everything is up for grabs as marketers adjust to the new iOS updates and plan for a cookie-less future. From a strategic and cultural standpoint, TikTok is increasingly relevant to us across categories as it is a groundswell for cultural implications, creative inspiration, and trends. It is the most pertinent for us to keep an eye on and understand as its influence extends far beyond the platform itself.

To what degree does the innovative use of media by agencies and companies shape the way new media evolves? (e.g. interactive campaigns)

To a lesser degree than one might think. New media evolution is more user-led than advertiser- or brand-led. The platforms that can initially serve the needs of its users and then evolve to serve the needs of its business are printing money. That was true for Facebook and Google back in the day, and it’s looking to be true for TikTok now.

But an effective agency or company has a knack for surveying the landscape and understanding social media users and their behaviors, identifying an opportunity (whether that be cultural, creative, or media investment) and having the guts and conviction to act quickly. Innovation almost always starts with the user and then brands follow. It’s the brands that can marry cultural and technological relevance with speed-to-market in their marketing that can make the biggest impact.

How do you utilize data analytics to create more engaging campaigns?

I think a lot of brands are struggling to understand if they’re in control of their data or their data is controlling them. Data can be incredibly insightful and informative, but too much of a good thing and we’ve seen brands lose sight of the bigger picture in the pursuit of data nirvana.

We have found that applying data analytics to establish creative guardrails helps focus our creative teams. Solidifying our briefs with data-supported insights not only gives our creatives a place to start but also gives them the confidence to know where the lines are. We have found it helps the most when we let the data guide us, but to not let it suffocate our creative vision and execution or cause us to lose focus on the people behind the data. Data-informed, not necessarily data-driven.

What contemporary forms of new media are you planning on using to reach audiences?

With linear TV on the decline, we have been focusing on exploring the digital channels that will be most fruitful for brand building – at scale and over time. For us, it’s not so much new media we’re after (although it’s always on our radar), but new measurement and new creative effectiveness tactics within a channel. There’s been a move toward attention and resonance and action metrics that presents a refreshing antidote to data’s stranglehold on digital marketing decision-making. People’s attention is finite, and the price for that attention continues to rise. And for a long time, brands knew their ads were being served but didn’t know if they were being seen. So, with any new form of media, we’re going to look at our ability to measure data that provides meaningful brand analytics, not just impressions or clicks.