by Gary Knight

Why Creativity is the key differentiator in Brand Success.



‘ Round
Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever-spinning reel ‘

The evocative opening lines of Dusty Springfield’s classic song ‘ The Windmills of Your Mind ‘.
Of course, you could argue that it is just a bunch of words, that could easily be forgotten. But hey no, great lyrics tell a ‘story’ & when they are brought to life by such an amazing voice as Dusty’s, then they take on real life & they become ‘channels of emotion’ flowing across our lives. We all know that ‘Great Storytelling’ is deeply embedded within our DNA. Without it we wouldn’t have a culture, a focal point of reference for who we are, an escape from the troubles that often surround us, a magical place to visit that enriches our souls. ‘
We are a social species after all, not lone Leopards roaming the hills in shadowy isolation. We need to gather, share & remember who we are.
That’s where ‘Creativity’ comes into sharp focus, it’s a key part of our brain’s architecture- along with the logical bit & oh, not forgetting the ‘reptilian chunk’ as well. Yes, sorry but it is still there!
So it seems rather odd that since the 2008/09 Financial Crash we have all but pushed this ‘child’ to the back of the class & told her to be quiet!  There has been so much emphasis on the role of procurement to drive costs down, coupled with the ‘data obsession’ (be that Big Data or any other kind of data you fancy). So, let’s try & climb out of this rut & get the A Student Creative Kid at the front of the class where they so rightfully belong.
Ok, get your checklists out & prepare to go down the list:

> Procurement – of course intelligent & robust procurement is a ‘must have’ for any company (not matter how big/small they are) & any individual (household budgets?) As a new start, up myself I am acutely aware that most new companies fail because they lose control of their costs. Thus, this is a basic discipline we all need but it doesn’t propel us in richer, more profitable lands – it’s not the ‘winning solution’.

> Data – of course we all need to have as much knowledge about our customer base (be they current or potential) as we can. Totally buy that (but I still prefer the words ‘Customer Knowledge’ to ‘Data’). Yes, I know that some smart kids have made a whole business out of data – with certain members of the FANGA gang using the data we give them to actually become the products/services they sell on to third parties). For the rest of us this data will inform us & give us clues to how to acquire, keep & delight our customer base. However, on its own it will not create a more desirable future for us. It may educate us as to the shape & nature of certain products/services we take to market, but, & listen very carefully, it will not create BRANDS.  Please trust me on this point ‘Brands’ are entirely different & more powerful creatures than ‘Products’.

> Content – firstly Content doesn’t automatically indicate the presence of Creativity. Just because Content has been produced this is not a prerequisite for ‘great creativity’.  This is an important point to bear in mind given that virtually every single human being, brand, agency is beginning to release vast swathes of content into the Multiplatform eco-system in the somewhat bizarre belief that firstly ‘It will be seen’ & secondly that it will be an ‘effective ‘part of their overall marketing strategy. It is estimated that within the next 3 years that 95% of internet activity will be ‘video-led’.
Given these billions & billions of pieces of content out there, then the laws of science clearly spell out that 99% of that content will receive hardly ‘any views’ at all. So, everyone is going to have to be ‘very creative’ if this content is to get both noticed & also to rise above the crowd.

> Connectivity – we live in a hyper-connected Digital Age. Just like the Industrial Age & all those ‘other Ages’ before it, this is the environment we live in. We may love it, hate it or suffer it, but we cannot escape it. So, let’s just accept the times we find ourselves in & move on to the opportunities that these new lands offer up. Given consumers live in a ‘connected space’, then it seems somewhat odd that there is very little ‘connected marketing’ in play. I am particularly alarmed by the lack of ‘connected creativity’. Companies & their advisors spend heaps of time & £s on developing their ‘proposition to consumers & then somewhat strangely they ‘divorce’ the creative messaging that is bringing this to life.
The TV ad looks entirely different from the Facebook work, the Sales promotion creative is light years away from both.

But Why? It is because a client often employs a myriad of agencies who are all fighting each other for their share of the budget & all claiming, ‘I can make Content ‘. I am all for crafting campaigns so that they fit the individual platform/distribution points… after all Context is also a powerful element to utilise, but that doesn’t mean you produce entirely different creative work across each one.
How on earth can you build sustainable relationships with consumers on that basis?

Now none of the above is attempting to dilute some brilliantly creative & connected creative work that is currently being executed by some clients. However, they are rare & I, for one, don’t want them to become an ‘endangered species’.

In order to ‘Win the Future’ then surely we need to find a path where great, connected Creativity becomes all of our priorities . Creativity, even more so in a content drenched world, will become one of the key differentiators for Brand success. This is not just my own gut feel, it is backed up by some real scientific studies…Including IPA Effectiveness awards & some excellent work carried out by the good people of Cannes Lions. Phil Thomas & his team made a big case for ‘Why Creativity Matters ‘ at recent Cannes Lions events. James Hurman’s fascinating book, The Case for Creativity,  (he also spoke at the Lions), examined across a 16 year period all the companies that won the prestigious Cannes Lions ‘ Advertiser/Creative Marketeer of the Year ‘ awards  & in every case the performance of those companies exceeded the average performance of the Stock market in general by a factor of 3.5 times.

These are all long term studies & not ‘short convenient research fixes’.
James also noticed that within these high performing companies a strong creative culture was evident throughout the organisation.
In my book not only does Creativity matter, but it also undisputedly points to the unmissable facts the ‘Creativity Sells.’

I am also intrigued by the obsession with the word ‘Innovation’. How many times have you read a press release or an article along the lines of … ‘ We are an innovation led organisation’, ‘We put innovation at the core of our company’..blah, blah, blah…  All of this suggests that  ‘Innovation ‘ is akin to a magic wand that is going to conjure up all manner of wondrous things. Of course we all need to focus on innovation to a certain extent, after all in a fast changing business landscape then that’s really just’ common sense’. It helps stays ahead of the crowd. But innovation without ‘genuine Creativity’ is often just a dead duck. Creativity & Innovation often sleep in the same bed. Just think of all the ways you can become more creative due to technological innovations. So please recognise the reality of this situation.

There are other clues to why great Creativity should be at core of all campaigns ….& that is a very Human one.
Since the dawn of time  ( even a bit before I entered this planet ) all human relationships have been defined by one major concept –  we are firmly rooted in emotional attachments. These can be with the love of our life, our pet Bernese Mountain Dog, Arsenal Football Club, the works of F Scott Fitzgerald or even that fabulous ‘Comme des garçons ‘ shirt ‘that I bought the other day.
Great Stories have always been an integral part of these emotional attachments. thousands of years ago we sat around a camp fire and told each stories of gods, monsters & where the best nuts & berries could be found. In modern parlance we look to Books, TV shows, Films, Blogs, Radio shows, Newspapers  & Social media posts  to provide us with these stories. The power of these stories to bind us together remains a core part of our DNA & the hyper-digital age hasn’t changed the building blocks of our bodies & brains at all.
The problem is that so many stories are now being told & by some many ‘untrained Storytellers’ , that the true art of creating genuine, robust & long lasting emotional attachments is being lost.
Reverse to my comments in respect of ‘everyone is making content ‘. If I walked into an industry conference & asked how many  people produced in depth data analytical studies, on a regular basis, on a subject such as ‘the new emerging middle class societies in developing countries’, the very few hands would go up. If I then asked who has produced ‘Content’ ( for a company/brand) recently , then lots of hands would raise ..some of them might be Creative Agencies or Producers…experts in their fields… but you would also see Media Agencies, PR Agencies, Social Media Agencies  & Direct Marketing Agencies in the ‘hand raise club’ as well. True, some of these people may have produced some highly creative content …but not all of them can be labelled as ‘Master Storytellers’.
In a hyper competitive landscape we need these ‘Master Storytellers’ more than ever. Companies have a fantastic opportunity to engage their customer base & build highly charged campaigns across these connected islands but we must really put Creativity at the very ‘front of the class’ & allow the ‘real experts ‘ to take centre stage.
Netflix have built themselves a $130 billion business on the back of a product range that is based entirely upon Premium Creative Content – 6 years ago everybody stated the were ‘nuts’ trying to pull this off in a hyper web based world where ‘no one ‘ , especially Generation Z , would watch long form TV . Step forward one pace those of us who didn’t invest in Netflix in those early years… & step forward 2 paces my 20 year old son who now watches ‘Drama’ on their platform.

Interestingly  the FANGA crowd are now massively upscaling their investment in these ‘ Master Storytellers’, signing lock in deals with great writers, directors & producers…just like the Hollywood Studios of old. Companies launched Products & built them into Brands via often, fabulously creative advertising…oozing with lashings of emotional attachment pinpoints.

We can fill our houses with stack loads of data, undertake lots of ‘strategic insights’ into this data & procure the bottom out of everything …but in the end one inescapable task remains : ‘ If you genuinely want to ‘Win the Future’ then make sure Creativity is the first guest on your dinner party list’
Time to go back to Dusty…

‘ Pictures hanging in a hallway
And the fragment of a song
Half-remembered names and faces
But to whom do they belong ?
When you knew the it was over
You were suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning
To the colour of her hair.


Gary x

Gary Knight
About Gary Knight
The Creative Windmills of My Mind