The Creative Imperative

Alex Withers, Chief Marketing Officer, inMotionNow

As CMOs we don’t understand the world in which our creatives work, but we should. Creative is the fuel that powers our campaigns.

Yet we’ve been seduced by the proliferation of marketing technology (martech) for ad targeting and CRM. The segmentation, optimization and analytical capabilities of modern systems allow us to run innumerable tests, all aimed at identifying that perfect formula.

The caveat is that much of this technology is exclusively outward-facing. As such, these investments may be wasted if better internal collaboration with creative plays a subordinate role to martech. This prioritization means that CMOs are looking for first-rate go-to-market results with second-rate creative.

The Creative Team as a CMO Blindspot

CMOs do not see this because they are generally insulated from the creative process, delegating day-to-day operations to their creative director. Most, therefore, engage in the creative process at just two points: the creative brief and the final product. In effect, the creative department has become a detached machine that just cranks out content whenever marketing needs it.

Creative teams are being asked to produce more and more, yet CMOs lack visibility and actionable intelligence around the growing strain on the teams. The creative workflow process is headed for a breaking point.

The LEGO Dynamic

The LEGO Movie, which debuted in 2014, gave us a clever look into the world of creativity. Further, it ought to inspire self-reflection in marketing organizations about how they work with their creative teams.

The narrative portrays two types of LEGO players: those that strictly follow the instructions for each toy and those that do not. In other words, some people build what’s on the box and wouldn’t dare to blend blocks from different LEGO worlds while others, fueled by imagination, mix and match scenes in the pursuit of original creations.

In the film, these two personas are represented by creative kids and their rule-following parents. This left brain-versus-right brain dynamic also exists between marketing clients and their creative teams. Modern, data-driven marketers tend to be more scientific and process-driven while creatives need to operate in a more artistic world of imagination and creativity.

The LEGO Movie shows that its possible for both of the approaches to coexist peacefully. In the modern marketing team, it’s imperative that both of these styles and approaches coexist.

Marketers Need to Rekindle Their Creative Connection

To help foster a stronger marketing and creative partnership, marketers need to revisit the creative spark that first attracted them to the discipline.

A recent article published by the World Economic Forum (and written by two co-authors from the LEGO Foundation) says that 98 percent of children in kindergarten are creative geniuses. However, by the time they reach age 25, that number falls to just 3 percent.

As marketers, we likely have a stronger creative connection than most at the 25-year-old milestone. Many of us get into the profession because we are passionate about brands and customer experience, and we care greatly about creativity in marketing.

However, somewhere along the way, we end up focusing almost exclusively on spreadsheets, marketing automation and our partnership with sales. But if we commoditize creative, then our brand blends with the crowd, and that’s liable to cost marketing more…not less.

As marketers, we need to rekindle our creative connection. Here are three proven ways to rekindle the connection with creative:

1. Make time to understand the creative world.

CMOs can easily begin getting a handle on the creative process by meeting with the creative team to understand their ideas and concerns. For example:

  • Rotate taking individuals to coffee or the team to lunch
  • Shadow the creative team for a few afternoons over the course of the year
  • Conduct skip level meetings to foster understanding and demonstrate involvement
  • Assess whether or not the creative team members have a clear purpose every day
  • Ensure they understand how their work contributes to broader organizational success

2. Improve marketing’s role in the creative process.

Creative brilliance can’t drive awareness or leads if a creative brief isn’t clear or if a project is stalled in review. To that end, marketing can have an influence on the creative process by being a more involved and efficient partner with the creative team.

Marketing leaders can make a big difference by finding ways to improve the marketing inputs to the creative process. For example:

  • Understand how creative requests are received and prioritized
  • Ensure that creative briefs from marketing are clear and thorough
  • Define a clear and efficient review and approval process
  • Require feedback for revisions to be timely and understandable

The key here is to sit down with the creative team to document existing collaboration processes, identify areas for improvement, and involve the creatives in prescribing the resolution.

3. Create space for creatives to be creative.

Creatives need mental and emotional space to be creative. Creativity isn’t something we can purchase on demand, so it's important to provide creatives with the headspace to do what they do best. Creating that space comes down to culture and operations.

Culture means fostering an environment of mutual respect, where the creative process isn’t rushed because we as marketers steal more than our share of the project timeline. Additionally, make a point to give public credit to the creative team where credit is due.

Operations means having someone in a traffic or project management role keeping creative projects moving along. If your creative team is chasing marketers for feedback and review, or if marketers are chasing individual creative team members for status updates, the distraction can significantly impact creative output in terms of both volume and quality.

It’s imperative that CMOs exercise their influence to free up their creative team’s time.

Marketing has never faced more pressure to show real, data-driven results. Certainly, data can and should have a significant role in decision making, but marketing is both an art and a science, and good creative is the fuel that drives better numbers.  

CMOs would do well to rekindle their relationship with creative, and they may even rekindle their own creative gene along the way.

  • Marketing

Alex Withers is the Chief Marketing Officer of inMotionNow, a leading provider of workflow management solutions for marketing and creative teams. Withers is a seasoned digital technology and marketing executive with more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience with brands including Pepsi, ESPN, USGA, the Financial Times and LexisNexis.

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