From the December issue of Rock Magazine.
The role of creativity in marketing
There is no doubt about the contribution of creativity to marketing effectiveness. Brand size and creativity are in fact two of the most important contributors to marketing effectiveness, according to several studies including the ones that saw thousands of entries to the Effie Awards among its data sources.
And before this, the mammoth exercises of mining the creatively-awarded advertising campaigns databank run by Gunn and then Field & Binet from the 90s to the present day (if you want to learn more “The Case for Creativity: The link between imaginative marketing & commercial success” by James Hurman is a must read). Exceptional creative design helps large or small brands make a business impact.
The dark age
Yet despite this evidence, creativity in marketing appeared to be declining since the last financial recession. A 2016 study authored by Peter Field for the IPA and advertising service WARC (“Selling Creativity Short”) found the number of short-term campaigns (those campaigns focusing on activation only) had quadrupled to 30%, while budget investment behind creativity fell by around 12 percentage points.
The impact was that brand building effects declined for the first time and the SoV efficiency multiplier fell in the years following 2010. Long-term campaigns were as effective as ever but there were fewer of them getting made. And the effectiveness of creatively-awarded campaigns fell to its lowest level in 24 years as the marketing industry increasingly shifted to more short-term activation campaigns, as Field found and documented in his second report for the IPA, The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness).
“Historically, creativity has been the single most important tool we can harness to boost marketing effectiveness,” says the report. “The evidence of this link has been very strong, with enormous effectiveness multipliers evident for the most creative campaigns. So it really matters that this link is now critically weakened and perhaps broken.”
Given all the data that shows the difference creativity can make, why the lack of investment by brands?
There are many answers to this question. Some cite procurement and finance’s growing demand for measurable marketing spend. Others difficult economic conditions tending to result in companies becoming safer and more risk-averse. This evidence was accentuated by the Great Recession of 2008/2009.
Still others put the blame mostly at the rise of digital marketing. The rise of digital over the past 10 years has led to a focus on performance and optimisation over creativity. It is seen as easier and cheaper to improve SEO than try to come up with an awareness-creating brand campaign.
A new renaissance
However, there is evidence that creativity is rising up the agenda again – and it looks like this new phase has been accentuated by the recent Covid-19 crisis (“are we one the verge of a right brain reset?” ask Orlando Wood on his recent essay “What Should Ads Look Like in the Time of Recession?” published for LinkedIn’s B2B Institute).
The only way to stand out from the crowd is creativity. If that peak really has been reached, the marketing industry will be forced to refocus on creativity.
Yet marketers and their counterparts in finance have become used to and are enjoying the real-time measurability of performance marketing. If the industry can’t prove the effectiveness of creativity, brands will continue to over-invest on short-term performance rather than brand building. The majority of marketers are trying to add some science to art.
Content experience: adding science to art
Which brings us to the concept of content experience.
We all know that content represents marketing’s atomic particle. The perfect content experience is where marketing science and creativity meet. It’s where data and performance blend with creativity and emotions.
According to MarTech Advisor, which coined the term, content experience is defined as “the overall experience of accessing, consuming, engaging with and responding to a stream of branded content – across diverse devices, platforms and channels, and throughout the buyer’s journey, from prospect to customer”.
Chitra Iyer, editor-in-chief of MarTech Advisor said: “Prospects and customers don’t look to consume an individual piece of content, but rather are on a journey where they need ongoing resources to help move purposefully forward in their buying decision”.
Creativity drives entertaining, emotional and beautiful content experiences.
Content needs to convey relevant, emotional messages that are full of branding but should be easy to consume at the same time. Think about online videos or interactive content: both are entertaining, can be emotional, and provides data and insights.
Interactive content adds some science to the art. In fact, it is one of the most engaging content types; it’s a valid technique for both brand awareness and performance marketing; it generates customer insights.
Vitor Peçanha, co-founder of Rock Content, wrote: “In marketing, every time we interact with a piece of content, we are also living an experience: the satisfaction of learning something new, the comfort of being well informed of a decision, etc”. He breaks down what a content experience truly is and compares it to the experience of visiting a Disney park. Disney knows how to create a memorable experience for their guests. Content experiences may not have the same cross-generational impact that a Disney experience has, but they can still give visitors a sense of belonging, and most importantly remain in their memories.
In marketing, every time we interact with a piece of content, we are also living an experience: the satisfaction of learning something new, the comfort of being well informed of a decision.
A content experience is the combination of content and context. Every piece of content conveys an experience through elements like creative design, placement, environment and more.Vitor Peçanha
And it’s not just about creativity. Think at personalisation. Your customers live in a world of Spotify and Netflix. The expectation of personalized content experiences has been set. B2B marketers need to adapt to buyer expectations. Those who do will win over customers by recognizing each individual and providing personalized experiences based on their unique interests, behaviors, and needs.
A content experience is therefore about addressing the whole user experience when engaging with the content. It puts control back in the hands of the marketer, while also focusing on the brand experience.
The Netflix Model
For those who have been working with content marketing for years, content experience isn’t really a new revolutionary idea. Are content experience and content marketing the same thing? The short answer is no. Content marketing & content experience differ, for several reasons.
First, unlike content marketing, content experience takes into account how people consume and interact with your content; so the focus is not just the content on the page, it’s how you package and design content. It’s how you deliver and recommend content in more meaningful ways from first touch to the sale and beyond.
The genesis of the content experience approach is an understanding that, as per Chitra Iyer of MarTech Advisor, “prospects and customers don’t look to consume an individual piece of content, but rather are on a journey where they need ongoing resources to help move purposefully forward in their buying decision”.
Creativity is the second element of differentiation for a content experience. Content marketing generally aims at informing and educating readers; creativity is not part of the mix. It is instead a critical element of a content experience. Exceptional creative design helps content make a business impact and gain effectiveness, exactly like it does with creative advertising.
Finally, content experiences tend to be episodic, and tell a story. “I think we have moved from a world where individual pieces of content marketing could stand out, to a world where that is not going to be a differentiating factor” says Rand Fishkin in a recent interview with Paul Campillo, Typerform’s CMO.
We now live in what I call the Netflix world of content marketing, which is not individual points, but rather episodic content, something that gets produced over time, and then you get addicted to it and you love it and share it.Rand Fishkin
“I believe that the future of great content marketing is no longer producing individual pieces of content and targeting respective keywords. We now live in what I call the Netflix world of content marketing, which is not individual points, but rather episodic content, something that gets produced over time, and then you get addicted to it and you love it and share it. It starts with a small audience and then it grows to a bigger one. The “episodic content world is where we are headed.”
While offline marketing gave brands the opportunity to create and maintain positive mental and physical associations (long-term brand building), online marketing used to be restricted to monetizing the brand equity created somewhere else (short-term performance). Unfortunately, the online marketing and advertising industry has always reinforced this perception with an obsessive focus on performance marketing and lower-funnel goals of getting immediate return on investment (efficiency over effectiveness).
Things have changed: content experiences, a blend of old and new content formats, creative design and episodic storytelling, are entertaining, can be emotional, and provide data and insights; thus they can address well both long-term brand building and short-term performance marketing.
Content experience is therefore where creativity, emotions, data and performance meet.