A scientist asks, “Why does it work?” An engineer asks, “How does it work?” An English major asks, “Would you like fries with that?”
I heard this joke—and many others like it—during my years as an English major. After graduation, I went to work for a women’s business magazine. This was in 2005, right around the time print media began its decline and just a few years before the Great Recession. Both the English and journalism departments from my alma mater regularly invited me to speak to students about careers in writing. I was meant to be a source of inspiration—a recent college grad with a real job and bylines in a national publication. But it became increasingly difficult for me to be inspirational. Careers in writing seemed to be drying up, and most of my colleagues were pretty worried about what the future held for us. No one was practicing the art of burger flipping just yet, but it wasn’t a comfortable time to be a “creative type.”
Fast forward 10 years, and creativity has become a hotter commodity than ever—and not just in jobs or industries that have historically been considered “creative.” In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, where long-standing companies are being outpaced by brands that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago, imagination and innovation are now business imperatives for all professions.
Until recent years, just as many jokes were made about marketers as English majors. Marketers were considered “creative types” who walked around with their heads in the clouds, not accountable for any real performance metrics and unable to prove whether their work actually contributed to the bottom line. But no one’s laughing now.
For one thing, corporate creativity is no longer just the marketing department’s turf: It’s considered a valuable skill set across departments. Companies that foster creativity are 3.5 times more likely to achieve revenue growth of 10 percent or more than their peers, according to research from Forrester and Adobe. Creative companies also report higher market shares, win more “best places to work” awards, and garner three times more positive national attention.
Creativity isn’t the only thing business leaders are seeing in a more favorable light: They also have a newfound respect for marketing. CEOs now rely on chief marketing officers (CMOs) for strategic input more than anyone else on the executive team, outside of the chief financial officer, according to IBM’s Global C-Suite Study. And Gartner estimates that by 2017, marketing departments will have higher technology budgets than IT leaders.
It’s not hard to understand why. Thanks to social media and marketing automation, brands are under pressure to generate tons of content that is not only engaging and informative, but also personalized for unique users. In this environment, marketing has become a much more important job than it once was, and to some degree a tougher one. It now requires both the creativity to engage the hearts and minds of large, diverse customer bases, and the analytics to do so at scale.
While other professions are cultivating creativity, modern marketers are brushing up on math. Effective branding in a data-driven world requires more than creative marketing ideas; it also requires information about who customers are, what they want, and when they want it. Organizations that lead the way in data-driven marketing outperform less tech-savvy competitors in both customer engagement and loyalty (74 percent compared to 24 percent) and increased revenues (55 percent compared to 20 percent).
This is not to say marketing should be all about the numbers. Forrester’s study found that “creative brands get products to market faster, enjoy a price premium from buyers, have more people who speak on their behalf, and disrupt their traditional markets with new ideas and approaches.”
Phil Fernandez, president and CEO of marketing automation powerhouse Marketo, agrees. As he puts it, “There is no question that sophisticated marketing automation (MA) and analytical solutions . . . are imperative for successful marketing. However, it is incorrect to suggest that the adoption of technology solutions has made creative less important. In fact, I’d argue that the creative side of marketing is more important than ever!”
“The most common reason why MA initiatives fail is a company’s inability to create enough content to build a trusted relationship with prospective buyers,” Fernandez added.
Bottom line: Marketing data without creativity is useless. It doesn’t matter how much you know about your customers, unless you can use that data to generate engaging brand stories and content that’s relevant to your audience. Likewise, without analytics giving you insights into your unique customers and helping you identify which channels and strategies work best for your audience, you’re taking shots in the dark.
Leaders might understand that the right blend of creativity and analytics leads to better customer engagement, more innovative operations, and higher market shares. But few organizations have actually created cultures that inspire, reward, and capitalize on creativity.
Sixty-one percent of respondents in Forrester’s study did not see their companies as creative, and 10 percent felt their practices were the opposite of what creative companies should be doing.
So what does it take to create a culture that fosters creativity alongside logic, or to create a brand where creative storytellers and data-driven marketers can achieve common ground? Forrester studied the business practices of highly creative companies and identified five traits decision makers at creative companies have in common. They:
Leaders at these companies incorporate creative tasks, tools, and techniques into work assignments and business practices. They encourage people to look beyond obvious solutions by asking “what else?” or “what next?” And they publicly recognize great ideas so others feel inspired to think outside the box, too.
Executives include measurable goals related to creativity in the company’s business strategy, such as the number of new ideas generated and how well teams prioritize those ideas and bring them to market.
When leaders aren’t willing to risk failure—and let their teams do the same—they never evolve their business practices, grow their companies, or stumble onto remarkable and innovative ideas.
Successful business and marketing leaders learn everything they can about their customers and what’s important to them. They can then use this knowledge to craft strategies and content that makes customers think about or see things differently.
Creative companies use technology to better engage and serve customers and meet business goals. They invest in tools that help employees collaborate, share ideas, and generate creative ideas.
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