By Charlotte Williams

VP Content, Cannes Lions

There is a brilliant quote later on in this report, in which creativity is described as a bit “woo-woo”. We all know what this means because we’ve been there – banging our heads against the wall as we try to impress upon senior managers and budget-holders that what we do drives the success of the businesses we all work for.

Without creativity, we are just a product. Without creativity, that product can't succeed.

The first in our series of original reports explores creativity as an engine for business growth. We look at the what, the why and the how of growth-driving creativity, framed by input from all corners of the global branded communications community.

Why we believe that creativity is the business growth engine

With global budget constraints and increasing justification required for every penny that a business spends, the concept that Creativity is the Business Growth Engine is pretty compelling.

Here at Cannes Lions, we believe wholeheartedly that creativity is the only way to drive non-incremental growth.

So many of you told us that we’re in a sea of sameness. But that’s not true of the brands that we love and respect: they do things a little differently.

Here’s just one example of how their creative approach equates to business growth.

Shortly after winning the Creative Brand of the Year Award at Cannes Lions 2019, Fernando Machado released this tweet, accompanied by a photo headline of Burger King's incredible +9.8% stock price rise in Q2’19.

While we were delighted to see this creative growth story, we weren’t surprised. Back in 2017, we worked with McKinsey to examine the link between creativity and business performance.

They developed the Awards Creativity Score (ACS) for us, based closely on Lion-winning work. The ACS is backed up by some pretty complex analytics and has proved a great way to assess the breadth and consistency of individual entrants when it comes to creative performance.

Of those organisations whose ACS scores were in the top quartile, 67% had above-average organic revenue growth and 70% had above-average total return to shareholders (TRS).

That’s probably worth another read, because it shows that high-performing creativity frequently results in bigger returns.

Despite clear evidence that creative initiatives drive growth, “some 23% of CEOs do not feel that marketing is delivering on the growth agenda and 40% of CFOs don’t think marketing investments should be protected during a downturn”

(McKinsey, 2019).

So – why the disconnect between what the data shows and what the CEOs and CFOs perceive? Our interviews highlighted three barriers:

1 – The language we use

As one CMO we spoke to said, “Creativity can be seen as a bit woo-woo”. As most of you know, “woo-woo” doesn’t go down well in the boardroom. In order to build confidence and collaboration with the CEO and CFO, we need to use a vocabulary that is simple, consistent, impactful and resolutely aligned with business goals.

2 – The metrics we select

To state the obvious, we can’t manage what we don’t measure. There’s no denying it: performance marketing produces immediate results. It’s easy to measure and, because of that, it’s seductive. Yes, we need these short-term results, but never to the detriment of long-term brand health. If your metrics are only about short-term sales uplift, impressions or clicks, then you’re missing a trick.

3 – The culture we create

The value of creativity is obviously not lost on agencies, but in the wider business world it has some catching up to do. How can those department heads who buy creative work better embrace creative bravery, take mitigated risks and be made to see how great creative work can drive growth? We need a culture of creativity woven into the fabric of the businesses for whom we create campaigns.

The ROI needs to be clearly evidenced. The question to be answered is, "What ranks as best?”. This is unlikely to be a single dimension, it will need to be a composite. If tied solely to one indicator, which may or may not be right, then it can limit creativity and the role for original thinking.

"We focus too closely on the data at the risk of ignoring the role for creative intuition, which might not find, immediately, the requisite research or statistical insight to support the intuition.”

Ian Max Ewart

Chief Marketing Officer, Acin

In order to drive growth and stay relevant, businesses need to reinvent from the inside and out. Creativity is critical to this process because the originality of strategic ideas can leap businesses forward and propel them into the future. Transformation with creativity will create exponential value and impact for businesses and brands.

Jean Lin

Global CEO, Isobar