This article is part of CMO.com’s October series about creativity and design-led thinking. Click here for more.
Remember how marketing departments used to operate in silos, meaning digital marketing teams versus traditional marketing teams? A similar “false construct” now exists between digital and non-digital creatives, according to Leo Burnett North America CEO Andrew Swinand.
Clearly this narrow way of thinking won’t work in a world where “all media today is digital,” Swinand added. As a result, creatives need to think more holistically about how they design solutions to solve business problems. “The future of creativity lies in the ability to be a cross-trained athlete and understand the intersection of intelligence, technology, and creativity,” he said. Otherwise, he added, creatives risk obsoletion.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Swinand discusses the future of creativity, data-driven creative, and design thinking.
CMO.com: Tell us about your creative career.
Swinand: I went into advertising because my mom was an artist and my dad had worked in business, so I felt like advertising was a mix of the two. I was fortunate enough to start my career at BBDO and had the opportunity to work with Steve Hayden, David Lubars, and other icons in the creative industry, and really learn from them.
I also got to work at Procter & Gamble, where I learned principles of brand management and the craft of building brands. I’m appreciative about the diversity of experience I got working at BBDO in terms of great creativity, and brand management at Procter & Gamble. To round it out, being president of Starcom Mediavest Group allowed me to gain skills in media, data, and technology.
I really feel like the future of creativity lies in the ability to be a cross-trained athlete and understand the intersection of intelligence, technology, and creativity.
CMO.com: Over the course of your career, how has the creative department changed or maybe even evolved?
Swinand: Holding companies and agencies created this false digital creative and non-digital creative construct. Every medium, in my opinion, is now digital, and clients want integrated creative solutions to business problems. For me, the evolution is how do we get back to actually providing creative solutions that solve the business problem?
Doing that doesn’t mean looking at things by mediums—offline/online, digital/not digital, TV, radio, or web. It’s how do we have creative thinkers who can think in an omnichannel way and major in human understanding and creative solutions versus majoring in a media or channel?
CMO.com: Can we talk a little bit about data-driven creative? I know it’s important, but do you find that it’s a reality in most organizations today?
Swinand: It’s an evolving practice. I think a lot of people have fear about it and confusion around it. For me, the big idea is data as an input. A lot of people see data and creativity in conflict, but what data does is it basically provides an input that allows for more specific, more relevant, more engaging creative. Data is raw material that makes every piece of creative more engaging because it is informed by need.
CMO.com: Everyone’s talking about customer experience. What does customer experience mean to the creative/design community?
Swinand: Creative solutions are experiences that change human behavior. This move back to user experience and customer experience is acknowledgment that people are interacting with your brand at all times and in all ways.
I had a venture incubator called Abundant Ventures, and we did a lot of work with hospitals and health-care providers. Their whole thing was around what happens when people arrive at the hospital. The reality is you’re interacting with health care throughout your life on an everyday basis. So I think it’s both the right focus and a huge necessity to think about how people think about your brand, service, or product every day and the experience they’re having. Brand experience and choice don’t begin just at the point of purchase; it begins at the point of need.
CMO.com: Digital transformation is happening across organizations. What has it meant for the creative executive and the creative department, overall?
Swinand: As I mentioned before, all media is digital. I think the challenge is if you are a creative thinker and you can only think in terms of a TV script, or if you’re a creative thinker and you can only think in terms of a website, I think you risk becoming obsolete. Creatives need to think more holistically about how people experience a brand and about the best way to solve their consumers’ problems.
CMO.com: What about design thinking? What does that mean and what does that look like internally at an organization?
Swinand: The idea of design thinking is really about cross-functional expertise. It’s about bringing in people with different backgrounds and different experiences, with the notion that it will lead to more innovative solutions. Bringing cross-disciplined teams together allows an organization to look at problems in unique ways and literally design and craft solutions that solve people’s problems leveraging every experience they have with a brand.
CMO.com: Does the creative department need to understand emerging technology?
Swinand: They are tools of the craft. When you think about emerging technologies, these are different vehicles creatives can use to engage people. For me, I don’t think the onus so much is understanding the technology as in understanding what tools are in the toolbox. And the reality is new tools are being invented, and creatives need to learn to use them.
CMO.com: What’s your take on creativity making a comeback in marketing?
Swinand: I don’t think creativity ever went away. Yes, people got distracted by inputs. But let’s say you want to build an addition to your house. You don’t go out and look at hammers and screwdrivers. You look at what else the craftsman has built. Tools are all inputs that have enabled us to basically create better experiences, better ideas, and better solutions. I think the key is not getting overly enamored and spending all of our money on the tools. After all, it’s the craftsmen who actually make the product.
CMO.com: If you could give your younger self one piece of career advice, what would it be?
Swinand: I think it would be to trust your gut and decide faster. When I was younger I didn’t have as much experience or perspective to draw on, so oftentimes I would sit on decisions. Reacting like a human and trusting your gut creatively is important. Making decisions in a timely fashion is always better than waiting for the perfect answer and doing nothing.