The relationship between creativity and commerciality is a fraught one. They coexist but don't get on, not truly. In public, a gossamer-thin veneer of mutual admiration and understanding is applied. But when creativity and commerciality retreat to their individual habitats, they speak languages and pursue agendas that are, in the main, alien to one another.
This is a truth occasionally spoken but rarely fully explored, as, over the decades, creativity and commerciality have reached an entente in which the buyers and sellers of the creative industry acknowledge that, through their differences, they acquire the same goal. The creative output of agencies generates business success; albeit that one side was pursuing creative excellence and a golden Lion, while the other was focused on top-line growth. It is an interdependence, an explicit duality.
But that balance is in jeopardy.
Commerciality, as personified by the chief marketing officer, is being pulled in a different direction by unfamiliar forces. Agencies, the manifest form of creativity, need to recognise this new disorder in order to help commerciality and, therefore, help themselves.
Jeremy Bullmore once said: "People build brands as birds build nests, from scraps and straws we chance upon." Though this gem of a quote was widely seized upon and repurposed for presentations and articles such as the one you're reading, it was even more brilliantly debunked some years later, by none other than Bullmore himself.
Birds know precisely what materials they need to construct a nest, and set out on a journey to acquire them. It has little to do with chance and nothing to do with the way in which people build brands. People construct their perceptions of brands from the clues that are laid out in front of them by brand owners - advertising certainly, but also price, packaging and promotion. However carefully those clues are laid out, it is rare that any consumer would follow a linear path from one to the other. The brand owner can only hope that, by making these clues complementary and using some insight into where the consumer is likely to encounter them, they may acquire a picture of the brand that was intended.
A CMO would once have understood that the scraps and straws to which the original quote referred were, in fact, their own brand clues that people experienced in a non-sequential way. All the same, they were scraps and straws that could be influenced by the application of levers that the marketer, with their aerial view of the customer, controlled within their organisation. Fast forward five or ten years and both the holistic picture and levers of influence have changed beyond recognition.
In The Evolved CMO, a survey of global CMOs by Heidrick & Struggles and Forrester Research published in January 2012, two of the key findings are that CMOs want more involvement in business strategy and that they want to improve their understanding of the impact technology is having on their businesses. The two are closely aligned, more so than most marketers realise.
Almost 80 per cent of respondents said they want to increase their influence as business strategy and development leaders, while 42 per cent said representing the voice of the customer is a critical factor, one that their professional performance is judged on.
Forrester's vice-president and principal analyst, Luca Paderni, had it right when he observed: "CMOs and their peers understand that the real challenge is not just to be the leader of the marketing function, but that they have to become the experts of the customers. They must understand what customers represent for the whole organisation in order to help shape the strategy for the overall business."
The difficulty is that the customers have moved, wholesale, and the scraps and straws of brand that they might once have experienced have multiplied and spread way beyond what would traditionally have been understood as the domain of marketing.
A customer needs to check their bank balance, so they go online. Their mobile buzzes with a text alert telling them that their credit-card statement is ready. They want to see the Olympics live so search for tickets and Google returns thousands of pages of responses. Their phone lights up again with a Twitter update of local news and warning of a train delay on their usual commute. They settle down to watch The X Factor and see an ad for a mobile phone company.
Which of these was a scrap or straw of brand experience? Which would the customer experience most frequently? Over which of these does a brand's CMO have oversight?
Returning to our disoriented CMO, we now begin to get a sense of the true scale of their bewilderment. Once, an able chief marketer would have been supremely capable of applying their analytical yet creative mind to any business challenge within the domains of brand strategy and advertising communications, to take that challenge to their key agency partners and together contrive a solution founded in paid media and rented eyeballs.
As all things become digitally centred, the likelihood of people experiencing a brand solely, if at all, within paid media is ever-decreasing. Paradoxically, the ability of the CMO to have an understanding both of the customer and their experiences and interactions with the brand has never been more important to organisations, which, at the same time, largely fail to put in place a structure that allows for holistic management of the full customer experience.
The modern CMO needs to understand the mechanics of marketing and its major driving forces through a rapidly changing media landscape; they also need to understand commerce and transaction in a multichannel environment, the technology platforms that underpin commerce and how to maintain a conversation with the customer throughout.
There is an argument for the role of the CMO to be reframed as the CXO (chief experience officer) in far more organisations than is presently the case. If times of austerity are not right for job title experimentation, then at the very least there is a pressing case for formalising a partnership between the chief marketing and chief technology officers within an organisation.
Truly forward-looking companies are starting to get this right and reap the rewards of an overarching vision of customers and the digital space. At Burberry, its chief executive, Angela Ahrendts, has been quoted as saying: "You have to be totally connected to anyone who touches your brand. If you don't do that, I don't know what your business model is in five years." The brand invests 60 per cent of its marketing spend in digital - more than three times the average of competitor luxury brands. Burberry's share price more than doubled between 2010 and 2011.
Nike is another business that understands that a customer experiences a brand whether they're online, on a mobile, in a social space or watching an ad on TV. Nike+ is an example of how they see the brand not in terms of pure product but as part of a wider experience that criss-crosses between people's physical and digital lives.
At Ladbrokes, the areas traditionally covered by brand and marketing executives fall within the remit of the customer experience director. Marks & Spencer's focus on customer experience within multichannel retail manifests itself at meetings with agency partners where the chief executive, marketing and digital directors are all present. These businesses offer lessons to both companies that still take a silo approach to marketing, commerce and technology, and to the agencies that seek to partner them.
The lesson is that the era of prejudice against, or ignorance towards, ideas from other places is over - both within client organisations and the agencies that serve them. The tensions that exist between creativity and commerciality may still raise their head, but they will rise in entirely unexpected places as the areas of communications, commerce and customer experience shift and merge.
Malcolm Poynton is the chief creative officer, Europe, at SapientNitro
A BREED APART
Stephen Vowles, customer experience director, Ladbrokes
At Ladbrokes, Stephen Vowles heads up the customer experience division with responsibility for all customer strategies across all channels.
He works alongside two other operational groups - channel and products - in an organisational structure that aims to get a single view of the Ladbrokes customer and how he/she interacts with the brand through each channel: retail, telephone, mobile and online. Ladbrokes has started to position the brand based upon customer insights from its Odds On! loyalty programme.
Vowles explains: "This unique insight into how, where and when our customers engage with us will enable the development of a new, differentiated customer experience.
"The position of customer experience director within a customer-focused, non-siloed organisation allows me to take a holistic view of the customer experience and our communications."
Cecilia Weckstrom, senior director, lego.com and consumer experience, The Lego Group
Cecilia Weckstrom, who came from a background in product and experience design within Lego, has responsibility for the channel strategy of lego.com and its integration across other channels. She drives the company's experience strategy, including the design of people's experiences of the brand at consumer touchpoints.
Weckstrom says: "As driver of the strategic agenda, I define and drive how the company uses consumer experience to increase consumer affinity, loyalty and lifetime value within and across consumer touchpoints."
The brand uses the Net Promotor Score - an index that identifies the proportion of consumers that are extremely likely to recommend it - in order to inform its approach to improve consumer experience.
Graham Webster, director of customer experience, Telefonica Europe
Graham Webster's role is to lead customer experience activities across Telefonica Europe's operational businesses. He is responsible for increasing the focus on customer experience at the company and ensuring that it is part of Telefonica's DNA.
Webster comments: "In these digital times of increasing social media utilisation, the experience of our customers is our brand reality. Telefonica Europe is re-energising its drive to improve its customer experience to improve the services that we deliver to our customers and connect with them in an emotionally engaging way.
"Customer experience as a key differentiator is the central plank of the Telefonica Europe strategy, where we already lead the competition in a number of our markets and are transferring learning and best practices to leverage these strengths to other markets."