29th Jan, 2019

Why Marketers Find Themselves in a Creative Confidence Crisis

We all thought that digital marketing would continue to perform. However, CMOs are now reporting that digital marketing campaigns have hit the wall. In fact, a 2018 Nielsen CMO survey says that 71% of CMOs don’t believe in their creative’s ability to drive results. And after more than $93 billion spent on marketing technology in 2018 alone, 66% of CMOs report that they are not hitting their business targets.

This isn’t a problem. It’s a massive confidence crisis.

Einstein’s definition of insanity

Do we keep pouring money into the same tools in our MarTech stack? Spend more money on new media opportunities? Hire new people? Or do we go for a Hail Mary and do a rebrand, hire a new agency or even do a website overhaul? We know the answer to that. None of it will move the needle in the big way that we need.

The creative conundrum  

When you think about  “creative,” artwork, writing and graphic design come to mind. But I think of creative as the entire campaign and customer journey. It could be an email subject line, a body or a landing page. A more complex example would be email marketing, display ads, Facebook and Instagram ads and even radio and TV promotions.  There’s no reason why learnings from an AI-powered Facebook ad or email campaigns cannot be used to inform creative decisions on terrestrial media.

How did we get here? 

For starters, we’re just plain looking at creative wrong. Say TechComp is a business which sells computers. They likely care very much about the computers (“the product”) and what makes them special — their value proposition. They view the marketing team’s role as communicating the products they sell. They think about the plumbing — the MarTech, segmentation, targeting, programmatic advertising, customer database, cost per lead and so on, but they completely overlook creative, which I call the “marketing product.” It’s a big oversight because the successful equation in marketing today is: great product + great “marketing product” + the right marketing technology = great results.  Data science is driving all marketing decisions except digital marketing creative and messaging.

But it’s not that CMOs and their teams have been sitting idle and missing the boat completely on their digital marketing creative. They’ve tried to mix up headlines and calls to action, hold focus groups and a/b test. Even some have used simple multivariate testing on the creative. But it’s not enough and no real progress is made. Then the finger-pointing begins.

“Why did you write that headline like that? Why was your CTA ‘Learn more?’” How are you holding your creative team and agencies to account?

The problem is, as CMOs, we have had little hard evidence to defend our digital marketing creative across the customer journey at scale. We’ve hit the wall, and suddenly everyone around thinks they are a copywriter or art director. We’ve all been there.

Breaking through the wall

Within marketing, we use data to drive targeting and segmentation, marketing mix optimization, promos and discounts and dynamic pricing. We also use data to make better decisions on just about every other part of our business: to measure the performance of an email campaign or Facebook ad. But what about creative? Creative and production can take up to 20% of our marketing budgets. Why wouldn’t we apply the same deep data analytics to drive decisions on the exact right words, phrases and images needed to get the best engagement and most revenue? It’s now available to us. A/B testing has long been found to be less effective — you could be testing something that is bad or worse. Focus groups are for a different era. On the other hand a machine has infinite computational knowledge that can take human-generated creative to the next level powered by AI, machine learning and data science. Is it possible that machine-generated creative can be more emotive, more engaging, more consistently “on brand” and drive more e-commerce revenue than human-generated creative? Is it possible?


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