Having spent most of my career in advertising, I learned that the best brands not only represent priceless intangible value on the balance sheet, but in many celebrated cases, do their best to contradict all reason in the pursuit of this value.
Here are a couple of classic examples. Virgin has oodles of intangible brand value; "anti establishment" (though it never comes out and says so, and its hippy founder is now one of the richest men in the UK), a brand name that disconcertedly communicates purity, and the colour red, signalling sex or danger. Of course, it has done more than most to challenge sleepy industries, and the reason it has stolen market share in no small part boils down to those three assets: anti-establishment, pure, red. Provocative, thought provoking, innovative. No wonder businesses queue up for joint ventures with this brand, and are prepared to give away half their company for it.
Take Marmite as another example. This brand goes even further and deliberately alienates half of its potential customers. It even celebrates the fact that one in two people think it tastes disgusting. When building brand value for a food company, isn't it drilled into us at all times that we must make the product aspirational and irresistible?
In both cases, this is a triumph of great branding. As my old colleague at HHCL Al Young used to say, sometimes brand owners have to embrace "the right kind of wrong" to stand out from the crowd and build long term customer loyalty and interest.
It's tempting to think that machine learning and deep data analytics will snaffle out such waffly and contradictory "good will", as accountants like to call the intangible brand value that sits on their the balance sheet. For them, far more important is the "working media" that can be proved by data to shift the dial as opposed to "non working media" (AKA the silly content and creative idea, to the layman).
This view of data has also been pervasive in the creative industries, too. Data has come to destroy good ideas, smother risk and ensnare flair with formulas that can be repeated ad nauseum to squeeze every last penny out of the golden goose in the pursuit of Rosser Reeve's USP.
But this is a typically glass half empty view of data analytics. The fact that data analytics is so impartial and dispassionate - it cannot reason why, and it is non judgmental in its prognosis of success – also means that it unwittingly roots out quirks, kinks and anomalies that we struggle to understand, but are no doubt contributing to success. Someone told me the other day that a very senior executive in one of our biggest supermarkets, found a correlation between gin and bananas. What was the next thing that gin buyers bought? Tonic? Correct. And after that? Lemons? Wrong. Bananas. When they placed the gin and bananas close to each other, they both flew off the shelf far faster than when sited separately. Why? Lord only knows. But the data uncovered an insight that even the most workaday creative person would recognise as pure gold in regard to creative campaign development.
So we like to think that the intense, automated mashing up of data that sits around the entire customer experience, will liberate creativity, not restrict it. Because after all, the data shows us what's there…both the tangible and the intangible…so it's up to us to exploit it.