By Christopher Jablonski
Consider this: Before any digital marketing content is consumed, a reader must first emerge on the other end of a complex passage of decision-making moments characterized by keystrokes and clicks. It's no simple process amid an ocean of options and limited time.
People's eyes and ears act as a daily clearinghouse for terabytes of data. Countless times a day, consumers process each word, image, and sound with growing anticipation of a good story, a lesson, a takeaway, or some entertainment. If the data fails to convey any meaning and can't convince the user to pursue the information, he will simply move on. Indeed, it often seems like real brand engagement is nothing short of a miracle.
But opportunities abound. Powering the information cycle is what marketers understand — and what they think they understand — when they seek to close the gap. Nobody ever complains of being too well informed.
In order to break through, connect, and make an impression — particularly in today's business and media climate — marketers need to blend emotional intelligence (EQ), artificial intelligence (AI), and creativity. The formula puts data and machine intelligence on equal footing with creativity because this triad is the final frontier of marketing innovation.
Why these three ingredients? EQ because empathy is the key to the right solution; AI because the technology enables marketers to fulfill their mantra of "right message, right time, right channel" to thousands or millions of people, 24/7; and creativity because even when an elite data science team hands marketers the world's most complex spreadsheet, deepest database, or mesmerizing dashboard, it does not translate automatically into experiences the company's customers expect.
Putting these three elements together to power marketing strategy may very well be the price of entry by 2025, as the growing sophistication of consumers, technology, culture, and competitors continues to rise.
Here's a close examination of the domains in the formula (imagine a Venn diagram), along with some inspiring examples.
Emotional Intelligence Provides the Glue
EQ is an attitude. It provides context to a situation, encompassing empathy, understanding, observation, listening, intuition, teamwork, and creative problem-solving. Building marketing teams comprised of diverse thinkers, open collaborators, and effective communicators is more than half the battle. The remaining part is adopting a critical-thinking methodology that leads to solutions that clearly demonstrate empathy.
Case in point: the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children (NCMEC) uses creative problem-solving to reunite children with families. Combining EQ with data and technology, the child safety agency creates age-enhanced profiles of missing children and distributes messages across every digital channel available to help recover missing and exploited youth. As Gavin Portnoy, VP of strategic advancement and partnerships at NCMEC, says in an Adobe case study, the approach has been transformative.
Artificial Intelligence Provides the Scale
AI is common in use cases that span digital media buying, campaign automation, and marketing mix optimization. These tools make for a much a better customer experience. But it can accomplish a lot more. Data that AI is powering through a company's marketing technology stack lets marketers target specific audiences and then engage them when they're on a website and other marketing channels. Through analytics, the data generates deep insights that marketing teams can add to the creativity problem-solving process.
Netflix provides a great example of how it works. The video streaming service uses artificial intelligence, emotional intelligence, and analytics to feed the creative process, greenlighting shows and algorithmically piecing them together to meet the unique tastes of niche audiences that, in return, will binge-watch and tell their friends to do the same.
Creativity Provides the Novelty
Creativity can mean different things, and how much creativity is tolerated is generally predicated by corporate culture. In general, the bigger the space for brainstorming and inclusion the better the outcome. "Leaders have to encourage and elevate creative thinking," says Sarah Kennedy Ellis, VP of global marketing at Adobe. "It's not enough to have a culture that tolerates creativity. Every meeting is an opportunity to reject the status quo — and we have to endorse creative problem solving and require it from our teams."
Against the backdrop of business objectives, data-driven insights, and emotional intelligence to keep a customer-first mindset, marketers need to develop a sequence of collaborative exercises that include immersion, ideation, prototyping, and testing.
The effort is fast becoming standard practice for companies that are eager to yield sharper creative ideas and give life to their marketing activities. How rigorous depends on capability, context, objective, and budget. An infographic may call for one type of process detail, whereas a multimillion-dollar global experiential integrated campaign would need another. (There are countless books and courses on this process, commonly labeled, "design thinking.")
Creatively applying creativity is yet another choice. "If you leverage data and tech to power creativity where it is not expected — that is to say, if you surprise and delight customers during key CX pain points and moments, like a form to fill in — sales uplift can be 20 percent or 30 percent," says Guillaume de Roquemaurel, co-founder and CEO of Artefact, in a Forrester report, "AI Is a New Kind of Creative Partner."
Specializing the Formula
Creativity will continue to shape the future of marketing and will grow proportionally to automation and AI. Whereas marketing technology can be procured from the ecosystem depicted by Scott Brinker's popular logo supergraphic, ground-breaking creativity is solvable by money only up to a limit.
Melding empathy and intelligence — with special attention to creativity — is the most effective way to deliver positive, consumer-centered experiences that will ultimately drive purpose, affinity, and revenue for the brand.
About Author: Christopher Jablonski is senior content marketing manager at Adobe, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.