Expert Commentary:
Brand Leader

How Creativity is the Business Growth Engine

Gael de Talhouet
Vice President Brand Building at Essity

Marketing is Gardening

There is one major commonality: growth. If your garden is beautiful but does not grow, it will wither. If your trees bear fruit but do not grow, the harvest will diminish.

Growth is what keeps your brands, your organisation and your people alive. As much as a gardener will not thrive in reducing watering to be more efficient, no company will prosper in cost-saving. I am not saying we should not be mindful of resources, I am just showing that life comes first and efficiency second.

As in gardening, if you want to grow your business, options are limited: you need a bigger garden (if you can extend the size), you need more trees (if they have room to grow), you need bigger fruits (if the trees hold) or fruits more often (if you find a way).

There you go: there is no such thing as “natural” growth. There is no such thing as “easy” growth. It needs a vision, expert knowledge, hard work, patience and experimentation. Reducing water will reduce growth; adding chemicals creates an illusion of short-term yield in neither a sustainable nor a healthy way.

What this means for brands, companies and agencies is that every minute not spent on growth is a wasted minute. This is more than a growth mindset, this is a growth obsession. It is a constant attention to go beyond “I need to finish my project”, “I need to prepare my meeting”, “I need to look at SG&A”. Every company in the world completes projects, has successful meetings and saves costs. This will lead you nowhere and certainly nowhere better than your competitors.

Growth requires a continuous mindset change at all levels of the organisation. I had a concrete example recently: one of our digital managers told me that she was experimenting with new online retailers to grow sales. The total generated sales were about 800 euros. Then she was told by her manager to stop because the action was not profitable.

She should have been told: “Nice job, thanks for having tried something new. What can you do to drive it to 8,000 euros then to 80,000 euros sales? Then and only then, start thinking about how to improve profitability when the business reaches 800,000 euros.” We plant a twig and expect a pumpkin in two weeks.

Another example: over the past three years, Essity has been collecting creative awards at Cannes, thanks to the great teamwork of our marketing teams, communication agency AMV BBDO and media agency Zenith Optimedia. In three years, we have evolved from a low-profile company with a new name into a benchmark for great brand-building and creative communication, becoming a client and employer of choice.

Talented people want to join Essity, work on our accounts and contribute to growth. Some of the world’s most famous companies invite our teams to speak and share our recipe for success. Other brands’ teams wake up every morning thriving to do the same (“if they can do it, so can I”).

I bumped into one of our senior executives during a fire drill (yes, fire drills can also be networking opportunities), and after sharing all of the above, the question I got was: “Yes, but the only thing I want to know is our return on investment!”.

OK, Mr Bean, thanks for questioning my inherent incapability as a marketer to figure out that eventually a company needs to be profitable. Thanks also for the lame and over-usage of the corporate disqualifier, “Show me the business case”.

I have created my own company. I have worked in start-ups. I have worked with incubators, VCs and Business Angels. If I have learnt anything in the entrepreneur world, it’s this: no one wins with a business case. No company has succeeded because they had a great business case.

Companies succeed because they start doing things in a way that others do not (a creative way), then make it grow (scale), then they make it profitable. The only obsession that leads to success is, “What can I do that my competitors do not?” and, “How big can I grow it?”.

In nature like in business, growth is life. The only way to grow is to build an organisation which is capable of doing what competitors cannot do. This is called creativity. Every minute spent on other topics is a minute spent doing what everyone else is already doing.

Superior growth comes from doing what others do not do. Superior growth comes from having all marketers become Growth Officers, another name for Courageous and Creative Gardeners.

"The CMO agenda is the business growth agenda. Which means we need to drive impact, top line acceleration and return on investment."

Debora Koyama

Chief Marketing Officer, Europe, Mondelez International