Clarity, proof and storycraft: three lessons from judging the DMA Awards 2023

What makes a winning data-led marketing awards entry? Incrementality, gamification and some creative magic can certainly help you stand out from the crowd.

Robin Langford, Editor of Performance Marketing World, shares his experiences on the judging panel in the Data Storytelling category for the DMA Awards 2023.

I love the tagline for the DMA Awards: “Rewardingly Hard to Win”. As a trade body taking a leading role representing the marketing industry on key areas such as reforming the UK and Europe’s data protection legislation, the Data and Marketing Association prides itself on its rigour and transparency.

That was reflected in the judging day for the Data Storytelling category – a subject combining two of my favourite things.

In today's tech-saturated world, there are more consumer touchpoints than ever, collected at a faster pace and under an increasing amount of scrutiny. It’s no wonder we hear phrases such as ‘data fatigue’ enter the marketing lexicon. As such, the ability to turn data into something more meaningful, practical, trustworthy and privacy-safe is becoming a key skill for the AI age. 

Our panel was chaired by the phenomenal Deborah Womack, an award-winning data-driven marketing leader. With an expansive CV that covers such diverse achievements as transforming the marketing at EY to being lead animator and art director on the BAFTA-nominated “1001 Nights”, it was impossible to think of anyone better to unite a panel on data creativity. 

My fellow panellists were just as impressive, hailing from charities, agencies, brands and universities, each bringing their rich experiences into the judging process:

  • Pippa Johnston, Director of Corporate Development, Edinburgh Children's Hospital Charity
  • Sarah Clarke, Strategy Director, UM Birmingham
  • Dorina D'Ambrosio, Creative Director, The Behaviours Agency
  • Katie Dennis, Data Strategy and Insights Manager, Mindshare
  • Gareth Powell, Group Data Officer, Irwin Mitchell
  • Sue MacLure, Data Director, CACI
  • Souad Slyman, Senior Lecturer, University of Roehampton
  • Clint Lovell, Executive Creative Director, BBP

To help our selections, we were advised to look for three key criteria when going through the entries for the categories: a strong idea that shows appropriateness for the brand, a clear outline of the strategy and target audience and compelling results to reassure the judges that the work was effective.

Without giving away the winner, here are three key trends that emerged from the judging process that marketers could possibly apply to their own strategies going into 2024. 

The untapped power of gamification 

I was struck by how often the entries used previously siloed and ignored pools of data to motivate conversions, and how this was being used to either motivate internal staff or externally, to drive more customer leads clicks and sales via competitions or personalised media. 

Our panel was frequently impressed by entries that demonstrated how teams built bespoke tools and dashboards to make their data insights go further. Competition is one of the key drivers of any economy, so it makes sense to apply that mindset to internal and external projects. Everyone likes a game, and what is a game without a (data-led) scoreboard? 

Generative AI is not quite ready to take the spotlight (yet)

With all the hype this year, it's easy to think AI only really took off in 2023. But predictive AI has been a key tool in performance marketers’ arsenal for many a year now, most notably via the use of programmatic ad exchanges that automate the buying and selling process of media inventory. There was a good showing of this kind of AI with this year’s crop of entries, but the lack of any use of generative AI, despite the headlines, was telling. 

The impression we’ve got at PMW talking to the industry is that while generative AI applications in creative areas such as copy writing and image generation have been easier to apply, the data-led opportunities for generative AI are only just getting started, such as SEO, database management and keyword research. I suspect these will play a greater role in entries next year, 

It’s all about the incrementality

When it came to judging entries based on results, the panel were more favourable of work that demonstrated incremental change rather than just big numbers alone. Being able to demonstrate that without this work the same results would not have been achieved is a holy grail of marketing effectiveness, and our seasoned judges were quick to spot those truly game-changing examples that make a truly award-worthy entry stand out.

Rekindling my love for Zoom

One final bonus point – I learned to love video calls again. Since emerging from lockdown and its compulsory video calls and too many Zoom quizzes, I’ve embraced face-to-face talks and events more for natural, flowing conversations. But the DMA’s decision to revert back to virtual panel discussions worked very smoothly – with a key piece of reasoning behind it.

From an early straw poll across all the panellists taking part in the judging that day, it quickly became apparent that many were from outside of London. All too often these events can be Capital-centric and it was fantastic to get the insights from experts around the country that we may have missed by holding the judging day in Zone 1 London. What we may have lost in face-to-face serendipity was more than made up for in inclusivity, and the quality of judging was all the better for it. 

At the end of the day, we decided on these final five entries making the shortlist, with the overall winner to be announced on the awards night: 

  • Matching People and Property

    • Agency: addmustard

    • Client: Marsh and Parsons

  • Colleagues to Competitors: Scoring Loyalty

    • Agency: RAPP

    • Client: IKEA

  • Choice paradox to plan perfection

    • Agency: TMW Unlimited

    • Client: Vodafone

  • Boots sensitive consent - Menopause Journey

    • Entrant: Boots UK

    • Client: Boots UK

  • Embedding a Digital First Strategy

    • Entrant: M&S Bank

    • Client: M&S Bank

I look forward to celebrating the winning entries at the DMA Awards Night 2023 on Tuesday 5 December.

Thanks to the DMA for including me in this process.