Is Your Creative Just Creative – Or Does It Sell, Too?

Creativity is indispensable to branding and any marketing strategy in general. It was Albert Einstein who famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

The problem is when creative departments overlook “knowledge” in their initiatives. In reality, data-driven creativity bolsters customer activation, whether it’s a radio ad or an email campaign. What’s more, having a strategic roadmap before producing any creative effort ensures a brand engages with the right audiences at the right time. As Dan Kelleher, chief creative officer at Deutsch, said: “I see data as overwhelmingly positive. It helps guide where creative is going to go.”

Here’s a strategic roadmap (or hack) for tapping into that overwhelmingly positive data to fuel that important imagination.


We all know Leonardo Da Vinci was insanely creative, but the artist also recognized whom he was making art for: wealthy and powerful Italian families. He knew their culture, desires, background, and tastes. The art produced was unique and stirring, but data certainly informed the painter’s work.

Like Da Vinci, your brand should intimately know its audiences when it comes to creativity. Before even beginning any creative project, you should have a detailed breakdown of who will consume your content (just as you would for any sales or marketing campaign). This exploration should include:

  • Detailed demographics
  • Cultural values and vernacular
  • What influencers resonate with them
  • Their deepest worries and hopes
  • Legacy and digital channels frequented

As one marketing researcher said, you should be able to “detail the buyer’s feelings, motivations, and expectations relating to the part of their life that your product or service will impact.”

Once a detailed view of your audience appears, you might find yourself modifying your creative project, from colors to language, especially when it comes to specific social media channels. This is a good thing that ultimately provides a superior deliverable.


Sure, Da Vinci wanted to express his soul, produce beauty, and leave a legacy. With that said, he also needed concrete results — like getting paid to eat and validation from rich patrons.

Yes, ole Leonardo had very tangible goals.

It’s a trap to create without some benchmarks or a return-on-investment (ROI). It doesn’t matter how beautiful the website or email banner might be.

Even the most off-the-wall, imaginative radio ads have a serious ROI that can be keenly measured.

For creative efforts, then, it’s wise to ask yourself these two symbiotic questions:

  1. What exactly does your creative work intend to do (bring awareness, a call-to-action, promote a feature, etc.)?
  2. How can you identify the impact of your creative work (increased sales, salesforce feedback, higher traffic, post-ad surveys, etc.)?

The measuring doesn’t end there. There is also a return-on-experience (ROX). What is it exactly? ROX is measuring the long-term relationship a brand has to its audiences, broken down by experiences and valuable moments across many channels. This may sound esoteric, but companies like Apple and Harley-Davidson are very good at ROX — continually succeeding at forging brand allegiance and deeper emotional connections with their customers.

And yes, ROX can be measured, but it doesn’t usually happen with short-term data (hint: it will include some thorough market research including various forms of both qualitative and quantitative studies).

In truth, focusing on a ROX is the future of marketing right now. As a multimedia journalist on CNBC stated:

“Millennials are prioritizing their cars and homes less and less, and assigning greater importance to personal experiences — and showing off pictures of them.”

Again, think of Apple and their long-term strategy of delivering experiences that people want to share with their worlds.


A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And Seth Godin notably said: “Marketing is no longer about the products we sell but the stories we tell.”

What does this all mean?

It doesn’t mean you have to be William Shakespeare or Stephen King, but it does mean that a creative effort ought to be aligned with the overall strategy and branding of your organization. The colors, messaging, history, and values of your organization are part of its story and how it connects to the story of audiences. A stray piece of information or out-of-place logo can interrupt the story of your company, possibly shutting out audiences from the overall narrative.

Susan Credle, global chief creative officer at FCB, said it best in The Wallstreet Journal:

“Great storytelling in this business happens everywhere if it is done right. We tell brand stories not only in traditional advertising but with events and sponsorships, through advocates, with new products, with new technology, packaging, licensing, stores.”

Credle further states that in our short-attention but shopper-savvy culture, shiny things just aren’t going to work unless they’re integrated to a lasting, brand story. After all, it was Steve Jobs who said, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

In short, creative initiatives are not a one-and-done, but part of a brand flow into other channels where audiences frequent. This, of course, ties into ROX, as moments tie into an overall story.

You may be asking about ole Leonardo. Indeed, he employed storytelling. Da Vinci was part of the innovative, humanistic movement that provided flowing, action-rich images – all relating to the surrounding culture and its traditions. Take a look at “The Last Supper” painting—there’s a lot going on (including storytelling).


Just like sales and marketing should work together to move a brand forward, so should analytics and creative. John Wanamaker offered the famous quote: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” This iconic line is a mini cautionary tale on the necessity of pairing research with any creative initiatives.

In the end, and as mentioned, accurate metrics can supercharge creative works, even find new stories and experiences that immerse audiences in your messaging and values.

That will make even your driest company accountant smile like the Mona Lisa.