Earlier this year, KFC debuted the KFC Innovations Lab to raise crowdfunding support for bold, attention-grabbing marketing concepts. The public can vote on wild ideas such as a Kentucky Fried Hot Tub and a figure skating show about the life of founder Colonel Sanders.
KFC intends to find out what a kernel of creativity is worth to its fans. While it may seem like this strategy is all in good fun, the truth is that creativity costs money and resources — and not every company is keen to invest what the marketing department needs.
The high cost of ignoring creativity
Research shows that creative brands consistently see better results. According to McKinsey’s Award Creativity Score, companies that win the highest number of Cannes Lions awards have higher organic revenue growth, return to investors and net enterprise value. Nielsen, in analyzing hundreds of consumer goods campaigns, found that the power of creative to increase sales is more than double that of reach, targeting and brand.
Birds Eye, for instance, reinvested in creativity after four years of declining growth. To rate the creativity of campaign ideas, it measured consumers’ emotional response via neuroscience feedback. The expense paid off. New campaigns, creatively adjusted per consumer feedback, have generated a 24 percent higher average return on investment and restored the company to a growth period.
These studies offer great news to marketers, right? Sure, except businesses have largely forgotten the value of creativity and have instead invested heavily in digital marketing initiatives and technology such as SEO, website updates and new app design. In a 2016 study, advertising service WARC found that short-term campaigns had quadrupled in number; at the same time, investment in creativity fell by 12 percent. This year, Forrester predicted that investment in data, analytics, adtech and martech will grow as much as 11 percent through 2022, while agency spending will grow less than 3 percent.
Budget constraints aside, the essential point is that creativity is your job as a marketer. Whether you have to crowdfund your creative campaigns or are able to get your company to back your initiatives, the efficacy of your work depends on your ability to come up with fresh ways to tell the story of your brand and its products.
Reinvigorating your marketing initiatives
Although brands need to invest more heavily in creativity, marketers can also do their part to breathe fresh life into their campaigns. Use the following tactics to get out of a creative rut and produce campaigns that have a serious impact on your company’s bottom line.
1. Find a new way to tell the story.
Sometimes all that’s needed to make a campaign resonate with audiences is to reframe the narrative. Take the pharmaceutical industry, for example. Combating skeptical consumers and concerns over inflated prices, pharma companies have found innovative ways to illustrate how their investments in research and development translate to saving or improving patients’ lives.
Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America, for instance, recently worked with strategic creative consultancy Brandpie to develop a brand repositioning campaign. Instead of focusing inward and highlighting the groundbreaking work of its labs, the story turns outward, focusing on the human implications. The video is emotional, crosscutting human images (bare feet walking on sand, hands clasping, an elderly woman receiving care) with lab shots that make clear the connection between the science and the humanity.
2. Ask the audience.
Research can be a source of audience insights that inform innovative new approaches to connecting with your fans. Then again, in some instances, it’s best to combine your data with a little crowdsourced creativity.
Bombay Sapphire’s #FindYourCanvas campaign, designed by BBDO New York, began after research showed that 90 percent of people want to spend more time on creative and artistic activities. Combining that finding with a desire to promote the brand’s sponsorship of art initiatives — and reach young adults who are resistant to traditional advertising — Bombay installed a blank canvas in an outdoor mall in Los Angeles. The canvas was painted by robot arms, which were controlled by people who selected colors and positions on the canvas via a branded website. The campaign earned Bombay an Adweek Experiential Award.
3. Master the art of empathy.
To break out of the creative doldrums and access bold new ideas, take inspiration from design thinking, which relies in part on empathy to better understand customers and their needs. Marketers at LEGO do this by putting themselves in kids’ shoes and conducting ethnographic studies to learn how they play. Research can unlock empathy in marketing, but mass surveys won’t do — those paint with a broad brush and produce watered-down insights. Instead, talk to your customers in one-on-one settings to glean useful nuggets of information about their needs and wants, as well as the way they interact with your brand.
Empathy can also help teams work together more creatively. Research has shown that people are able to come up with more new ideas after sharing embarrassing stories about themselves. This tactic does two things: First, it reminds participants that we’re all human. Second, it does away with the natural hesitation to share new ideas out of fear that they’ll be rejected. By telling an embarrassing story first, you’ve already broken through that fear.
Creativity may be endangered in the marketing world, but using new tactics to come up with ideas can go a long way toward getting brands out of ruts. As research has shown again and again, the financial returns on creativity can be enormous — even if your best-laid plan is to ask consumers to do some of the creating for you.