Marketing creativity has died right when we need it most. Although the exact time of its recent demise is uncertain, there's no question about the cause: asphyxiation beneath an avalanche of data.
Yes, data has greatly improved marketers' ability to track performance, but it's had the unintended consequence of transforming marketers from a creative "brain force" into a hands-on-keyboard labor force. And when you add in the hyper-segmentation that now drives marketing strategy, it's clear that creativity's fate was sealed.
Today, marketers start with audience selection, then develop creative intended to resonate with specific market niches. They make decisions based on audience behavior—how and when they engage, etc. They rely on a continuous performance feedback loop to shape and optimize future campaigns. A low barrier to entry results in a crowded marketplace, with a focus on numbers rather than creativity. Marketers spend the majority of their time organizing data rather than using it in ways that drive creativity.
Does all that work? Yes. Does it leave the audience wanting more? Absolutely.
Is there hope for creativity's resurrection? Without a doubt.
Art and Science
Marketers are struggling within a paradigm in which data and creativity are at odds with one another: To be creative is to innovate and try new things; to be data-driven is to go with what you know works based on the numbers.
The key to art and science living in harmony is... automation.
Automating data collection, mapping, and modeling leaves marketers with enough time in the day to leverage the insights surfaced by the data and to apply that to creative strategies—not just janitor the data.
Marketing, like all business functions, is constrained by resource availability as it tries to realize its goals. When resources are freed from mundane tasks, they can be redeployed to more creative pursuits. When marketers are not forced to spend half their workday on data analysis, they can spend more time interacting with customers and drawing on other tangible experiences that drive creativity.
From Tesla to Waymo
Right now, marketing automation is merely a "feature," one that relies on human capital—a lot of it—to pull its levers. It's like a Tesla, which is often (incorrectly) described as a self-driving car.
Sure, Tesla does lots of things autonomously; however, it still requires a human driver to make most decisions. The steering wheel, gas pedal, and brake are key features of the car's design and are intended to be used by the driver. Just like today's media buying platforms: If the option to interact with the technology is there, we make the assumption that it isn't fully capable of working on its own and needs our "help" to achieve the outcome we desire.
For creativity to rise from its ashes, Marketing needs a new approach. It must evolve to become more like Google's Waymo—a truly self-driving car—than a Tesla. It must be built around full automation, with more decisions being made by the technology itself.
Waymo users simply input their destination and the technology decides the best way to get there. There's no steering wheel, no gas pedal, no brake.
That's the kind of full automation needed for media buying in the future state of Marketing. Marketers will continue to provide the goals. Technology will decide the best way to achieve them, and it will execute on those decisions.
Freed from their "driving" responsibilities, marketers can then devote that time to activities with the potential to improve creativity—whiteboarding, scouring through the latest design trends, ideation, brainstorming high-impact content, etc. They can shift their focus away from the ad format and toward the fabrication of more creative content within the ad—which is exactly where their focus should be.
Automation Evolves From 'Feature' to Pillar
Marketers will reap significant benefits from this new model. Technology won't be a marketing "feature" anymore. It will be a core pillar. Data scientists will be freed to shift their focus away from simply managing data and spend more time and resources on testing and learning new models.
Relieved of their hands-on-keyboard responsibilities, marketers can refocus on testing and iterating new strategies and creative approaches. Reignited creativity can be put to work strengthening connections with customers. Marketers will be able to provide the kinds of curated marketing experiences critical to capitalizing on momentary markets—a process that Accenture describes as "individualization" in the coming post-digital era.
What the Future State of Marketing Means for Companies
As Waymo-style automation propels the future state of marketing, brands will score big wins.
Faster decision-making, more efficient spend allocation, and a big boost in return on human capital are all in the cards. Most important, brands will be able to focus more of their time, energy, and resources on the core foundation of marketing—coming up with great creative.
They will regain the ability to cut through the saturation and command the attention of their prospects and customers through choreographed user experiences that highlight individual interests.
Automation Is Do-or-Die for Marketers
This future state of marketing is a when-not-if proposition. Accenture expects the $1.25 trillion spent on digital transformation in 2019 will skyrocket to almost $2 trillion by 2022. At that point, more than 60% of global GDP will be digitized.
Digital transformation's most salient manifestation for brands will be adoption of the Waymo approach to marketing technology. This new approach will fully automate the media buying process, freeing up human capital to strategize and execute on creatives that are memorable, that draw emotion, that make an impact. It's critical to keep in mind that AI and machine-learning won't be able to replicate human creativity. It's the one skill that transcends the repeatable, automated tasks that computers will take over.
In the future state of marketing, digital transformation is going to be table stakes. Brands that don't undertake this transformation simply won't survive. However, creativity will remain the key to competitive differentiation. Simply having the time to invest in their creative side—reading, art, music, etc.—will give marketers the edge over their competition, necessary both in their personal career growth and in crafting killer content to promote their brands.
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