22 Jan 2018

Supercharge 2018 with creativity

Whilst technology has become increasingly important for any business to have traction in the marketplace, creativity is where the rubber meets the road.

Bastian Lindberg, Managing Director, Munich

As we begin the new year, many of us have started by reading trend predictions for 2018. As usual, emerging technologies and digital capabilities set the agenda for what’s to be the most relevant for marketers and brand leaders. As usual, we will have conversations with clients about how to adapt and embrace these new (mostly digital) possibilities.

Now, on one hand, if everyone is talking about it, it must bear some semblance of truth. However, as a creative business consultant, it frightens me how focused our attention tends to be on so-called digital transformation. It's an idea which is wrapped up in the promise of a better place, but technology itself won’t get you there. And whilst we will see a few brands thrive on the next wave of new technologies, most will be left behind.

The reason for this is that alongside digital transformation, there is another evolution which needs to take place. One that’s hard to describe, difficult to teach or to be trained for and, ultimately, tough to sustain. But, when done correctly, it’s a transformation that is more powerful in its effect on customers and is the real fuel of powerful brands. It’s not a new trend, yet it’s still underestimated and vastly underused. Many organisations have yet to discover that creativity is the real superpower in our modern world.

The leaders of today’s digitised world don’t thrive simply because of their technological competence. They gain prominence in their roles because their businesses maintain a deeply rooted sense of creative optimism which serves to envision a better future, a new kind of experience for customers or a different approach to productivity. They have the ability to see things that are invisible to everyone else, but suddenly become obvious once revealed. As Steve Jobs once said: ‘Most people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.’ Under Jobs' guidance, organisations like Apple have creativity hard-wired into their DNA.

This is not just the kind of creativity that we’d expect in visual identity design or advertising campaigns; it’s much more fundamental. Powerful, strategically grounded creativity which is applied to the heart of a business, not just its outward expression. This creative transformation manifests itself in cultures of organisations, reinvention of processes, rapid product and service developments and, of course, the use of technology and how it can solve problems and serve people’s needs.

A quick comparison on Amazon illustrates this dilemma. A search for books related to ‘technology’ yields 1,325,457 results, while books on ‘creativity’ generates 65,383 results. Amazon's stock list reflects a very subjective experience, too. In conversations with CEOs and CMOs, I often hear concern about the readiness for technology; I hear very little about the readiness for creativity.

Conversely, Fast Company's ranking of the Most Creative People in Business consists of individuals from organisations that most wouldn’t identify as being linked to a creative industry. “These men and women have worked on fascinating projects at organizations as diverse as Google, Microsoft, Sweetgreen, Slack, Under Armour, BuzzFeed, the U.S. Digital Service, and Sesame Workshop. As scientists, managers, programmers, comedians, designers, musicians, writers, and activists, they are each working to solve global and societal problems in creative ways.”

There is also data-backed evidence that creativity is one of the most important drivers of brand success. WPP’s BrandZ, a study of the world’s most valuable brands, reveals that those who score high in ‘creative’ in consumer perceptions have increased their brand value with an average of 197% over a period of 10 years. Brands who scored low only grew by 67% on average, resulting in a tremendous difference in financial equity. The data also shows that consumers are more prone to trust brands that have more distinct, vibrant and creative brand personalities. And whilst being perceived as ‘innovative’ is a fundamental element for a brand to be seen as different, ‘digital improvements’ ranks very low as a driver of perceived difference for consumers. The brands scoring highest on ‘innovative’ are not the usual digital suspects, but instead, brands like Disney and Pampers, whose perception is driven by characteristics like ‘creative’, ‘disruptive’ and a ‘leader’ in customers’ minds.

Whilst technology has become increasingly important for any business to have traction in the marketplace, creativity is where the rubber meets the road.

So when you're leafing through various trend forecasts and deciding where to focus for 2018, start by thinking about how you can apply creativity to the heart of your organisation and become more imaginative and optimistic to see opportunities where others don’t, and only then should you worry about how you can adapt to new technologies.