The marketing industry has overfunded technology and underfunded creativity

Creative Digital
keyboard with create key

The marketing industry has invested heavily in tech, data and ‘performance marketing’ over the last couple of decades. But does all this focus on definable return-on-investment prevent the creative leaps that can truly set a brand apart? For The Drum’s Creativity in Focus Deep Dive, Nix Boulton and Dan Srokosz of AgencyUK investigate.

With over a decade of experience in the creative and marketing industry, both of us entered the industry at an interesting time: the age of digital technology. We’ve witnessed the launch and explosion of social media, the rapid adoption of mobile technology (including the introduction of ‘apps’), and the massive shift away from highly creative traditional advertising into functional digital campaigns heavily led by KPIs.

Have marketers under-invested in creativity?

Investment in technology has sky-rocketed, but has investment in creativity been forgotten?

Lost in data?

Never before have we had so many tools to make our creative work more engaging and effective. Through social listening and keyword analysis, we can find out what people are saying and thinking. Through a plethora of comms channels, we can serve our work to them wherever they are. Sometimes, though, the sheer abundance of data and digital functionality at our fingertips can overpower what should be the sole focus of a creative campaign: the idea.

Creatives have been pursuing ideas for centuries. The discovery of a simple one can be the difference between a good piece of creative and an amazing one. Ideas supercharge a message and enable it to land with more impact.

Good ideas take time – time that businesses are becoming less and less inclined to pay for. Instead, half-baked ideas are rolled up in the latest trends, visual treatments, animations and applications facilitated by the latest technology, which has often resulted in a sea of sameness (look at personal banking, stock markets apps, online estate agencies and holiday booking apps).

Creativity is not binary

Technology is binary. Creativity, thought, and ideas are simply not.

Creativity caters to complex human behaviour and empathy, something that cannot be adopted by technology. Marketers often get lost in the binary nature of data and fail to understand the true potential to inform performance.

Data only tells us what people are doing. It doesn’t tell us why. Using audience averages may provide a generic insight, but it’s the anomalies (people who sit outside of those averages) that may be the key to expanding your reach with new audiences. They’re more valuable to your brand than the person who already buys from you.

Beyond performance

We need to revisit our expectations of performance. Yes, we have tried-and-tested ways to deliver results, but we’re seeing a lack of risk-taking from brands that used to fuel brand growth. It’s the classic tale of ‘why try something new when you know something works?’ This leads to a contemplative and stagnant approach.

Rethinking how we approach creative to be for performance is not about being less creative or restricting big ideas; it’s about bringing data to the forefront and using that to inform our decisions and learnings.

Re-prioritising the way we approach creativity, with data-led insights upfront, informing those crucial ideas, helps us to reach the audience effectively and resonate emotionally with their needs. By no means should data mean ‘do the same as everyone else’; it should give you the ground to understand what resonates, how to differentiate yourself in your market and when to take a risk. An idea is a lateral leap and evidence doesn’t always support taking a bolder creative approach. Too many creative ideas have been left on paper because they couldn’t be substantiated by data.

Back to brand

We’ve forgotten the importance of brand building and instead focused our performance metrics on short-term goals. Take Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign. Historically, Nike’s product offering was largely targeted at serious runners. As a fitness wave emerged, Nike’s marketing team reacted to the growing market. ‘Just Do It’ is a slogan we can all relate to: the drive to push beyond our limits. The line encapsulates everything people wanted to feel when exercising, widening their market to almost every one of us.

Something technology alone cannot solve for the power of emotional drivers. We need to connect with consumers on an emotional level, not just in short, unmemorable interactions. If Nike had chosen to play it safe, stay in its market, and continue to invest in tried-and-tested performance-driven marketing, it wouldn’t have become the brand it is today.

Creativity and technology have one thing in common: problem solving. We believe they can answer a lot when used together – but in a world of technology, brands need creativity to differentiate.