Thoughts on Fast Company’s CMO Balancing Act: Marketing Creativity vs. Analytics

Fast Company's 100 most creative people in business

The publication touts the 100 most creative business people

It is only responsible for Fast Company to publish an article about a CMO’s balancing of creativity and analytics in its most recent issue featuring the top 100 creative people in business. After all, Serfwerks has been touting the need for using data and analytics to drive the creative process (see Unbounded Creativity parts I and II) in marketing since its founding. We’ve seen too many cool and creative ideas and approaches to marketing flounder when it comes to what matters most to business—driving bottom line results.

For example, years ago I worked for a design agency that frequently produced outstanding creative work. We had a client who sold candy machines to individuals looking to make a quick buck on the side. Their primary marketing strategy consisted of low-brow advertising in home-based business magazines. When the client engaged us to develop a new ad for them, we had some brilliantly creative ideas (at least so we thought). The best of which consisted of a full-page ad comprised of a beautifully serene photograph of a vacant beach with an empty hammock between two trees (I wish I still had  a copy of it). The image was such that you could easily picture yourself in the scene, taking in the beautiful vistas of the palm trees and crystal blue water. A small headline read “Lifestyle brought to you by (Company X).” Of course the company’s contact information was included as well as a small picture of a gum ball machine in the bottom right corner. Of course we thought that the ad was brilliant and sure to distinguish our client from so many other bottom feeders that gravitated to that type of publication.

However, the ad was the client’s worst performing ad to date. Not only did it not perform well, but sales immediately tanked. It was so bad that the client put their old ad back into the edition of the magazine. How could it perform so poorly? Our new ad was more conceptual, better designed and was probably the only ad in the magazine that didn’t have either a starburst or a bulleted list of some sort on it. We sat scratching our heads as to why what we thought was so creative and brilliant had failed so miserably.

It turns out that our brilliantly creative ad was the perfect case study for unbounded creativity, where creativity exists for creativity’s sake and strives for distinction through whit and/or good design rather than seeking to accomplish real-world business objectives. Don’t misunderstand that creativity certainly has its merit. However, in our instance we didn’t understand to whom we were marketing. We over thought our target audience thinking that the aspiration of a better lifestyle was what drove their entrepreneurial behavior. However, they were just looking to make a quick extra buck. As such, the more conceptual, better designed ad had little appeal. It’s also possible that in our efforts to glamorize gum ball machines, we lost touch with reality. Perhaps luxury vacations in exotic beaches is too much of a stretch for a business that lives on spare quarters. Perhaps the strategy could have worked had the client been willing to stick it out and go with a more conceptual long-term strategy. However, their business reality was such that they just couldn’t afford to go another month without any phone calls. As such, we would have served our client much better had we based our marketing efforts on marketing analytics and market data as opposed to simply going for what we thought was cool and creative.

In conclusion, we applaud Fast Company for their contribution to the groundswell that is the need to bind creativity with marketing analytics and market data. We hope that CMOs, executives and entrepreneurs alike will continue to look more to data-driven marketing solutions when developing marketing strategies rather than simply going for what is cool and creative. Marketers need data to drive the creative and they need the creative to drive results. That is truly the only way in which marketing performance can most effectively impact bottom-line results.