creative strategy

Future of Planning

It's Time For Brands To Elevate Creative Strategy

Creative thinking will be a brand's last competitive advantage and the next business frontier across all industries, argues the newly installed CSO at TBWA\London

By Raquel Chicourel

Strategy was born into a far simpler world.

In the 90s, the world of brands used to be divorced from the reality beyond categories. It used to be simple. Binary. There was Coke versus Pepsi, Nike versus Adidas, Tide versus Persil, Budweiser versus Heineken, Apple versus Microsoft.

Brands then were not expected to make a difference. So, they entertained us. Their ads were a great spectator sport.

The role of strategy was simple: drive leadership through USPs and great insights.

But in the twenty-first century the world demanded more from brands. The internet, the Twin Towers and the 2008 global financial crisis reminded us how small the world is and its vulnerability and that it is less binary and more blurred.

In this era, people expect brands to be more purposeful in their behaviour. And so the leading brands evolved their narratives. Thought leadership beyond a given category and purpose marketing became the compass of most brands tapping onto bigger human truths like ‘Real Beauty’, ‘Keep walking’, ‘Dirt is Good’, ‘Open happiness’ and togetherness in a moment when the world was divided and at war.

The role of great strategy was then to move brands to the very top of that benefit ladder and find irrefutable human truths.

Then came the rise of “the challenger brands” followed by the new breed of disruptors: the tech challengers.  AirBnB, Netflix, Giff Gaff, Uber… Traveling, watching movies, moving from A to B forever changed since.

Strategy evolved too by adopting more disruptive thinking, venturing into new shapes of comms and leveling up its deep understanding of the fast-changing consumer needs, social changes and the cultural landscape. The buzzword then was “Culture-first” thinking.

The 20s started with a bang:  a global pandemic and another global financial crisis. Now, in the aftermath, the world wants frivolous and entertainment  back. Funny how it all cycles back.

But the big question is, as we head to the halfway point of the 2020s what might the future hold for strategy?

Today, we live in a world of not just change, but of exponential change. Of not just business and category displacement but entire social and culture disruption by new consumer needs and the exponential growth in new technologies (from web3 to AI). In this light-speed changing world the "human leap" (aka "creativity") is and will always be the most valuable asset a great strategist will bring to a brand AND business.  

So I believe creative strategy will be more important than ever and its role is to be elevated. It will move beyond comms and brand thinking and operate at a business level. Creative thinking will be a company's last competitive advantage and  the next business frontier across all industries.

However, this will demand us to go far beyond advertising and should see us apply creativity to supply chains, radical innovation, business models and every facet of a company's operations.

Think this is too hard to do? Think again. In fact, It’s already happening. Tesla did what many said was impossible, creating electric cars with mass appeal. Tony's Chocolonely created new supply chains that eradicate child labour and modern slavery. And Apple has used creatively powered strategy to go beyond hardware to becoming a media company, gaming brand and a movie studio.

In short, the future of strategy is bright, but it will ask more of strategists. It will ask us to be disruptive in our thinking across every fact of business, not just brand.

Bring it on.

Raquel Chicourel is chief strategy officer at TBWA\London


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