Does creativity matter in marketing?

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This classic business maxim is almost redundant in the modern landscape. Today, marketers can measure a lot – where prospects first engage, their journeys interacting on and off our websites, their incremental conversion experiences, the moment they decide to become customers and more.

When so much of what we do is quantifiable, where does that leave the messy stuff that we can’t explain in spreadsheets or charts? How do you count – and value – creativity?

I had this question in mind when I recently read “Creativity, Inc.” Authored by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, the book promises to help readers overcome “the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration.” It’s a big promise. Usually, I get to the end of a business book and think, “that would have made a decent article.” I had doubts about Catmull’s ability to deliver on his title, but I’m a serious Pixar fan, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

There are three big takeaways that made this read worth the time and helped reaffirm my answer to that question up there in the headline. Does creativity matter? Hell, yes. Here’s how to protect it.

  1. Tell the truth to ensure excellence.
    Catmull talks about the Braintrust at Pixar, a group that meets to candidly review projects, identify problems and present solutions. “…early on, all of our movies suck,” he says. The job is to go “from suck to not suck.” And that demands candor. If people only tell the truth in hallways and never in the spaces where decisions get made, the organization could be in trouble.

    Candor is critical to any creative process, from filmmaking to communications to entrepreneurism.

  2. Don’t neglect your ugly babies to feed your beasts.
    “Originality is fragile…in its first moments, it’s often far from pretty.” That can become a handy excuse for feeding the beast – whether that means cranking out sure-fire sequels or writing safe marketing content – and ignoring your “ugly babies.” This is how Catmull refers to the awkward, incomplete, vulnerable and needy projects that could one day be great, but will need a lot of nurturing first. Here, he talks about the balance between creativity (ugly baby stuff) and deadlines, budgets and sure bets (hungry beast stuff). If the goal is to create a culture that protects both, Catmull says:

    "Making the process better, easier and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on - but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.”

  3. Don’t stigmatize failure.
    When people fear failure, they don’t innovate; they stick to what’s safe. That’s a problem, whether you’re making a film about the relationship between a boy and his talking cowboy doll, or you’re designing a marketing campaign that hits all your KPIs. As Catmull puts it:

    "When experimentation is seen as necessary and productive, not as a frustrating waste of time, people will enjoy their work – even when it is confounding them.”

A few months ago, I went to a Science Behind Pixar exhibit with my family. We spent a lot of time learning how the company created Merida, the heroine of “Brave” (which has been in heavy rotation at our house ever since its release on DVD). My daughters listened, watched and read explanations of how Pixar used physics and mathematics to create just the right spring in Merida’s curls. They were fascinated, and so was I. Did it really matter that animators got the curl coil was just right? Would fewer people have bought theater tickets, DVDs, action figures, dress-up costumes and other “Brave” gear had Merida’s hair not bounced convincingly when she rode her horse through the Scottish countryside? Probably not. But the hundreds of creative decisions that went into the movie – and the company’s overall insistence on valuing creativity – offers lessons for every business.