The Business Case for Creativity

For years, advertising agencies have sought out, valued, and fiercely competed for awards and recognition for their creativity. They’ve sometimes been criticized for their pursuit of creative awards, under the assumption that business results should come first. Has anything changed? Could a focus on creativity be a new driver of business success? Several studies, and business leaders, seem to think so.

The headline of a recent study conducted by Adobe and Forrester shouted “It’s Official: Creativity Drives Business Results.” The study, conducted in May 2014, found that companies who encourage creative perspective, practices and culture outperformed other companies in both revenue and market share. The study called the added benefits “The Creative Dividend.”

Another study conducted by IBM surveyed more than 1500 CEOs across 60 nations and 33 industries. These corporate heads identified creativity as the “single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through the rapid escalation of complexity” in the marketplace. Creativity ranked higher than integrity, global thinking and influence among these global CEOs.

Fast Company, the business magazine, even publishes an annual list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business, where it celebrates “the engineers, scientists, CEOs, entertainers, and more who have pushed boundaries the furthest — and had the most impact — in every realm of business over the past year.”

How much business difference can creativity really make? Most seem to agree that creative companies perform better than non-creative companies do. In the Adobe/Forrester study, companies that foster creativity were 3.5 times more likely to achieve higher revenue growth than their peers. In the same study, companies that embraced creativity also enjoyed greater market share than their peers.

It’s worth noting that these results actually echo decades of evidence of the link between more creative marketing and commercial success. Much of which has been gathered by James Hurman in his book, The Case for Creativity.  For example, the Gunn studies of the world’s most awarded advertising campaigns twice showed that a much higher percentage of award-winning campaigns met or exceeded client objectives than non-awarded campaigns. And the Field study in the U.K. found that creatively awarded campaigns were 11 times more efficient at generating market share increases.

So why does creativity in business (and specifically in marketing) actually work? Several studies have found that creativity first makes an impact because it helps companies stand out from the clutter and noise, making them more likely to be noticed.

Another reason creativity works is because it can make marketing messages more likely to be remembered and recalled. A study at the University of South Carolina showed that creative advertising was 2 to 9 times more likely to be recalled unprompted, than advertising in general.

Creativity also works because it helps make marketing messages more persuasive. A study at the Universities of Indiana and Wisconsin-Milwaukee showed that creatively-awarded advertising measurably increased open-mindedness and curiosity among consumers, who were willing to let their defenses down more for creatively-driven ads.

The effect of creativity has been shown to generate more “fame” and word-of-mouth for companies as well. The U.K.’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising showed in a study that creatively-awarded advertising was twice as likely to generate strong online and offline conversations about companies.

Lastly, it’s been demonstrated that more creatively-driven marketing actually helps drive positive consumer perceptions of the company being promoted. In a 2008 study at the Stockholm School of Economics, respondents who were shown creative advertising consistently reported higher perceptions about a company and its products than those who where shown less creative advertising.

For any business, it’s probably a good time to ask whether your perspective, practices and culture are actively supporting the important goal of creativity. For advertising agencies, the recent research seems to support past examinations, confirming what we’ve known for a long time: that creativity is a major driver of business success.

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