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

Insight

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

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.