The Creative Imperative

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How important is creativity in Marketing?

It’s not a loaded question. Some may say that the creativity can’t stand on its own as it needs the strategy behind it that will drive the creative output. I think that’s a mistake. If the strategy isn’t developed using creativity, all is lost. My point? Creativity is not just the visual part of it. Creativity needs to be expressed at every part of the marketing food chain.

This isn’t just about how smart you are as a Marketer.

Arianna Huffington gave the opening keynote address today at the CMA National Convention. Optically, you may not be impressed by the design and usability of The Huffington Post. How you feel about it creativity doesn’t matter. The editors at HuffPo know it works. They test it, they leverage analytics and they watch how their linking strategy moves across the Web like a hawk. They iterate, tweak and fix the experience on the fly. It’s everything that traditional newspapers and magazines don’t do. Putting that aside as a creative act (both strategically and visually), you have to be impressed with everything that Arianna and her team did prior to launching this new form of journalism, news and cultural expression in 2005. The Huffington Post got creative with how they thought about everything from publishing and journalism to pushing the medium into newer forms of sharing and collaborating.

"Self-expression is the new entertainment." 

That was only one of the very tweetable things that Arianna told the audience of Marketers today. She’s right. It’s much more fun for people to tweet or update their Facebook status than it is to watch a TV show. It’s also more creative when people can create things in text, images, audio and video and share it instantly for free to the world. That initial spark of content then becomes something that other people can add on top of (creating their own layer of creativity).

Many people think they’re not creative. They are wrong.

  • When you Blog, you’re being creative.
  • When you’re problem solving at work, you’re being creative.
  • When you have the urge to tweet on Twitter, you’re being creative.
  • When you leave an original comment on a Blog post, you’re being creative.
  • When you structure your Facebook page, you’re being creative.
  • When you develop your LinkedIn profile, you’re being creative.
  • When you take a picture with Instagram, you’re being creative.

Being creative is imperative to your personal and professional development.

Marketing is all about how many people from many different disciplines come together to creatively solve a brand challenge. This is the reason why so many marketing agencies use words like "creativity," "ideas" and "inspiration" in their vision and mission statements. Marketing is all about the creative imperative. Pushing this idea even further, business is also about the creative imperative too.

I’d argue that creativity is core to everything in Marketing. How do you think this plays out?


  1. Self-expression has always been the root of entertainment. Now, just like marketing, it has been dialed down to a one-to-one feed of stimulation.

  2. There’s nothing wrong with the use of creativity in marketing. That’s not the issue. However, I object to giving creativity free rein over marketing. In a world where a person if or how to react to a marketing message in three seconds or less, creativity must help draw a prospect in. Too often, creativity confuses or makes the prospect think too much and drives them away.

  3. Yes Mitch, all forms of human expression may be accepted as an act of creativity. Artistic expression-of-the-self. Art in its purest form. Devoid of marketable communication strategy and in most cases with no purpose other than to express oneself. Useless in hard cash business terms.
    Enter (after the late 1950’s till today) modern marketing practices, were the great majority of players suppress their creativity in exchange for pre-chewed, pre-digested and pre-regurgitated “business formulas†of the quantifiable and tangible kind. All backed by strategic analysis, projected performance forecast, ROI procedure rules, “created†by academia and the business world, groups were intuition, vision and perception have no value because they can not be quantified and validate a priori.
    How important is creativity in Marketing?
    Important or indispensable. What The Huffington Post had was the capability to combine intuition, vision and perception with agile tangible business strategies.
    The problem is that in the business world, the “creative†(intuition, vision, perception) is confused with “artistic expression of the self†generated by individuals that don’t understand business and spend their lives day-dreaming in cloud nine. Another “C-minus†for creativity, in the business world is the primitive perception that creativity is mainly related to fine-arts and visual-arts, (les arts plastiques) and not to the capability of some to be able to perceive, sense intangible social waves prior they become part of the daily social experience.
    We all want to participate in the creative process. The business quantifiers with their power included. But, not all have intuition, vision, perception, and those creative traits can not be learned in academia. Which sadly gives validity to the “business formulas†of the quantifiable and tangible kind, so all can participate in the marketing “creative†process.

  4. Thoughtful post and very thoughtful comments as usual! I would submit that creativity is directly proportional to the permission you give yourself to exercise that muscle. In more strict environments, the notion of permission to do anything (let alone be creative) is stamped out effectively. And, ultimately, maybe it’s more about your willingness to accept a little disruption/chaos on your path to something potentially great. It may actually not be great, it may even be pretty bad art actually, but I believe the benefits may outweigh that risk.
    Parissa Behnia

  5. …and the marketers who find and reward the creativity of “civilians” will be the ultimate winners. One thing that HuffPo has done right is to pervasively integrate all sorts of opportunities for readers to share their creative ideas/comments.

  6. I would like to add to my previous intervention that both camps (The quantifiable Marketing Business Formulas Group and the the Intuitive, Visionary, Perceptive elements Creative Individuals) must be able to clearly communicate their offering for their marketing efforts process to be a success. No an easy task according to George Bernard Shaw that said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken placeâ€.

  7. Fact vs Art. Art wins because it’s analogue and emotive.
    What I’ve learned about humans from writing an opinion column in a small town that might in some obtuse way related to marketing versus creative arguments (can you really ever seperate them?):
    Most people believe their opinions are formed logically with a long study and deep understanding of facts: a process of intelligence that is actually quite rare.
    The reality is that most people’s opinions are formed very quickly and most often in the absence of facts: a process of emotion that is common to all people of all ages.
    Gossip, rumour and fear outperform reality facts in the everyday world of a small town when forming opinions.
    The reality of marketing in today’s world is an ever shortening window of time of words and images as the tools to grab the target and have them form an opinion.
    Logic and facts won’t ever be absorbed or communicate as quickly as the emotions and subliminal feelings we get immediately when we’re presented with something we must form an opinion on. The dry logic of factual information is slow and plodding in the face of instantaneous feeling. Feeling wins every time and a mediocre product emotionally presented in a very positive feeling will change more opinion and buying habits than a factual comparison. If you’re ever going to hook a human into the study of dry cold facts to form an opinion you must breatively hook them into the idea that it will be worth their effort.
    Another quick thought: The factual is a digitally simplistic representation, the emotional or creative is the analogue representation. This is why there is nothing recorded that can approach the effect of a live symphony.
    In a digital world, success hinges on first understanding and then exploiting the forever analogue of emotion.

  8. I have often worked with the mantra that if you can’t write, you can’t work here (insert company name). My point was that it forced people to bring out their inherent creativity. I once met a guy who ran a cement company and after asking him a lot about his business he proclaimed ‘it’s better than a real job”. Often we look at the artistic industries as non-traditional. this guy saw the creativity in the job he loved. In my opinion, marketing is everything you do, it is not something you pull out when you’re designing your next campaign.

  9. Hi Mitch. Thanks for reminding everybody that creativity is not just limited to a few talented guys, but that we are all being creative in our own way, sometimes very intensively, all day long. Whether the creative product can then be marketed is another story. It takes guts and hard work to market our creative endeavors…

  10. I couldn’t agree more with Louis F’s comments. However, if you belong to the ‘creative-always-in-cloud-nine” group, how do you convince a board that your hunches will work in the real world? No matter how insightful or ground breaking your ideas might seem, you need to convince the people paying the bills that it will work. Hence, the dominance of the ‘pre-regurgitated business formula” in the marketplace because it must have worked once

  11. In my world, creativity is not just a requisite for successful marketing, but for all aspects of any enterprise. In design work, creativity is at the core. Production problems must be met with creative thinking. Human relations, dealing with your colleagues and employees, even friends, often requires different and novel approaches. And its importance is well recognized – the term “thinking outside the box” has become a business cliché. It can also lead you astray, as in “creative accounting”! But even the world of accounting is constantly looking for better ways to present economic data. Luis talks of “quantifiable business formulas” as being the antithesis of innovative activity which by definition is unquantifiable, but in my mind for a business model to succeed requires creativity at every step along the way, often leading in my experience to deviations from a standard formula which makes no sense in a particular circumstance. The successful person is one who is able to stick to a goal without deviation, but is willing and eager to try innovative and creative deviations in order to achieve it.

  12. Great post! Never thought of marketing and business to be a part of the creative process itself and you know what, it makes perfect sense. Creativity has to be a part of the whole chain to make it a success and identify with the unique self.

  13. You bet creativity is the core of marketing. Yes, you need the analytics and sales pitch to push the idea forward, but without a great writer, designer and/or conceptual creator working on the marketing, you have a dud!

  14. Of course creativity should be at the heart of marketing. I believe creativity should be at the core of one’s approach to life. One of the comments above, referred to the the “creative always in cloud-nine group”.I believe I understand what is meant by that label and find it condescending and incorrect. This is a stereotypical response that shows a lack of understanding about the creative process. If someone exhibits this kind of behavior, that is not someone who is in the process of being creative. The word creative implies action, not flaky,disconnected thought. It is a process that requires the same kind of thought, action and dedication that a successful business would require.

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