In our discussion around marketing and its partners, we typically only mention the marketers and IT professionals. But that’s like only mentioning red and yellow when talking about the primary colors. What about all-important blue, without which we couldn’t create endless shades of green and purple?

The third, oft-neglected primary member of your marketing team is the creative. Creatives complete the trifecta of digital marketing, and enable you to better attract, understand, and deeply engage your customers. The CMO and CIO may dominate company decision making, but they need the creative to help navigate the increasing complexity of our markets, technology, and multichannel landscape.

Delightful, memorable, and human content are the brushstrokes of the creative. With their inspiration and collaboration, the whole team can focus on delivering digital experiences that resonate with people.

So why are so many talented creatives leaving businesses in the dust? AdAge first noted the exodus four years ago, and it hasn’t stopped. Matthew Creamer attributed it to tougher economic times, which have caused clients to skimp on creative costs and forced agencies to compete for piecemeal work and lean more heavily on inexpensive strategies like crowdsourcing. In this climate, “creative people have become more of a commodity,” which is not how the average creative prefers to view his or her talent.

Frustrated and underappreciated creatives have left to freelance or form their own startups. The talent—and skills to match—are still there, they’re just less likely to be leveraged by companies in house. Executives realize this, and are actually seeking to hire more creative minds. But unless their marketing department uses and values creatives, they’ll have a hard time holding on to new hires.

Who Is the Creative?

The creative can fill a range of job titles and functions, from graphic designer to creative director. Creatives animate, make video and audio content, design websites and user experience, copywrite, brand, craft narratives, and conceive and execute campaigns and live events. They bring aesthetic, technological, and storytelling skills to the team.

More broadly speaking, creatives bring a set of attitudes and work habits that can be lacking in the typical profit-driven enterprise. The creative tends to aim high, take risks, thrive on challenge, and willingly innovate. These traits can balance and elevate an entire marketing team, inspiring others to think differently and deliver the kind of work that delights and surprises audiences.

The Missing Creative Link

The value of the creative can actually be quantified. A recent Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) study points to a “link between creativity and business effectiveness.” Ignore the creative, and you ignore profit in the long term:

In a nutshell  . . . creative brand campaigns take longer to deliver business success—after six months—compared to short-term response campaigns. But ultimately, creativity wins out with a much stronger impact on the bottom line and . . . less consumer sensitivity to critical areas like pricing.

The creative helps companies see through the data and short-term metrics to lasting customer connections. The report also found that cultivating a diverse, multichannel reach is more effective than targeting a single touchpoint. The more channels you hope to populate with quality content and interactions, the more creative power you’ll need. As ADMA CEO Jodie Sangster puts it, “Creativity is the link between the data and the customer.”

Two Unique and Essential Abilities of the Creative


There is no formula for a great idea, and all the data in the world won’t spell out what you need to know about customers’ deepest motivations and desires. Customer insight requires emotional intelligence, perception, and some out-of-the-box thinking.

Insight is that crucial understanding of what will resonate with your audience, and what drives them to meaningfully engage your brand. Insight taps into complex human factors such as belief, preference, habit, trust, and aspiration. Creatives are often more sensitive to the human side of technologies, platforms, and design. They may be able to look at user behaviors and metrics and intuit what is happening with people on an emotional level.

What’s more, creatives can take a powerful insight and translate it into action. Are customers struggling to identify with your brand? Creatives can help you weave a relatable and resonant story throughout your channels and product messaging that will speak to your customers’ ideals and aspirations.


Shareability is fast becoming a benchmark for digital marketing success. Rick Wion, Director of Social Media at McDonald’s, explains:

Content has always been essential for good brand marketing but it is more important than ever because good content will help form stronger bonds with your consumers and in the best cases give them a ready-made and highly sharable way to be brand ambassadors. [At McDonald’s we] ask ourselves, “Is this creative something that that I would share with my friends?”

Making content that people are compelled to Tweet, post to Facebook, or email to a friend is not easy. It takes a magical combination of emotional intelligence, personality, humor, and lightning-fast responsiveness to your communities. Creatives have a knack for infusing their work with those elusive emotional qualities that can’t be quantified on a spreadsheet, but can lead to concrete numbers of likes and shares.

The content we share most is usually the content that elicits a genuine, unexpected emotion and reaction. It may be disbelief, laughter, tears, or inspiration; but whatever it is, we’re not going to feel it from a dry and predictable blog post or recycled meme.

The Creative’s Challenge

Creatives are essential, but they can’t go it alone. Their weaknesses are offset by the strengths of marketing and IT. The creative’s challenge is to remain receptive to the business know-how of others, and accept the hard facts presented in the data. Creatives must take responsibility for their decisions, and accept the burden of communicating and defending their ideas—just as the developers and conversion optimizers must justify their decisions with some hard evidence of ROI.  

The most successful creatives will “view constraints at every level as exciting challenges that release—not restrict—creative responses.” They will also take failures in stride, and learn from them, remembering their ultimate goal: to connect audiences with the right experiences.

It Takes All Three

It takes all three primary colors to paint with a full palette. In my next post, I’ll explore some ways the creative, the marketer, and the IT pro can complement one another and join forces to create groundbreaking customer experiences. And, as all digital marketers know, the roles are not mutually exclusive. We can each gain skills from all three areas to better collaborate with our counterparts, or help unite the varied skills of an organization.