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Digital transformation is leaving no corporate stone unturned, impacting everything about the ways businesses operate—from their business models and strategies to their internal processes and team management.
It’s also driving an evolution in the C-suite, including the role of the chief creative officer. Rather than assessing CCOs solely by an advertisement campaign or a TV commercial that they’ve spearheaded, we now assess them more broadly—by experiences.
“Classic design, which rose out of the industrial era, brought the idea that there is a single, perfect way of designing something,” said Steve Gustavson, executive creative director at Adobe. “Once digital took over, the landscape now changes so fast that classic approaches simply don’t scale. Channels are exploding faster than we can keep up, and the request for content to personalize every communication means that we’ve had to rethink everything.”
Data And Tech Know-How
Given how much more data is available to provide insights, the CCO’s role, indeed, has become meatier, according to Robert Tas, digital expert and associate partner at McKinsey.
“Today’s successful CCO is also likely to have analytics chops—for example, to be able to bring math to determine how to prioritize customer experience, channel interactions, and product innovation,” he told CMO.com. “This role is fundamental as companies move forward into this age in which consumers have such high expectations.”
Tas described a recent CCO client who was attached to a specific creative implementation where some leading indicators were very good, but sales were lacking.
“By digging deeper into analytics, the CCO discovered two things: First, the right customer segment was responding well to the program, but, second, the buy-flow journey was not orchestrated well,” he added. “In the past, the CCO would have said, ‘I’ve done my job with the upper-funnel metrics,’ but now CCOs can see end-to-end how their programs work at a client level.”
Like their C-suite brethren, CCOs also must contend with understanding ever-evolving technologies. For example, familiarization with customer data platforms, digital asset management platforms, and personalization engines is crucial. So is understanding how voice assistants and voice-enabled AI are coming into play.
“You need to adapt quickly,” said Margaret Johnson, partner and CCO at Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P). “Consumers love brands that tie themselves to the latest technology.”
Johnson praised Nike’s recent “Breaking2” campaign about three runners’ attempt to break the two-hour marathon barrier. “By Nike’s harnessing Facebook Live, YouTube, and Twitter, 13.1 million people watched the race,” she told CMO.com. “That’s more than the number who watched the New York City, Chicago, and Boston marathons.”
Close, cross-departmental collaboration—along with the recognition that it must go hand-in-hand with business acumen and keeping the user experience top-of-mind—is another must for today’s CCOs. It’s one they must stress to their teams, too.
“I have to make sure that I have the right processes, that everyone on my teams and at our agencies are on the same page around our approach, and that we’re thinking about content the same way,” Adobe’s Gustavson told CMO.com.
Added Juan-Carlos Morales, PwC’s global CCO: “For creative teams to have any ability to speak about specific industries or sectors, you need someone from that sector group to pair up with a design professional and ensure mutual understanding. ... Today you have opportunities for design and creativity to be applied more broadly, in new and sometimes unexpected ways—like when applying design thinking in the supply chain.”
An increased call for collaboration has even changed where CCOs situate their teams within a company.
“Now we assemble our teams differently from the outset,” Morales told CMO.com. “We have fewer offices and more team rooms to discuss ideas and solutions on common ground and bring in different perspectives. From this shift, we’ve seen ourselves develop plans much more quickly, and those plans are more validated when they reach the client.”
Digital transformation, as we know, is not just about technology. It also involves the very human element of corporate culture.
“It’s easy for groups to say, ‘We need to implement new technology and make it as easy to use as possible,’ and end the work at the implementation,” Morales said. “But you must look beyond that to undergo a true transformation.”
One example is how he and his team helped transform the way a toy manufacturer handled B2B commerce with small businesses.
“We were brought on to help redesign a 10-year-old portal that had achieved limited success. But more than just making the technology work, we sought to help the company become more agile,” Morales explained. “Many of the things we discussed didn’t even relate to the engagement—such as the types of talent to look for when creating a unique experience and ways to infuse that talent into their organization.”
Digital technologies, of course, do bring tremendous benefit to companies that adopt them. CCOs can be instrumental in driving home to their teams a test-and-learn approach.
“What I love about technology is that there is a degree of failure involved through experimentation,” GS&P’s Johnson said. “I like to encourage a ‘fail-forward’ culture at GS&P so that people feel comfortable trying things that haven’t been done before.”
That was exactly the approach she followed when GS&P built technology in-house for the VR experience “Dreams of Dalí” at the Dali Museum, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“This was a first for us, and we were playing with a relatively young technology. Not only was it extremely technical, but we had to make sure that we didn’t make people sick in the museum,” Johnson said. “It combines the artistic craft we’re known for with a platform that isn’t really known for that.”
Gustavson said he also appreciates that data provides an opportunity to test almost anything.
“Often, ‘let’s test it’ is used as a tie-breaker between marketers and creatives who can’t agree on something,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to throw our assumptions out the window and see what our audiences really want.”
Beyond that, he noted that digital transformation provides the ability to scale—to create and deliver content to millions across multiple media. Further, it provides freedom through automation—speeding up processes and eliminating mundane tasks to focus brain power on being creative or strategic.
The More Things Change…
Still, with all this transformation in the world of CCOs, certain aspects of their work remain constant.
“The value of good, smart ideas hasn’t changed,” said Yuliya Gorlovetsky, associate creative director at Mozilla. “My team still sketches by hand, for example. It seems very antithetical to the digital age, but I think it helps them slow down and formulate their ideas. Also, a sketch is easier to critique than a polished digitized idea. Taking this very traditional step first enables them to move quickly later, once everyone is on board.”
Good creative hasn’t changed, either.
“Taking the time to understand what your brand needs to communicate, what your audience wants to hear, and how you can communicate with them creatively is still just as important,” Gustavson said. “At its core, good creative is about emotional response. Digital has given us more ways to deliver those messages and find our audiences—but it’s a tool at our disposal, not our master.”