Traditionally, creative has largely been viewed as a subjective pursuit. In school, design is (wrongly) tossed in with art, and creative writing is often seen as self-indulgent. And in the workplace, creatives can sometimes end up relegated to a corner with their computers, with marching orders to just “make things look and sound pretty”, rather than taking part in important boardroom decisions.
It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the value and aim of design and copywriting. When it comes to marketing a business, style shouldn’t be without substance. Marketing creative is all about thinking and styling strategically to meet the demands of businesses in increasingly competitive markets. And it belongs in the boardroom too.
Creative done well—and for a purpose—functions to provide a measurable ROI. One that solves real problems, sharpens your competitive edge, and unites your team behind a visually and verbally communicable commonwealth. More than two-fifths of businesses agree that just the use of design alone within their organisation has injected an increase in sales turnover and raised brand awareness, recognition and loyalty.
That’s not to say that investing in just any creative will give you the results you’re after. You need to ensure there’s a solid thinking and working process behind everything the creative team does for you. Top-notch creative is built not only on a high level of expertise, but on a foundation of research: knowing a client, understanding what they really need, defining audiences, and delving into market context. Armed with that knowledge, creative and business can be aligned into a single strategy to produce solutions that can be transformational—and measurable.
Making the case for the business value of creative
Nobody really remembers the awkward teenage years of Airbnb’s creative—and for good reason. You wouldn’t be blamed for mistaking them for a company that makes a pretty good soft serve ice-cream.
And while the start-up was doing extremely well (by late 2013 Airbnb had served nine million guests), for a company at the forefront of redefining what travel could be, it could have been doing much better.
The creative strategy just wasn’t doing the business justice, because the soft-serve era of Airbnb was only addressing the ‘what’ of the business and not the “why”.
Failing to really pin down what they stood for and being able to communicate it visually, verbally, and experientially left a lot of potential untapped—it meant the business didn’t have it’s flag planted firmly in the ground with a lot of consumers. Building loyalty, establishing an ownable market share, or creating awareness with momentum would have been a continual uphill struggle.
If the company was to grow it needed to re-orientate what it stood for—and communicate it a whole lot better. So that’s what they did.
Within a few months of implementing a new research-led, purpose-driven creative strategy, 80,000 people had engaged with the rebrand campaign to create their own version of the logo—a number even the brand titans can only dream of. Within the next two years revenue increased by 80%, with the company finally breaking into profit in 2016. By 2017 Airbnb was valued at $31 billion.
The moral of the story?
Good businesses can exist without great creative. But great creative helps create great businesses.