Think creativity is important? Time to put your money where your mouth is

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Firehaus suggest ways for businesses to invest more in creativity.

Let me guess - you think creativity at work is important, right?

Great, you should do. McKinsey found that companies in the top quarter of their creativity score ranking performed better on three key measures - organic revenue growth, return to shareholders and EBITDA, in their 2017 'Creativity’s bottom-line - How winning companies turn creativity into business value and growth' report.

And of course, you’re not alone in your thoughts. According to a recent global CMO survey conducted by Dentsu Aegis in 2019, 85% of CMOs identify creativity and big ideas that build the brand and create emotional connections as not only critical to success but the single most important capability for future business success.

I’ll summarise this for effect - creativity is widely believed to be the most important factor for commercial success and there is plenty of proof that this is correct. But, unfortunately, there’s a bit of a problem - though it’s not a lack of understanding.

According to the same survey, only 54% of CMOs believe they’re actually delivering this required creativity. That’s down 12% from a similar survey in 2014, led by Forrester, so we’re actually getting worse at being creative at work, not better.

That’s weird. If the ability to think and act creatively is the globally recognised number-one success factor, why is it getting worse? What have these CMOs been doing instead? Why haven’t they directed significant resources towards it as it dwindles away?

Well, it turns out they’ve had other things to spend their money on. Between 2017 and 2019, analysis by Forrester shows that spending on Data and Analytics, Advertising Technology and Marketing Automation have grown by 33%, twice as fast as overall budgets (inc. inflation) and 5x the rate of spending on creativity. Ouch. No wonder we’re going backwards.

Don’t get me wrong, I know data and tech are important; short-term targets, increased pressure to prove returns and increasing consumer expectations all mean it’s hard not to see why marketers are hooked on data and tech. I spent the first 10 years of my career working and winning awards in data-led agencies, so I’ve seen first-hand what they can do.

But you’ve got to admit there are a few double-standards here. The very same people who are citing creativity and ideas as the number one factor in brand success are the very same people prioritising their budgets on off-the-shelf solutions at the cost of creativity. It doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps it’s hard to slow down once you’re on the data and tech bandwagon. You’re caught in an arms race with your fellow platform users, feeling like any let-up in spend or adopting new paid-for features will give your competitors a serious advantage. And it’s not like we can go back to the ‘good old days’ when a media plan was understandable by someone other than an algorithm, we have to work within the world we find ourselves.

But, if creativity really is the most important thing, we have to break the cycle and get more of it back into marketing and into our brands.

In order to do that, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The bad news is you’re going to have to spend some money. The good news is that it's not only money you’ve already got, but also that you should get a better return for your marketing investment if you divert it.

It’s not only about hiring some hotshot agency. When Forrester analysed what differentiates creative companies they identified the most important things as in their 2014 report; setting better objectives, collaborating with customers, funding new ideas and demonstrating a belief in creativity from leadership. Not new tools and agencies, but new knowledge and processes for their existing staff and colleagues.

Great leaders recognise their greatest asset is their people, true in marketing as it is everywhere. And everyone, yes everyone, can be creative. But sometimes they need some help in doing so. To bring creativity back, CMOs and agency leaders need to divert their resources into getting their people, and the culture and processes they work in, to be the most creative possible. Not buying more tools for them to get stuck into.

Ok, that’s all well and good, but where do you get the money from? Here’s the great bit. A recent extrapolation from Forrester's 2019 report showed that by just taking a proportion of each year’s incremental spend on adtech and reinvesting it in creativity, you get an 18% higher total ROI for the same budget. Time to get rejigging your budgets.

At Firehaus, we’ve developed our Creativity Exchange training programme to help with just this, enabling any marketing department or agency to get the most out of their people by helping them think more creatively and strategically in whatever role they find themselves. And if you think you’ve got a problem but don’t know where to start then get in touch to find out about our new Creativity Diagnostic, where we’ll help you compare yourself to your peers to understand where the greatest improvements can be made.

Nick Barthram, Strategy partner at Firehaus.

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