Creativity is Overrated in Marketing


"Overrated" might be the wrong term. Maybe the title should really be, "Creativity is a Luxury in Marketing."

Most people naturally associate creativity and marketing, when in reality, marketing is more closely aligned with precision resembling operations or supply chain. Yes, creativity is important, yet most businesses don't have the luxury to be creative because they haven't established the basics of marketing. 

A marketer can't be creative until they have established fundamental best practices of marketing. Then, and only then, can they move to creativity. Let's break this down. In the next few paragraphs we will explore:

  • Why creativity is overrated 
  • The basics of marketing 
  • When it's appropriate to be creative 

Forget Creativity

I worked for a non-profit for 5-years as the Director of Fundraising which meant I oversaw marketing campaigns, events, and other projects which secured funds for our programs in third-world countries. Almost every week while at a fundraising event, someone would come up to me and tell me about an "amazing" idea they had for an event. Occasionally, the ideas were good. 

After years of taking on too many events, I finally had a standard response to these people. "Great idea! I will provide you with resources for you to oversee the event." 99% of the time, there would be an awkward pause and they would say, "no I don't want to do the event, I want you (i.e. me) to do the event."

They just wanted to come up with the idea but did not want to spend the months of work it takes to oversee, promote, and execute a successful event. What they didn't know is that I was constantly overseeing three events at once in different phases of execution. 

Similarly, now I have a marketing company, Elisha Consulting, and people always tell me their "creative ideas." They like to tell me how their idea could become a "viral" hit (it won't). Again, my response is, "Great, I would love to see you execute it and I will help you by supplying resources." They look at me with a blank stare as they thought I would jump on their creative idea and shower them with praise. 

What they don't understand is creativity is overrated in a world where most people won't do the hard work to execute marketing campaigns. They don't understand the fundamentals must be secured before outlandish creative ideas are implemented. If you want to be a great marketer, focus on the basics. 

The Basics of Marketing

Why do I keep talking about the basics? Here is a quick example which happens routinely in my world.

Someone will say, "I have an idea for an advertisement for my business!" Sometimes they even purchase advertisement space in magazines, online, or somewhere else which requires a designed piece. They tell me about how they want it to look in detail. I start to get excited, then calm down and ask for the basics. 

  • What is the size of the piece (full-page, half-page, specific pixel size, etc.)?
  • Is it black-and-white or full-color?
  • What file format does the vendor need?
  • When does the vendor need the file? 
  • What content is going on the piece?
  • What is our goal? 
  • Who is our target market? 

Those are just a few, but you get the point. Many times, people look at me perplexed. Wait, advertisements don't just appear in creative glory???

No, they take planning, and the basics must be met before a final product can be created. Don't get me wrong, I love to be creative, one of the reasons I am in marketing is to have an outlet for my creativity. Yet, the basics are more important. 

Many campaigns never get off the ground because too much time was expended in creative brainstorming sessions when they should have been spent walking through the process of how to actually execute the campaign. 

I can not overstate the importance of the basics. 

Some of the most fundamental aspects of campaigns, especially for small businesses, are:

  • A defined target demographic 
  • An accessible and editable website
  • Google Analytics and other software to measure audience engagement 
  • An online database of emails and newsletter application (for example, MailChimp)
  • Someone who is proficient in Adobe 
  • Someone who can put print files together 
  • Someone who can write advertising content 
  • Clear metrics for success 

The list could go on, yet the point is to set a foundation of best practices. Then you can be creative. 

When It's Appropriate to be Creative

The answer should be obvious, creativity flourishes when the basics are covered. 

Another story. One of my past clients has some of the most creative people I ever met. They would sit and brainstorm for hours, feel accomplished, and then nothing would happen. Those ideas would stay on the whiteboard with no next steps. 

I worked with their team to establish an online "creative brief." I created a hidden page with a form on their website. The form asked for the basics:

  • Their name
  • Their department
  • Campaign name
  • Campaign description 
  • Target demographic 
  • Goals for success (net profit, online impressions, etc.)
  • Items needed (collateral, landing page, etc.)
  • When would they like to launch the campaign 
  • Additional comments

Along with the creative brief, I created a campaign calendar for small and large projects with milestones for people to follow. The calendar described the process of initial brainstorming, concepts, rough drafts, final drafts, and launch date (this is an oversimplification but gives an idea of the calendar). 

These two items, the creative brief and campaign calendar, allowed for creativity to grow as all of a sudden the basics were covered. There was no more worrying about how to execute as we had a process. With the basics covered, campaigns launched month-after-month to great success, including one which had a 6,600% ROI. 

Your Turn to Become a Better Marketer

What have we uncovered? First, creativity is not nearly as important as the basics. In fact, creativity can be a hindrance to marketing as many people associate being creative with accomplishing something. In reality, executing a campaign is actually doing something. 

Once the basics are covered, then yes, be as creative as possible. You will feel liberated knowing the fundamentals are in place for you to be creative. 

Elisha Consulting is always looking for more clients. We specialize in helping build brands that sell through digital marketing. View our work and see how we can help your business. 

Matt Avery

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