Following the release of our Big Data and Idea’s white paper, where we looked at the intersection of creative and data-driven marketing, we decided to take a close look at how AdRoll’s creative department bridges this divide.

For that, we interviewed Chris Staton, AdRoll’s prolific and long-time Creative Director, on the essential ingredients to amazing creative and data-driven storytelling.

Q: How do you balance data-driven strategy and emotionally-driven concepts?

Chris: I like to get as much data and ask as many questions as I can before coming up with creative concepts. This determines the boundaries of the project and provides structure and direction.

Once brainstorming begins, I throw all that out the window and try to think as big as possible. On the next pass, I keep the best ideas that jive with the data and the creative brief. If you play it safe, you’ll typically underestimate your boundaries. If you think big first and reel yourself in after, you’re more likely to reach exciting concepts that’ll actually work.

Q: What are the top three ingredients for creative that amazes and inspires?

ChrisGenerally speaking, there are three “ingredients” to ad creative: copy, design and context.

Copy is the words: the headline; the body; the call to action; all the things you explicitly say.

Design is how the thing looks: layout; photography; illustration; typography; color. Copy and design are not easy to get right, but they are within your control.

Context gets overlooked, but it can make or break your campaign. It’s everything that happens outside of your ad, most of which you can’t control. It’s where your ad appears—on Facebook, or the side of a bus—where someone sees the ad—at work, in the bathroom— and their current state of mind, in addition to many other variables. In the wrong context, great copy and design won’t be effective.

Dig into the data and use your instincts to figure out where you think their head (and body) will be when they see your ads. This will allow you to establish a more meaningful connection.

Q: How does data help you tell stories and connect with customers?

ChrisI look at past campaign performance data to see what worked and what didn’t. Data shows up in the creative in the form of compelling statistics and proof points. And data is ultimately used by the platform to show the right ad to the right person. It’s a huge asset, and by using it wisely, it can help align a creative strategy, content and execution for maximum resonance with your audience.

Q: What’s the number one measure of a successful marketing campaign?

ChrisA campaign is a success if it did what you designed it to do. Define what success will look like at the start. Were you looking to drive leads? Did leads increase by your goal amount? Don’t get so caught up in a single metric that you ignore the others. What if you miss your lead goal, but landing page visits were off the charts? I recommend having a single, clear success metric to keep your creative focused. When the dust settles, look at the big picture.

Q: How important is personalization to your advertising campaigns?

Chris: Personalization can mean the difference between an ad going unnoticed and someone loving a brand for life. Imagine your ad is a college professor and the person seeing the ad is the student. Will the student be more engaged in a lecture hall of 300, or in office hours one-on-one? The spectrum of personalisation ranges from a generic campaign with the same message for all audiences (the lecture hall), to highly personalized creative that utilizes personal information such as the viewer’s first name (office hours).

The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. Narrow your focus and tailor your ads to a particular audience.

Editor’s Note: Chris is leaving AdRoll for the Scandinavian shores of Copenhagen, Denmark. We wish him the best. His generous personality and gregarious sense of humor will be missed.