Delete Creativity? That's Bad for Business

Take Risks to Find the Most Effective and Most Talked-About Solutions

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We recently designed a dashboard for the internal PR department of a multinational company. Included were metrics that executives could use to judge brand communications campaigns. These included overall impressions, reach with priority audiences, message penetration, creativity of the approach or communications solution, alignment with other elements in the marketing mix, and line-of -sight to brand goals. The dashboard came back with one change: delete creativity. Reason: creativity is not a "must have" for an effective campaign that meets business objectives.

Wow. Is creativity now just a "nice to have?" Is that how little it is valued? New York Times columnist David Brooks suggested in a recent article that creativity has been trumped by the desire to edge out the competition. Competitive "myopia" has taken over, he laments, undermining innovation.

Besting the competition is the endgame of most marketing, and one of the most enduring and reliable ways of so doing is a creative idea. Whether it is an unexpected exploitation of a competitor weakness, a cool use of a new medium or a brand use that had been hidden in plain sight, creative solutions have always been a must. The most creative campaigns are also the most effective and most talked-about.

Creativity takes work. It requires risk taking and a concerted effort to identify and think through a new idea, make it work and sell it up the line. Will your internal and external audiences "get it?" Will it convince customers to choose this brand? Or, in the case of a pharmaceutical brand, ask their doctor about it? Coming up with a creative idea requires far more human resources than buying more advertising in a different medium, developing coupons or offering free trials.

Campaigns that generate buzz, change behavior or become models in the industry typically center on a creative idea or a creative execution of a brand insight. Creativity breaks molds, takes us to places we didn't think possible. Creativity is exciting. It is often why marketers got into their profession in the first place.

A CEO with a reputation for creativity can lead a company out of a difficult period. A Forbes writer I follow recently suggested, for example, that the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca consider Apple Chairman Art Levinson for its open CEO position. As chief executive, Levinson had built the biotechnology company Genentech into a powerhouse, but his last 12 years with Apple make him more than just a successful pharmaceutical executive. He is the type of leader who can harness the power of creativity to motivate.

Creativity still has a high premium in some corners of marketing. According to a survey of agency and client executives conducted for OMD by AdAge and Erdos & Morgan, creativity tops the list of qualities that clients look for in media agencies, closely followed by followed by data and analytics and efficient business processes. While creativity is at the top, these numbers reveal the tightrope that marketers are walking between a desire for innovation and the determination to win.

To keep the creative juices flowing, here are a few suggestions:

  • Identify which brands and circumstances would benefit most from a creative idea or solution.

  • Stay open-minded when it comes to customer desires or unmet needs. Respect, but do not be restricted by , market research, keeping in mind what Henry Ford said: "If I asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse."

  • Demand creativity, creative thinking, and creative solutions of your teams and from your agencies.

  • Find a balance of creativity and business objectives within your overall brand strategies.

In the 1990s, senior marketers at Absolut used to debate whether the company's iconic advertising campaign was a case of creativity trumping strategy, yet who can argue with the success of the brand or the campaign? Take a risk. Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina embarked on an integrated "scapegoat" campaign designed to position itself and the health insurance industry as part of "the solution." The grassroots effort features a mascot -- a real goat!-- that makes appearances at farmer's markets, business meetings and sporting events. Web advertising and PR and print ads round out the mix.

There are many ways to win in marketing or beat the competition. Market research, analytics and a tight strategy all have their places as "must haves" -- alongside creativity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sandra Stahl is a founding partner at jacobstahl, inc.
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