The rise of data-driven marketing might seem to suggest a corresponding decline in the value of the creative marketing leader.
However, the skills and capabilities that creative marketers possess can serve them well in new ways as they navigate today’s highly competitive and quickly evolving marketplace.
“Nonlinear thinking is very useful at this point,” said James McQuivey, Forrester vice president and principal analyst, in an interview with CMO.com. “Companies need to innovate in product development, in marketing, and in customer experience. That doesn’t come from the linear thinking of someone who came up in marketing operations.”
In fact, applied creativity—a unique way to interpret data, an innovative way to program a system, a different strategy for spending—can be a key differentiator. A recent report by the World Economic Forum found that creativity will be the third most important skill for workers in 2020, just below complex problem solving and critical thinking, and up significantly from its 10th place rank today.
“The explosion of digital—data, mobile, video—makes today’s marketing landscape increasingly competitive as brands fight for consumers’ attention,” said Ann Lewnes, executive vice president and CMO of Adobe (CMO.com’ s parent company). “To stand out, marketers must go back to the basics—lead with creative, compelling content to engage customers in a personalized and meaningful way. What’s old is new again, and creativity remains the heart of strong marketing.”
But with so many new options for creating marketing value—at decreasing cost and with increasing ease—it can be difficult to figure out what to pursue. That’s where data helps. But data married with creativity is the ideal. Kenni Driver, partner and CMO of Chief Outsiders and a veteran B2B marketer, calls it “informed creativity.” GoodData CMO Blaine Mathieu said he prefers “connected insights.”
“Data is only as good as the meaning we create from it,” he told CMO.com. “We humans orchestrate all available data in innovative ways to create desirable customer experiences and business outcomes. The digital business landscape presents a canvas of sorts for people to be truly creative.”
Of course, the thriving creative CMO of 2016 looks markedly different today than he or she did 20—or even two—years ago. CMO.com talked to marketing leaders across industries about the attributes the creative CMO must possess to succeed in the digital world. Read on for Part 1 of what they shared with us. (Part 2 comes next week.)
Today’s creative CMO has the ability to understand the customer—and stands to become the voice of the customer in the enterprise. “Empathy is in short supply in the corporate world,” McQuivey said. “But if you’ve been responsible for crafting the brand, you’ve developed a deep understanding of the customer and may be the only one who can bring that customer to life.”
The creative CMO marries customer knowledge with business requirements and technology capabilities to innovate. For Deirdre MacCormack, CMO of 3D printing company Mcor, who markets 3-D printing technology to a creative audience, it’s vital to “sit in my customer’s shoes.” Because she understood the aesthetic requirements of the company’s customers, for example, MacCormack participated in product design as well. “I proposed having a customized skin and worked closely with the engineering team to have it implemented,” she said.
As marketing becomes an ever-broadened discipline, no single CMO can possess all the skills required to run the organization. “The secret,” McQuivey said, “is to have an amazing team.”
Norm Yustin, a senior leader in the global retail, marketing, and digital transformation practices at Russell Reynolds Associates, has seen several analytically minded CMOs hire chief creative officers as their direct reports in recent years. “Conversely, it would behoove the more creatively driven CMOs to ensure they have a strong No. 2 who is data-driven,” Yustin said.
Otherwise, these CMOs may see their data gap being filled for them by new chief growth officers, chief revenue officers, and chief digital officers. “CMOs who surround themselves with people who can dig into this data and translate it so creative thinkers can make strategic decisions based on data points are going to rise to the top,” said Hank Summy, partner with LiquidHub.
Creative CMOs also will have to get imaginative in how they recruit, retain, and inspire their team of experts. “The skills that make someone a great PR leader capable of spinning up the next big story are entirely different from the visual designer who’s going to create a killer new website, which is different than the marketing ops ace who’s going to implement the latest campaign attribution technology,” said Scott Holden, CMO for ThoughtSpot. “CMOs need to tailor their management styles to lead and inspire a diverse group of marketers to be their best.”
Capturing consumers’ attention can be more difficult than ever before. “As a B2B marketer, I have to apply creativity to break through the noise. But it all hinges on data and the data insights to deliver the creative to the right people, in the right place, and at the right time,” said Avention CMO Victoria Godfrey, who previously ran her own research company and served as CMO of Zipcar.
At CA Technologies, data is critical to CMO Lauren Flaherty’s marketing decisions. “Using technology, we can be much more targeted and creative in how we connect this message to our target audiences,” she said.
The company’s “app culture” marketing campaign, which highlighted how software powers everything from love to shopping, was certainly a creative work. “[But] what you don’t see is the analytics and volumes of data that factored into determining which creative resonates with our target audiences, fueling our strategy for where and how we make our ad buys,” Flaherty told CMO.com.
A creative CMO has to be willing to learn from the data rather than try to control it. “I think some marketers look away from the things they don’t want to see or don’t understand or that might be challenging,” said MediaMath CMO Joanna O’Connell. “Your data could be telling you some surprising things.”
CMOs must be approach data creatively. “But, more importantly, they should be able to measure creative success through data,” Godfrey said. “Whenever I create marketing or advertising programs, developing objectives and measuring results [is always] an essential part.” For a new product, that might be sales or market share. For a brand campaign, it’s awareness.
Added Lionbridge CMO Clint Poole: “There is this myth that traditional creative marketers were these black-turtleneck-clad hipsters locked in a conference room ideating. But the marketing process has always been data-driven. The best traditional agencies were those that used all the insights at their disposal. All that has really changed is the volume of data at our disposal and the diversity among our buyers’ preferences.”
The most important skill a creative CMO needs today, said Markerly CEO Sarah Ware, “is the foresight that comes with predicting the long-term value when implementing campaigns that are not direct-response. Creative campaigns require patience as tracking conversions and social impact is not always immediate.”
Creative CMOs must also think differently about what metrics matter to the business. “We’re in a period when many of the traditional measures that marketers have used [such as ad views or impressions] are being questioned,” said Jim Rudden, CMO of Spredfast. “It takes creativity now to think, on one hand, why are they still valuable, or, given the new forms of interaction consumers have with us, what are our new systems of measure?”
Omaid Hiwaizi, president of global marketing at Blippar, studied mathematics in school—and then became an art director. “A mixture of instinct and analysis means you can come up with more interesting solutions quicker and be confident in their robustness,” he said. “The core creative step for a marketing executive is the development of a hypothesis around how to transform the marketing model.”
That means being able to look at the data, he added, yet rely on intuition to ask “What if?” The next step is to validate that question with a test. “While keeping the plates spinning for the marketing operation will still be core to the role, a relentless focus on spotting opportunities to innovate to create brand growth matters more and more,” Hiwaizi said.
CMOs are often asked to make decisions driven from performance metrics and data—“two traditionally noncreative sources,” said Will McInnes, CMO of social insights platform Brandwatch. “Creatively tackling [those] problems allows companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors. There is an agility and confidence in creativity. There is no question that can’t be answered because creative CMOs don’t recognize the same scope of solutions.”
During the 2013 Super Bowl power outage, for example, Oreo acted quickly and—more importantly—“supercreatively so their customers following on social media could see the brand positioning itself in a different, exciting way in a nontraditional venue,” said Mark Gally, CEO of behavioral marketing engine Zaius, in an interview with CMO.com. “Today’s creative CMO needs to be so on top of the possibilities in order to think big and get creative across all channels.”
At marketing platform vendor Springbot, internal marketing processes have been sped up considerably. “Agile [development] as a concept or process is not limited only to product teams, but can be utilized as a marketing planning approach,” said Springbot CMO Erika Jolly Brookes, in an interview with CMO.com.