Start your engines.

The Formula 1 season is up and running and petrol heads around the globe can get their next fix watching this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at the iconic Suzuka.

The season is only a few races old, and it’s thrown up a few surprises. One of the things that has captured my attention is just how rapidly the sport’s stock is rising, particularly among casual sports fans. It’s something that can probably be referred to as the ‘Drive to Survive’ effect.

The popular Netflix series has done a great job at introducing the audience to the people beneath the helmets and those huddled on the pit wall, finding the human stories that might otherwise remain unseen by the public only tuned in on race day.

Sometimes, those human stories can help you to spot the parallels and patterns that also might have gone unseen.

One of the most captivating plot lines in the latest series was the focus on the Team Principal of Williams Racing, James Vowles. For all the show’s (and sport’s) high speed and high drama, James’ approach was a hard press on the metaphorical brake.

"Data, for me, is the foundation of formula 1. There’s no human judgement involved; you’ve got to get your foundations right in data. When you get that right, that’s how you move forward” - James Vowles - Team Principal at Williams Racing

I believe that it’s exactly the same in marketing, when done properly. Without data we’re living on hunches. I have to confess that, by nature, I like to problem solve and have a tendency to want to jump to the end, but I understand the need to be methodical, observe and benchmark. It’s something that I believe the best marketers do.

In a rush to ‘jump to the end’ and service clients (a good thing, of course), we can forget that we’re not in the service industry, we’re in the expertise industry. I say this not to be self-aggrandising, but to recognise that we are paid by our clients for our thinking.

A big part of making this a fair exchange is that we need to have a mastery of our data so that we can create solid insights to build from. It’s irresponsible not to and means that even if our clients have success, we can’t be certain to what extent our actions have supported this, if at all, and that’s unfair for all parties.

This insistence on data to inform strategy pushes us to start all our work with clients from the strongest possible foundations. It forms part of our Grounded Truth ethos, which is something you’ll hear us mention repeatedly in the coming months.

That said, much like Ferrari in recent years, I am going to switch strategy mid-race and offer an additional F1-related caveat to the above.

"I am an artist. The track is my canvas, and my car is my brush.” - Graham Hill

If data is essential to developing strategy, it is also essential in developing creative. Not in a ‘paint by numbers’, prescriptive sense, but in providing a clear proposition and brand style to play with. The goal is to make our campaigns and branded assets as compelling as possible.

There’s little point in us achieving a Grounded Truth if we can’t share that with our audiences in a compelling way that sticks with them. We can work to understand category entry points and our own distinctive brand assets, but we must find a meaningful, memorable way to bring it to life.

To be blunt, nobody fell in love with motor racing because they saw a spreadsheet.

While the data he observes is invaluable to Mr Vowles in his expert role, when most people watch a Grand Prix, they aren’t following real-time charts with ascending and descending lines – they’re watching maniacs push pieces of machinery at speeds of 200-plus miles per hour.

They’re seeing people calculate extreme risk in fractions of a second.

They’re watching human bodies withstand extremes in g-force, temperatures, and fatigue.

Crucially, and something we often forget, they’re watching creatives following their muse to pursue lines, gaps, and overtakes that that mere mortals simply can’t see.

In essence, the data is useful to provide some structure for the creatives that will turn that into something that stirs the soul.

Is that not what we’re here to do? If you’ve been monitoring the conversation around our industry and AI you’ll have heard the warnings about the machines coming for our jobs – which is true if you’re producing mediocre work. System1 has been leading this, creating ads using AI and testing them against real campaigns in the category that are (presumably) human made. The results, disappointingly, is that AI is competitive, if not better, than humans under testing.

This shouldn’t be hugely surprising to anyone in any B2B category, where creative has fared poorly in audience testing for some time. The reasons? We’re still too stuffy, too features-and-benefits focussed, and too scared to weight our creative spend on big brand campaigns – opting to spread bet on small, multiple product and service ‘campaigns’.

Put simply, we’re stooping to the lowest common demoninator idea that many already have about the work produced in B2B markets like construction – it’s about time that we stopped.

Too much data has the potential to be as harmful as too little; it can cause us to freeze or to lose sight of what our brands stand for and our audiences want from us. The trick is to use data for its intended purpose – to set a clear strategy based on knowing your audience, have a plan to trace your impact and commit to reviewing the data and learning the lessons from it.

The best brands know this. They use data to inform decisions, and then have the sense to let the creative be whatever it needs to be. AI and big data will never be able to think laterally, emote genuinely and understand the zeitgeist at anything other than a causal level – great creatives can do all of that and more.

We need to use data as a jumping off point to brief truly inspired creatives and then get out of their way.

“If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver” - Ayrton Senna

So, what’s the lesson for construction marketers?

Essentially, that rigour is crucial, but it must be applied in the right areas. In using data to inform key decision making at a fundamental level during objective setting and evaluation, you earn the right to develop more accurate briefs that allow your creatives to push the boundaries and create something truly remarkable.

In marketing, as in F1, that’s where the true magic lies.

Managing Director