Over the last 10 years, we’ve heard a deafening drumbeat of how everything is becoming increasingly quantifiable, accountable, even automated. The job growth is in analytics. Big data tells all. Attribution is truth. The quants will rule.
As a former digital agency creative, to me this is all true and terrific for clients. Harnessing data is a great way to find and give consumers added value, while proving success to the folks upstairs. What we mustn’t lose sight of, however, is the critical role of creativity in digital solutions and for enterprises that want to dramatically evolve. Creativity boldly wakes customers up to what they didn’t realize is possible, helps them pay closer attention and involves them more deeply in the business. Creativity helps differentiate, especially in a world of parity and commodity. Creativity creates value.
Once the domain of just marketing and its people, creativity has moved beyond messaging, design and temporary customer engagement to across the entire enterprise. Creativity can now be found in research and development, in customer service, in the product, in the store build, and even in the ways the customer use the product post-purchase. In all these places beyond marketing, creativity’s impact is not only more enduring but more significant as a contributor to growth and a business’s transformation. Digital creativity isn’t just a special sauce to use selectively—but a mindset to exploit throughout.
There are big implications in this. It means talent growth for creativity has to be as important as it is for analytics. It means people outside marketing have to take more responsibility for creative thought and inventive approaches. Outside-in won’t work alone. The good news is that if you do this, the pay-off is rich.
THREE BIG ARENAS FOR DIGITAL CREATIVITY
This rich area for creative thinking includes advertising, direct marketing, micro-sites, social media, in-store activation, public relations, location, events and connectivity. Most of my career has been here, and the biggest and longest track record of performance and innovation in the market is also here. There’s no shortage of great examples. Think GE’s 6-Second Science, C&A’s use of Facebook Likes on their hangars, the annual Dove beauty stunt, Audi and McDonald’s on Snap chat, or even what we at Prophet recently did with Qdoba Mexico Grill to celebrate a new flat-price menu; as a brand act to symbolize the end of nickel and diming for extras like guac and queso, we literally gave back one million nickels and dimes to the public and filmed it. The limitation of digital marketing, of course, is that most are short-term. They can be creative, strategic, impact, memorable and win plenty of awards, but you sure need to do a lot of them to get any discernible growth.
Where to find examples: Cannes Lions Festival, The One Show, The Shorty Awards, Webby Awards, advertising trades.
DIGITAL PRODUCTS & SERVICES:
This second arena has more lasting upside, creating new customer value with digital tools and data, sometimes on their own and frequently by integrating digital into existing physical experiences. The last few years have started to build a track record of examples here, including watersheds such as OnStar and Nike+, and more recently, Nest, Starbucks Rewards app, Sephora SkinCare IQ, UPS MyChoice, Apple Pay, Acorns app, SXSW winner VocalID, and, in the B2B space, Climate Corp’s Climate Pro. Brands may offer these services to customers at free in exchange for valuable data or improved NPS scores and some can even charge a fee for incremental revenue.
Where to find examples: Fast Company, PSFK, Wired
DIGITAL ENTERPRISE INTEGRATION:
The holy grail to me is creative infusion of digital mindset, tools and platforms into the company itself, creating value for the customer and the enterprise. Often inspired from pain points or recognized white space, this approach includes new ways of working together across the organization, tapping data to spark innovation, shifting offline processes to digital, efficiency plays, integrated channel use of web platforms, customer participation in R&D and even co-creation way past purchase. This is the mindset with which we’ve been working with our client Electrolux, and some of the most famous examples in the market include Motif and Xiaomi, both of which creatively use digital in different ways as inherent parts of their business model.
Where to find examples: Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Creativity has traditionally been a temporary burst of impact delivered through marketing, but in the digital age, its contribution has even bigger potential when harnessed throughout the enterprise. As a former agency creative executive, this is both humbling and inspiring. For transforming business with digital, the creative canvas—and the people on whose shoulders it rests—has only gotten bigger