There’s a danger in remaining overly confined within your own industry’s thought bubble. Reading and listening to peers too much can cloud your view of your job, as well as the industry as a whole. It pulls you in a direction that ultimately does more harm than good.
For example, much is being written at the moment about how the majority of marketing produced isn’t fit for purpose because it’s so bad. I see articles like this all the time, and I’m as guilty as anyone in writing them.
I can only speak for myself, but stating my case that creativity is being exorcized from marketing is my genuine effort to stem the tide. It is meant to be a clarion call to marketers to rethink their over-reliance of data-driven marketing, to the detriment of creative marketing execution. To deliver better fit-for-purpose campaigns that resonate as much with the heart as with the head.
Many of us are calling for today’s marketing to be braver. For businesses and brands of all sizes to be bolder with their marketing messaging. To take more risks as a response to the bland and insipid status quo that dominates every commercial segment one can care to mention.
However, it seems like the more we talk about marketing’s lack of creative message execution, the more we’re contributing to accelerating its demise. We’re fulfilling our own prophecy.
So how can we better communicate the value of creativity in effective marketing, and explain why ‘being brave’ is actually nothing of the sort?
Houston, we have a (marketing) problem
On the face of it, we’ve never had it so good. Today’s marketer has a ton of tools to help them craft more relevant, more resonant messaging to a defined audience. Manufacturers of Martech software are falling over themselves to sell us ever more sexy ways of finding new buyers, or engaging with existing ones. Automate this, streamline that, and generate an amazing-looking report to waft under the nose of your boss.
But if all these marketing tools are supposed to improve the life of the marketer, why is the percentage rate of effective marketing falling? How come, even with all this whiz-bang tech, only 4% of advertising is positively remembered? How come the general public don’t trust marketers, coming in less trustworthy than politicians, private landlords, or real estate agents?
Not only are marketers revered as much as something smelly found on the bottom of your shoe. There’s a dearth in new young talent joining the industry from a formal education route.
You could say Marketing has a marketing problem.
Too many people think they’re a marketer because they know how to design something in Photoshop, or Canva. It’s not just that most people with “marketing’ in their job title haven’t had any marketing training. It’s that business owners are fueling the fire by continuing to hire them.
Where does that leave us? Marketers unwilling (or unable) to speak the language of finance. Accountants making creative decisions based on spreadsheets that simply cannot articulate the very thing they’re attempting to rationalize. Creativity is a language that few people speak, and those that do are usually beholden to those that do not.
The reason lies in a misunderstanding of what marketing actually is. Give them a MacBook Pro, a Creative Cloud license, and your social media password and Bob’s your uncle, right?
The risk isn’t being brave – it’s being the same
What’s needed is a different, more effective way of communicating our worth in the boardrooms of every size of organization. What we’re saying and meaning isn’t the issue. The problem is what’s being heard.
Which is why everyone’s talking about ‘being brave’ in your marketing. But the way this ‘bravery’ is being pitched is all wrong.
The inference in being ‘brave’ is that it’s ‘risky’. But in reality nothing could be further from the truth. You shouldn’t be worried about being brave with your marketing. What should worry you is what happens if you’re not.
The risk isn’t being brave, or different. The real risk is being seen as ‘the same’. What’s risky is having your brand look and sound like everyone else in your industry. It’s saying and doing the same thing as your competitors. Yet this is where 90% of businesses end up. It’s no wonder their marketing falls flat.
Everyone wants to be noticed, yet no-one wants to stand out.
Yes, you need to be brave. Yes, you need to look and say and do things that your competition won’t, or can’t. But that’s not being brave. That’s being a marketer.
Look, I get it. There’s a perception and understandable feeling of safety by majority. It’s a safe and cozy place to be. But that’s not how the game is played. Everything else being relative, put simply the more you stand out the more distinctive you are. The more distinctive and memorable you are, the more salience you’ll enjoy and the more successful you will be.
Doing the same thing as everyone else is where the danger lies, yet most of us tend to think the opposite.
There’s only one boss: the customer
Sounds great in theory, right? In practice, perhaps the biggest challenge when presenting something like this to Management – particularly in a homogeneous industry – is getting the inevitable pushback.
“Hmm, well actually I don’t much like it.”
Sorry, but you need to have a better reason than that. Purely subjective comments aren’t welcome here. As skilled, educated, experienced marketers we should have moved beyond accepting such nonsense.
Subjectivity is for things like art galleries or music concerts or movie theaters. Subjectivity is for artists – and art is not what we do.
As marketers, we are not practicing ‘purist creativity’ like Jackson Pollock, Miles Davis, or Jean-Luc Godard. What we do is ‘applied creativity’. Creativity with a tangible business outcome as the goal.
Imagine if you went to your CFO and said “Actually, I don’t particularly like your financial forecast.” Not only would they refuse to accept your position, they probably wouldn’t give a stuff what you thought. As far as they’re concerned all that matters is whether they’re right or not.
It’s the same in marketing. What’s right in marketing is what works. End of conversation.
Yet for some reason, everyone thinks they’re a marketer. Anyone, regardless of background, education, or experience, thinks their opinion on marketing matters is just as valid as those from someone who (hopefully) actually knows what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. I don’t question your Excel sheet, pal. Stay in your corner.
Sure, you can have an opinion. Whether you’re the boss or the customer, you have the prerogative to like a logo, a website, an ad or whatever. But our job as marketers is to be effective – to generate a positive return on investment. The strategy is clear: the only person who needs to like it is the customer.
The problem is the way we talk about creative work can direct the conversation towards a subjective discussion – which is what we really need to avoid. Opinions are like elbows – everyone has them.
Marketing effectiveness: beating the bean counters
As Bill Bernbach said more than 60 years ago, creativity is the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors. Not only has this quote stood the test of time. But it could be argued that, in today’s world of increasing regulation, it’s never been more prescient.
The problem is that creativity is a fickle concept that’s hard to measure – especially in the short term. As a result it’s a source of anxiety for businesses whose idea of long-term planning goes only as far as the next revenue quarter.
Inevitably, since the people controlling the purse strings have put an increasing focus on easily-measured creative outputs, we end up with all this short-termism. Just because you can easily measure something doesn’t mean it should be measured, or indeed that it counts for anything. Instead of effectiveness, we end up being focused on efficacy, which is why we end up with things like custom audience profiles and remarketing tags. It’s why digital metrics are empowered to actually drive campaigns, rather than simply report them.
The creative execution blows chunks, the wrong things get measured, the campaign fails, money is wasted – and we get the blame. Sound familiar?
Talking about ‘bravery’ hurts our cause. Instead, we should be talking about effectiveness. How we can show how to minimize risk by placing carefully calculated and pretty safe creative bets.
That’s not being brave. Real bravery is saving people from burning buildings, or fighting cancer, or whatever. Suggesting ‘braver’ marketing cheapens what we do. It’s belittling our expertise, reducing it to a reckless roll of the dice with the likelihood of success being nothing more than a fortuitous accident.
It’s no wonder few people in the boardroom trust us with anything more important than ordering tote bags or organizing events.
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