Why commercial creativity has never been more important to marketing

Cannes celebrates the very best ideas from around the world. But the industry also needs to demonstrate that this creative work has a commercial impact, argues Gurdeep Puri, founding partner of The Effectiveness Partnership.

British Heart Foundation: creative and effective work
British Heart Foundation: creative and effective work

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don't know which half." Attributed to John Wanamaker (1838-1922).

That was a century ago. Back then, routes to market and communication were fewer and less complex, and evaluation and measurement were less sophisticated. Things are different now. In some ways.

What's different is the explosion in the ways of getting product messages out there. The plethora of data now available to assess impact and efficiency.  

But what hasn't changed is that, even today, many marketers still aren't able to say just where their marketing efforts are commercially effective, and where the money they spend is utterly wasted.

It all comes down to the money, as Wanamaker pointed out. The money, and its effective use to make more money. Our task as marketers is a commercial one, first and foremost.

Yet today, the marketing community actually seems to be finding it harder to prove the commercial value of its creativity than marketers a century ago. Instead, there’s a growing tendency to fall back on simple, self-defined measures of ‘proof’ that don't actually prove anything much at all.

We obsess over measures that show it’s costing us less to talk to our audiences in this channel or on this platform. We get excited when our campaigns are lauded and applauded for cutting-edge creativity. These things are great, of course. But if we don’t understand how they have work together to impact on the bottom line, it’s of little real benefit to us as marketers.  

I’d like to offer some thoughts about why things have come to this, and some suggestions for what might be done about it.

Too much data, too little understanding

We see 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day, apparently.  There’s more data produced every day, than all the data put together in all the years since the dawn of civilisation! Data's a good thing, in theory. Yet a recent IBM survey reveals that over 82% of CMO are actually struggling to cope with this explosion in data..   

So we need a way to navigate this maze of information to focus on what's important, on how it can help marketing with impact on the bottom line. And we need a way to assess whether it was successful, commercially.

Time – or the lack of it

It's not just about the frantic pace of modern life, or the always-on world of communications. It's also about the shrinking average tenure of marketing personnel. For a CMO today, the tenure's about two years. Which means that much marketing strategy is based on short-term thinking, focussed on short-term results. Sure – green shoots are really important, but what about the mid to longer term effects that we know great communications can create?   Research has shown that big ideas take time to pay-back. So we need a way to identify and measure the more slow-building, longer-lasting benefits long-term strategic thinking.

Fragmentation of agency functions

More new media. More new channels. More new agencies – and each with its own Planning function developing strategy, working in silos that rarely communicate with each other.  

So we need to find new ways of taking responsibility for the macro-level commercial problem and delivering joined-up brand thinking.

‘Blue thumb effectiveness’ 

Used effectively, social and mobile media can be powerful marketing tools. But too often we satisfy ourselves with what WPP's Jon Steel calls Blue Thumb Effectiveness – self-referential, self-congratulatory measures of 'Likes' and 'Shares' that have no link whatsoever to anything even remotely commercial. A million Likes is great. But a million pounds in incremental revenue is a whole lot better!

So marketing needs to take a step back. To learn seeing social media with a commercial eye and to learn to speak with a boardroom voice, because only then will it be given the respect it deserves at the top table.

All in all, marketing needs to frame its activity in more commercial terms.  And a good place to start is with a framework for effectiveness that joins up the dots and links the commercial, marketing and communications objectives. This ensures that creativity has a high level commercial imperative and can clearly demonstrate its value in the boardroom.

We recommend creating an effectiveness framework to guide the development of commercially-effective strategy from the very front-end of the marketing plan and throughout the strategic development process. It's about setting the right KPIs for your objectives that actually have some alignment with the strategy that you are developing. The right measurement framework to keep you on track and building up the right data resources to monitor and optimise long-term success are also key.

Developing marketing that has a clear focus on the commercial issue allows marketers to demonstrate brand effectiveness which can be leveraged with internal corporate stakeholders. Marketers are beginning to wise up to this; this year the relatively new Creative Effectiveness Lions have experienced a bumper crop of entries, with over 160 submissions from across the globe. Which is a 50% increase on 2014. Green shoots, perhaps..

Cannes is the ultimate celebration of communications creativity showcasing the very best and most innovative ideas from around the world.  But if we believe that communications exist for a purpose - i.e. to help sell, then it behoves us to demonstrate that the very best and most exciting creative work in the world has a commercial impact.  It would seem that we travel the world, often seeing really creative work that has no purpose.

In the last few years Cannes has been making impressive strides in giving effectiveness a strong standing at the festival with the Creative Effectiveness Lions. These submissions would have already been short-listed or won a Cannes Creative Lion and are further judged for commercial accountability. So for Cannes, it’s about great work that does actually work. If one reads past winners such as Heineken, Walkers Crisps or British Heart Foundation, you will find ample proof why a great, well thought marketing strategy can produce a very impressive creative contribution to the world of commerce.

As Wendy Clark of Coca Cola said recently: "When was it that the word ‘Effectiveness’ got disconnected from the word ‘creativity’?"

I would say that the most creative ideas are always the most successful commercially, but it’s up to us to find a way to demonstrate and prove it to the money men, for all of our sakes.

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