Digital marketing is incredibly data-driven. We’re constantly trying to refine how we identify potential customers, how we target and retarget them. The obsession with numbers can sometimes lead to a lack of focus on creativity.
Now, we all know that how you say something matters as much as saying it at the right time. As such, it’s important to ensure that the value of creativity isn’t underweighted. But that creativity should stretch to the data too. People using the same tools in the same way everyday often fall into a pattern of just going through the motions. This is great in accounts payable – you definitely don’t want people toying with those numbers – but in marketing you want to relentlessly push forward.
So how do you foster a creative culture in digital teams?
The primary focus, for me at least, is to focus on encouraging people’s curiosity. This is easier said than done. In fact, I’ve known people who believe you either have an inquisitive mind or you don’t. I disagree.
I think you can encourage people’s latent curiosity but you can only do it by giving them work that is challenging, that stretches the mind and where the process is uncertain.
Uncertainty, in particular, is crucial. Working on things that might not succeed, or lead to a dead end, these are the tasks that encourage investigation.
Questions that start with the words “how might we…?” can be really useful. For example, you could ask: “How might we approximate purchase intent using Facebook’s demographic targeting?” The answer is uncertain but so is the process. How do you go about working this out?
Setting tasks that are innately uncertain is all well and good, but it only works if there’s a safety net. Do your team trust that you aren’t setting them up to fail? Or that if they do fail, you’re not going to get mad? Do they think you’re setting them challenging work because you want to produce great work or do they just think you’re massively unreasonable?
So a creative culture has to be one where people are able to fail. And when they do, they shouldn’t get hurt.
Start small. Test things out. Scale up what works. Above all, if a project is steeped in uncertainty, your expectations need to be curbed. You cannot ask for the moon on a stick.
The third element in fostering creativity, that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to, is an appreciation of craft. Do people appreciate the difference between something that’s been done well and something that’s just ok?
Writing, for me, is the obvious example. Marketing is not short of writers. Everyone’s a “wordsmith” or they “do words” or they “scribble”. And yet, none of that is particularly useful. Writing is not a specialism. Copywriting is a specialism. Writing words that sell is massively useful.
So encourage an understanding of the craft of selling. Is that ad good? Why is it good? What elements work? How could it be stronger? And go beyond the ads and content. How was your experience in that shop or restaurant or hotel? Did anything make you spend more than you planned? Are you likely to go back? What’s the draw?
Workplace culture is notoriously difficult to change or manage. However, I think managers can never spend enough time on it because it is critical to achieving goals and targets. These three areas are where I’ve got to so far in thinking about building creativity into a team’s culture, but I’d love to know what you think. Do you agree or stridently disagree? What am I missing? Where should I be bolder?