Creative Salon and AAR breakfast roundtable

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How CMOs use Creative Capital to drive growth: An AAR debate

To launch AAR's Creative Capital Manifesto, Creative Salon brought together some of the UK’s most creative CMOs to discuss creative conditions

By Olivia Atkins

Creativity may be key to business growth, yet few organisations nurture it as a core strategic asset, according to new research amongst CMOs conducted by AAR.

In fact, although 74 per cent of businesses agree that creativity drives growth, only 20 per cent said their organisation was highly focused on engineering the right conditions for creativity to flourish and 33 per cent said the subject was rarely or never debated in their companies.

So AAR today launches its Creative Capital Manifesto as a rallying cry to the industry to address the disconnect around the value of creativity. Creative Capital is defined as the engineering of the right conditions across marketing ecosystems to unlock greater creativity on a sustained basis. The Manifesto aims to encourage companies to build the right conditions for creativity to prosper and cites people, processes, platforms and partners as focus points.

To launch the Manifesto, AAR and Creative Salon brought together some of the UK’s most creative CMOs to explore the challenges and opportunities related to nurturing Creative Capital.

The discussion revealed the key obstacles to reprioritising Creative Capital as a lack of time and confusion around the metrics for measuring it. The CMOs debated what conditions work best for enhancing creativity and considered the role of leadership in cultivating an inspired workforce.

Redefining creativity

Creative Capital may seem like an undefined concept but it doesn’t have to be. “Take people with you on the creative journey,” says marketing veteran David Wheldon. “Explain what you're doing and - where possible - do it with numbers.”

Creating metrics that can evaluate a brand’s performance will help with understanding and assessing creativity – especially when speaking with non-creatives, adds Wheldon; trusting in creativity alone can seem whimsical.

Kate Waters, the director of strategy and planning at ITV, agrees: “People love creativity, but they can see it as being suspicious or risky, even if it does drive growth. We need to de-risk creativity, particularly in organisations that are heavily processed and numbers-driven.”

But some sectors, like B2B, aren’t traditionally creative, argues Antonia Wade, the global chief marketing officer at PWC; too often budgets for creative activity are squeezed and questioned. “Measuring the return on creativity is difficult. B2B marketers work hard to maintain their position in advertising with audiences seeing a piece of content once or twice at most,” she says. “B2B marketers should focus on a small number of variables deployed over a long period of time rather than constantly keeping up with creative trends and losing salience.”

The right conditions for creativity

Creating a brave, risk-taking approach to solving business problems requires confidence and a united workforce. Reframing workplace values to galvanise teams can help to release creativity and create a purposeful internal culture.

Monica Pool, marketing director at Taco Bell, shares her experience being part of KFC’s recent rejuvenation. Research had found that consumers saw the fast-food chain as outdated and irrelevant, so the company enlisted Mother as its chosen agency – through AAR – to change brand perception.

“There was a huge disconnect with how the brand was showing its people and their drive,” says Pool. “Through working with Mother, we managed to bottle the culture, and play that back through brand positioning to reformulate a modern image. It helped employees recognise themselves in the advertising and allowed for them to become proud of their involvement.”

KFC’s desire to create impactful but disruptive advertising enabled the brand to embrace controversy by believing in its ability to stand out. But as AAR lead consultant, PR Andrew Bloch notes, efforts can't be left to chance. He says, “There have to be processes and systems in place for cultivating creativity.”

“It’s about capturing people’s imagination and feeling that they can see themselves in how the brand is being talked about,” says Motability’s Lisa Thomas. “It makes them feel proud to be involved.”

Isabelle Maratier, head of brand & portfolio at Innocent, concurs, citing the smoothie company’s creative legacy as reason for its inherent creative culture. “We’ve just created a factory in the Netherlands, which is the most sustainable blend factory today. It’s directly inspired by the brand’s culture of getting creatives to think differently and do things sustainably.”

As the experience of Innocent and KFC demonstrate, living and accurately presenting a brand’s culture will help generate ideas internally and provide credibility externally – and other companies can look to their operations for inspiration.

Waters notes that codifying creativity can justify processes and create shareable templates across teams: “Codifying gives people who don’t have creativity in their job title rational tools to think creatively, based on how others think. And that's really helpful.”

Lessons in leadership

Leadership can be a useful place to start when shaking up internal cultures. Deb Caldow, global brand and sustainability director at Costa Coffee, says: “Creativity comes with thinking big. We’ve actually told our people that they must be creative and reprioritised that among our leadership team. We call it ‘Think customer, think big, think bold’ – and we drill that in right from recruitment… We're wiring it into the company and recruiting with this mindset.”

Clare Coughlan, marketing director at beauty retailer HSNF, believes that trust sits at the core of all creativity. She is currently in charge of overseeing the design packaging aspect of soon-to-launch nail brand Mylee and has been tasked with making efficiencies. “From a creative perspective, they burn through a lot of creative resource, changing and constantly reinventing the wheel. I'm templating and automating some of their process to free up the creative department elsewhere.”

She also uses creativity to visually present ideas to stakeholders as a way of getting them onboard: “After I’ve talked through the logic and number-crunching, I tend to show them some TikToks of how people feel when they have their nails done – and that’s the most relatable bit and when the smiles happen.”

But there’s no cookie cutter approach to utilising and supporting creativity; it’s something that has to be trialled and tested in individual working environments. Victoria Fox, CEO at AAR, says: “Unleashing creativity allows for business growth. But if we all enact the same action points, everyone could be in danger of driving towards digital sameness.”

Cultivating a space that’s non-judgmental in its assessment of the creative processes is important. Caldow talks about embedding a growth mindset into a business culture so that employees can proactively learn from their failings. “We're trying to review our failures once a week,” she says. “It's a place for people to share their brilliance and address behind the scenes what didn't go so well. It's important to allow for these safe but vulnerable breakout moments, where employees won’t get the sack for speaking out… You have to role-model it really.”

Innocent’s Isabelle Maratier agrees. “When thinking about creative risk, there's an element of good leadership, but it’s also important to collectively own the risk,” she concludes. “That way, it’s easier to face it.”

This discussion provided tactics for creating optimal conditions for creative transformative thinking to flourish within an organisation. However, this must be applied with a strategic focus as well. Adopting a holistic approach that looks across people, processes, platforms and partners will serve to unleash sustainable creativity, but prioritising culture, working environment and leadership can help with speeding this up.

In a highly competitive market where people are looking for elusive growth, leaving money on the table is unforgivable. If Creativity is a key driver of growth, don’t leave it to luck.

Click here to download AAR’s Creative Capital Manifesto.


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