Building the intelligent creative engine has been saved
Cover image by: Tank Design
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Marketing was once pegged as a field for creatives, but the rise in big data and artificial intelligence has changed the demands of the profession. Now, marketers aim to uncover the most nuanced insights about their customers and connect brand messages to those moments in their daily lives. Similarly, there’s a growing expectation that marketers can bring these insights back into the organization to help inform everything from purpose to customer data strategies (see our trends "Purpose—A beacon for growth" and "Designing a human-first data experience" to learn more).
In this more data-intensive environment, we already see marketers gravitating toward hiring more analytical skills. When we surveyed 556 global chief marketing officers (CMOs) and asked them to identify the top skills of their highest performers, analytical expertise edged out creative skills in almost every industry, with the exception of the consumer industry—something that would be almost unheard of 10 years ago (figure 1).
Meghan Nameth, senior vice president of marketing at Loblaw Companies Limited, Canada’s leading food and pharmacy retailer, explains why these more analytical skill sets are rising in importance: “Our sources of creativity and our paradigms around where creative thinking comes from are shifting. Some of the most creative people I’ve ever worked with are data scientists. That might be surprising given I’ve worked with some amazing agencies and creative partners. But part of what really great data scientists do is they make lateral connections between what looks like disparate points of information.”1
But make no mistake, this isn’t a one-to-one swap of creative skills for analytical and technical skills. Instead, it’s about convening data scientists, strategists, programmers, and creatives together to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts—which isn’t always the easiest or most straightforward endeavor.
At its core, bringing these skills together will require greater collaboration. However, this too will likely require a mindset shift for most CMOs, who may be more used to working on a linear production schedule. This is especially true when comparing CMOs with their executive peers: While other executives routinely identified collaboration as a top skill, the CMOs prioritized it lower than the rest of the C-suite did (figure 2).
With the goal of getting ever closer to the customer, collaboration, both internally and externally, can be key to building a creative engine that moves at the speed of culture. In this spirit, we discuss how marketers can design more agile team structures and rethink external relationships, such as influencer strategies, to capture the most important customer insights and meet customers in the moments that matter.
Finding the right talent structure can be fatiguing. And every time an organization undergoes an organizational redesign that doesn’t work, resistance for future change management initiatives can increase.
Instead of focusing on massive overhauls, the answer may be to make smaller, more agile changes that focus around a single objective. Nameth believes in taking an approach to organizational structure where different skills are brought together to solve a single problem:
From a structural standpoint, it’s really hard to teach lateral thinking; one way to compensate where you may not have that naturally is to build “pods,” where you have a data science person, a data engineering team, graphic designers, and a demand gen[eration] team connected so that you get different thinking on one problem. If your objective is to attract more customers into your retail environment, what are all the signals or moments along the way that would shift their journey?2
For Loblaw, that objective, for instance, may be to understand the varying consideration points to entering its retail stores: “It may mean if [customers] are heading to a different store, reminding them through an advertisement that we have better pricing or intervening in digital when they’re searching for a store location.”3
Another complication is global consistency. Nanne Bos, the chief communications officer of Netherlands-based financial firm Aegon, says, “The most effective and future-proof approach to global marketing is not centralized nor decentralized, but about increasing coherence across markets—while allowing for flexibility.” Bos indicates this can be achieved by “setting up a global design hub that allows a local customer experience team not only to download design elements but also to upload [them] so that other markets can use them as well.”4
Agencies are often core to creative execution for many brands. But, as many agencies work with various clients, the work produced can sometimes feel more commoditized rather than bespoke.5 Simultaneously, the social influencer has exploded as a “go-to” product spokesperson. And these individuals are closer to products—and customers—than almost anyone.
Brands don’t have to myopically view social influencers just as product reviewers. Instead, they may be the next iteration of the creative agency. In fact, one entertainment company is now providing briefs to known influencers in their target demographics and asking them to assist in developing the creative content.6 This means moving the relationship from “influencer” to “creator” and putting those individuals at the center of the brand to work on bigger-picture creative challenges. We saw this manifest organically with the social-influencer–driven “100 baby challenge” in Sims 4, where gamers competed against one another to see who could produce 100 digital babies the fastest.7 In essence, influencers didn’t just review products; they influenced user behavior. Brands can do the same by augmenting their brand-influencer relationships with challenges and creative briefs.
When Kjetil Undhjem, the head of marketing and brand strategy at Australian-based bank ANZ, discusses influencer strategies, he says, “You can’t just pick [influencers] because they are famous; you have to pick one that has that interest and has that following, and then you can give them a fair bit of freedom in terms of how they create that content.”8This means making sure they know the subject matter, such as financial well-being.
Further, in some regions such as China, the influencer marketing industry is years ahead of most of the world as influencer agencies are already on the rise.9 Recently, global social media platform TikTok started hosting “creator camps” where influencers “provide strategic counsel to brands.”10
Even the best-designed teams need the proper backgrounds and skill sets to be successful. And with 63% of college-educated employees from our survey of 11,500 global respondents working remotely, marketers are confronted with both opportunities and considerations for making this digital-physical construct of work successful.
Steve Carlile, the CMO of online cosmetics company Younique Products, has seen the rise in remote work permanently change how the brand sources talent—to the strategic advantage of the company. The benefits include gaining access to specialized skill sets, building a more diverse workforce, and, in many cases, bringing workers geographically closer to business partners and suppliers. As Carlile explains, “We were able to find the right talent, and, as we expanded the geographic scope, we were intentional about it.”11
Based out of Utah, Younique was able to enhance its R&D and product marketing functions through the remote workforce. Further, with manufacturing partners based on the US East Coast and Europe, Younique hired a head of R&D “a stone’s throw away from being able to plug in closely with our manufacturing partners.” And in terms of diversity, while Utah has a relatively homogeneous population, Younique was able to cultivate a more representative talent base that better reflects the customers it serves—an increasingly important dimension when trying to be culturally relevant.
While remote work will carry on, hybrid brings a new element to consider. Bill Beck, the CMO of health insurance company Anthem, sees the power of bringing key portions of strategic work together for in-person collaboration. For instance, when Anthem was designing a new creative platform, Beck recognizes the moment the team came together to think through the execution of the platform as a key turning point in the project’s development. Beck notes, “It just reminds me of the importance of being together. Especially as a marketer, the face-to-face collaboration from a creative aspect is where we’re going with hybrid.”12
For the CMO, it’s less about organizational redesigns and more about a cultural shift—one that reshapes how marketers work toward common goals that unlock compelling creative.
The Global Marketing Trends Executive Survey polled 1,099 C-suite executives from global companies located in the United States, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands in April 2021. This survey asked chief executive, marketing, information, finance, operating, legal, and human resource officers their thoughts on a variety of topics driving the evolution of the marketing function.
The Global Marketing Trends Consumer Survey polled 11,500 global consumers, ages 18 and above, in May 2021 across 19 countries.
See the introduction to learn more about both studies.
Cover image by: Tank Design