Why creative effectiveness is the bedrock of brand growth

Senior marketers convene at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity every year to gain insight into how to build a business through creativity. Here, Kathleen Hall, chief brand officer at Microsoft, and LIONS CEO Simon Cook discuss how brands can harness creativity that drives effectiveness and business growth

Skyline of the city of Cannes

Why is creative effectiveness so important for marketers?

Kathleen Hall: If the goal of marketing is to support sales and brand, then creative effectiveness is really the proof in the pudding. It makes us consider what we are driving for, the outcomes we want to see, the mindset shift we want to achieve and how to measure the impact. 

Simon Cook: Creative effectiveness is the bedrock of the business of creativity; it’s about proving the long-term growth value of creative campaigns and brand building. We know that, as the economy contracts, marketers are under increasing pressure to show their impact on the bottom line; that’s where creative effectiveness comes into play. 

In our recent State of Creativity study, which polled several thousand marketers and creative advertising professionals globally, 24% felt there was more focus on proving the effectiveness of creativity within their organisations. 

How can a brand create the right conditions internally for creativity to flourish? 

KH: At Microsoft, we’re very measurement-oriented because we believe the more you can prove impact, the more likely people are to come along for the ride. We measure across the cycle of a campaign, from the inception of an idea, to execution and then marketplace reception. 

SC: The brands that attend Cannes Lions each year, from McDonald’s and Heineken, to AB InBev and Apple, have invested in creative effectiveness over the long term. These companies clearly demonstrate the correlation between winning awards for their creative and driving business results. 

Their models may look different, but when you dig into their approach there are plenty of mirroring components that enable creativity to thrive within their companies. These include a commitment to investing in creativity as a means of delivering broader corporate objectives and the ability to translate that commitment into a common language that is understood across the business. Alongside this, they adopt tools and processes within their teams that mean effective creativity is inevitable. 

How can marketers prove the long-term value of creative investment?

KH: This is something I have fought for throughout my career. To demonstrate the long-term value of creative investment, look at case studies of brands, such as Apple and Nike, and the value they have created through investment in brand building over time. They can charge a premium for their products and people are far more likely to try the product because they have an affinity with it.

SC: This is where creative effectiveness really comes into play and it’s why we’re centring the entire Cannes Lions festival around the theme this year. 

Our sister company Warc carried out extensive research around creative commitment. It found that it takes three years of investment to see a return on a campaign. Case studies prove it and Microsoft’s success is a case in point. Creative effectiveness awards, like the Creative Effectiveness Lions, enable brands to benchmark and measure the effectiveness of a piece of creative work over an extended period of time.

What tools do senior marketers need to drive growth through creativity?

KH: Marketers need a significant package of measurement tools. There’s a lot of emphasis on short-term ROI and revenue impact, but we also have to look to the future. That means we also need a suite of measurement tools that are longer term and can track metrics like emotion, connectedness and how we’re building the brand over time. 

SC: From the senior brand marketers we spoke to in the State of Creativity study, we identified the core areas for marketers to drive growth. These include building an in-depth understanding of creativity and how it achieves business impact, as well as benchmarking creative effectiveness against peers in order to raise the bar. Developing a company culture that’s focused on investing and nurturing talent is also key, alongside adopting and adapting proven processes to deliver effective creative work, from frameworks to measurement tools. 

How can marketers ensure that creative effectiveness is better understood by the rest of the C-suite?

KH: Marketers need to educate the C-suite on the multiple ways to measure effectiveness and why matters in terms of business outcomes. This is the crux of the challenge most marketers face today. Alongside monetary value, which is key, it’s ensuring metrics like lifetime value or the value of brand love are understood.

SC: We undertook a piece of research with effectiveness expert James Hurman and marketing consultant Peter Field to better understand why, when it came to effectiveness, brands and agencies aren’t on the same page. The research showed that what was clearly missing was a common language to talk about creative effectiveness; one that could be understood by the entire marketing chain from internal brand marketers to their agencies and to the C-suite. 

That’s why we established ‘the effectiveness code’, which shows the impact that creative marketing has. This code is a great starting point for senior marketers who want to communicate where they are and how they need to progress to the rest of their C-suite team. 

Why are events such as Cannes Lions, which focus on creativity and effectiveness, so important for the industry?

KH: Cannes Lions is so vital for the industry because it sets the bar for great creativity by showcasing the creative work being produced across the industry. It offers an opportunity to get out of our worlds and experience different categories, frameworks and thinking. 

Fundamentally, marketing is a relationship business, so the festival allows us to reconnect and inspire each other in person through conversations and connections. After Cannes I’m recharged; it’s a creative boost. 

SC: Cannes Lions is the place where the industry meets to talk about creativity that drives  effectiveness and growth. This year, we’ve added a ‘creative impact’ content stream designed to help senior marketers build creative capabilities and take them back to their own organisations. The content focuses on actionable insights and real-life examples from brands that have built businesses that nurture creativity and have experienced success as a result. 

Is there a key moment at Cannes Lions that changed your thinking?

KH: It’s the work winning Lions awards every year that really inspires me. A key moment was when I saw the multi-Lion winning ‘The Next Rembrandt’, by JWT Amsterdam, which leveraged technology to create what would have been the next work of art from the Dutch painter. What jolted me was that it was about much more than just creative in the traditional sense. In this new era, creativity has a significant experiential component and a much broader impact than sales. It’s about effecting social change, shifting stereotypes and having a significant impact on issues in the world. It opened my eyes. 

SC: There are so many it’s difficult to list just one, but I’m going to share something that someone cleverer than me once said. Les Binet, head of effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, who is speaking at the festival this year, said: “If you want long-term growth, you’ve got to change people’s minds in some way and build up memory structures that will bias their behaviour. Brand building is about getting a long-term flow of sales, revenue and profit, now and into the future.” That has stuck with me.

Find out more about attending Cannes Lions 2023 here.