Opinion

Creativity is the forgotten C in customer experience

Despite the digital advertising industry's obsession with data, without creativity, businesses may not have customers to begin with, argues Inskin Media’s Matt Newcomb.

Now is probably as good a time as any to reflect on the tectonic shift currently happening in the digital advertising landscape.

A few great names have been the target of rebrands, a few have merged and many have simply disappeared into the ether altogether, maybe never to return.

This consolidation, while necessary, shows us that, as an industry, we undeniably need to be looking away from simply wowing customers with better data points, enhanced segmentation and advanced targeting.

I believe it’s time to go back to basics, and look at what marketing and advertising is supposed to be grounded in: the power to make people do or think something. That power is fundamentally rooted in one thing, creativity.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the huge amounts of research borne from the scramble to overhaul brands’ digital customer experience (CX). Harvard Business Review has conducted two great pieces of research, one into the role of creativity and emotion in CX, and the other showing how more creative advertising improves sales performance. The results underscore, again and again, the importance of creativity in human connection.

With creativity and emotion now accepted as central to nourishing customer experiences, it makes me wonder if creativity has been the ‘C’ in CX all along. Of course the customer will always be at the core of any business, but without creativity, businesses may not have customers to begin with. Proper creativity is something digital advertising has struggled with for a long time. I think the insights uncovered in the CX revolution will put an end to that.

Australia’s premium digital publishers are already leading a CX revolution in digital advertising, placing both creativity, and the customer on a new, higher pedestal. Publications such as Women’s Health, Marie Claire and Fairfax are changing their business processes and making business decisions based on creativity and impact rather than simple click through metrics.

Women’s Health introduced new rich media ads for mobile and reduced the quantity of advertising spots throughout, all in a native style to maximise conversion. Fairfax improved the Brisbane Times integration capabilities, technology and web design, while Pacific Mags’ overhaul of marieclaire.com.au focused on the seamless integration of commercial content presented in an interesting way with call-to-action pieces that are strong and on-brand.

Improved customer experience sits at the forefront of all these changes, with quality finally trumping quantity. The fact that these are being taken into account speaks volumes for how customer experience is starting to drive all aspects of the marketing mix.

These changes are founded in strong research into how humans interact with visual information and ad formats.

Inskin research into digital ad formats show increased format size and improved creative flexibility to be a factor in driving customers to look at advertising.

How customers experience a digital ad varies from overlooking it entirely, to having a significantly improved perception of the brand or product they’ve just been shown. On a screen, an environment where visuals are everything, the case for creativity makes itself.

Creative seems to be the determinant factor in how long someone will engage with an ad. There’s a widely accepted correlation between time spent consuming an ad and ad recall, a crucial first step in brand and product discovery.

Nielsen research shows online ads do, on average, succeed in influencing brand engagement and opinion, particularly for ad recall and message association. They do note the degree of positive brand impact largely depends on the strength of the ad itself, pointing back to the importance of creativity.

More creative, emotionally effective ads are now fundamental to CX. The only question is how quickly the digital advertising ecosystem can accept the new normal and adapt accordingly.

Matt Newcomb is Inskin Media’s general manager .

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