Optimisation leads to incremental gain, while creativity leads to disruption.

In this extract from our Top 100 Digital Agencies Report 2015, I explore how the importance of creativity is being re-evaluated and how marketers are using this to build stronger connections with consumers.

As the founder of Econsultancy and the President of Centaur Marketing, Ashley Friedlein is in a prime position to elucidate on what will be the key digital marketing trends of any given year. 2015 was no different, with Ashley offering up his three digital marketing mega trends back in January.

The first of his predictions, which I will go into more detail about here, is the return of creativity and design. Ashley predicted that marketers and business people alike will see that creativity is central to disruptive thinking and therefore the way to steer major technological and cultural change, which ultimately is what all businesses want to do.

The dominance of technology

Did creativity and design ever really go away? No of course not, it merely faded into the background while other important matters like data measurement, analysis, optimisation and automation took precedence.

Huge shifts in consumer behaviour have been brought about by rapid advancements in technology, thanks in large part to a better ability to capture data across a wide range of touchpoints, a better understanding of marketing attribution and a shift in focus on customer experience.

A truly optimised customer experience is the Holy Grail that all businesses now chase, it’s the key differentiator between you and your competitors.

This has been driven by advancements in marketing automation, making the ability to personalise experiences for consumers that much more relevant, dynamic and instantaneous.

Why would someone visit one website where they are greeted like a stranger every time they arrive, when they can go to another one and be offered nothing but automatic recommendations based on their history and feel right at home?

This is all exciting and fascinating stuff, however, there is a dichotomy between analysis and creativity.

It’s possible for more data-driven minds to optimise elements of your business to death. They often lack the spark or instinct for creativity. Younger digital marketers are often more data driven which is of course an integral skill, but they also occasionally lack the acumen for design; the ability to use data and technology in a way to drive innovation and change.

As Ashley asks in his article, “who is responsible for the cohesive vision that is not only technically enlightened but actually engages creatively, emotionally and commercially?”

The answer lies in design

Organisations will always have to rely on the critical input of their engineers and data analysts for digital transformation, but in terms of creating the very best customer experiences and pushing things forward they’ll need a more creative backbone...

Product managers who can inspire and aren’t afraid to experiment. Visionary designers who can give confidence and lead teams to greater achievements. Customer experience architects, whose sole focus on the consumer never wavers, intuitively predicting what they need before they themselves are even aware of it.

Only an organisation that has truly embraced digital transformation will have the understanding, resources and inherent spirit to nurture creativity.

Again it all goes back to optimisation and the dangers of being trapped in a cycle of data-driven obsessiveness. At Econsultancy we often posit that it only takes small elemental changes to not only improve the customer experience but also ultimately increase conversion.

You should test everything, even the smallest detail. Even the simple change of colour to a call-to-action can offer big results. Then of course comes the bigger challenges.

Thanks to Google’s new algorithm change, the mobile friendliness of your website will factor into how you rank in search, therefore it’s a necessity to make sure your site is mobile-optimised.

Optimisation leads to incremental gain, creativity leads to disruption. There must be room in your organisation to allow creativity to grow. Fearless experimentation may lead to misfires, but from that source of fertile creativity have arisen some of the greatest revolutionary technologies.

Who is already achieving this?

There is an often used quote from William Gibson that gets trundled out when discussions turn to ‘what’s the next big thing?’ or ‘what comes next?’. “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

This is certainly as true today as it was when it was first uttered more than two decades ago.

Although we’re probably still a little way off from uncovering something as massive as the invention of the internet and the way it has completely transformed the way the world connects and works, there are pockets of deeply disruptive, creative-led technologies that are challenging existing and highly established industries.

There’s Uber, altering the way that we book our taxi-cabs through mobile-first personalisation and real-time trackability.

There’s Airbnb, deftly spreading its brand across the globe through its very simple and logical community-based approach.

There’s also Zenefits, 2014’s “hottest start-up”, which gives away cloud-based human resources software to small businesses for free and lets them purchase insurance through their platform directly, cutting out the insurance companies that charge commission.

There is one thing that all the above companies have in common which speaks to a wider truth about the current and future economy. Connection. 

Each one relies on connection to make it work better.

Airbnb works because it connects people who have a house with someone who needs a house. Uber connects someone who has a car with someone who needs a car.

I’m paraphrasing Seth Godin from a talk of his I saw last year, but it seems to have a strong parallel here. We are seeing a move away from the scarcity economy we were previously used to. Connection is now becoming the key component in the digital economy.

In order to improve the customer experience and drive creativity, marketers need to figure out how to build their connection to consumers. Then surely we’ll see the next big leap forward.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 2 July, 2015 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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