Marketing Creativity


Time to think more like innovators and entrepreneurs.

By Jean Darling, PT, DPT
January 2018

What makes marketing creative? Is it more imagination or innovation? Is a creative marketer more entrepreneur or artist? In the past, the term marketing creative has been associated with the coined phrases, pictures, catchwords, and musical jingles that go into ad campaigns. Success of the campaign may have been determined by recognition of a product by brand, color, or simply increased sales. But marketing professionals, like those handling other corporate functions, need to understand their sources of satisfaction and identify areas of strengths and weakness. To take a look at creativity, we will focus on 4 areas: investing in the end-to-end experience, making everyone an advocate, measuring success through creativity, and thinking like a startup.

Invest in the end-to-end experience
Every marketer believes the customer experience is important. But most marketers only focus on the parts of that experience under their direct control. As noted by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we need to “begin with the end in mind.” Creative marketers must take a broader view and pay attention to the entire customer experience from end to end. This includes the product, the buying process, the ability to provide support, and customer relationships over time. A process such as this will take time and resources, and it also requires disruptive innovation, a term defined and first analyzed by Clay Christensen1 and collaborators in 1995. This thought process includes bringing creative thinking to unfamiliar problems. Like many retailers, Macy’s has traditionally spent 85% of its marketing budget on driving sales. Each outbound communication was measured individually for immediate return on investment (ROI). However, recently they began to take a more holistic approach, focusing on lifetime value and their most profitable segment, the “fashionable spender.”2 This group looks across the business to gather behind-the-scenes information on the runway, the newest clothing lines, and aspirational fashion content. The metrics also changed. Macy’s started evaluating engagement per customer across time and platform instead of per marketing message per day. The results? In the last year, customers in the top decile segment increased digital engagement by 15%, cross shopping by 11%, and sales by 8%.

When physical therapy practices view health care from a consumer-oriented perspective, social media and the digital experience become a key differentiator. A marketing team or private practice can look more into patient engagement across the course of care versus merely instituting a welcome packet or “discharge gift.” With all our communication advances, we have the ability to and we need to keep the consumer engaged prior to our first appointment and well beyond the last visit!

Turn every customer into an advocate

In a fragmented media and social landscape, marketers can no longer reach their goals for awareness and reputation only through paid media and public relations. People are both the old and the new marketing channel. In a past article, I defined and discussed the importance and long history of word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing. This message continues to hold true whether it is accomplished through technology or “in person” interaction. The way to amplify the WOM impact is by inspiring creativity in others. Treat everyone as an extension of your marketing team: employees, partners, and even customers.


For Equinix, surveys revealed that a third of employees were not confident explaining its company story. The company introduced an internal ambassador program for its more than 6,000 employees. This program gives employees across all disciplines and levels tools to educate them on the company, its culture, products, and services, and how they solve the customer’s needs. More than 20% of employees took the training online or in workshops in the first few months of the program, and employee submissions to its sales lead and job candidate referral programs were up 43% and 19%, respectively.3

Old Navy has traditionally dedicated their media budget to TV, particularly around back to school. However, over the past few years, they’ve focused on digital content to engage kids around positive life experiences and giving back. Through this approach, the 2016 #MySquadContest led to 32,000 kids sharing their “squads” of friends for a chance to win an epic day with their favorite influencer, creating 3 million video views, a 60% increase in social conversation about @OldNavy, and a 600% increased likelihood of recommending Old Navy to a friend (versus those that viewed TV ads only). In addition, the program led to record-breaking donations for their partner, the Boys & Girls Club. Creating these WOM marketing channels through positive life experiences and giving back to the community may also increase employee retention. It is no secret that 90% of millenials link their purchasing decision to a company’s social commitment. Some 63% also expect their employers to contribute to a social cause.4

How do we measure and can we be creative?

We hear about engagement, we talk about engagement, and we aim to engage our clients in unsurpassed loyalty, but are we? Digital engagement is a very complex topic that is best measured in the offline world. However, the measurability of digital engagement means we can now know exactly what’s working and not working. This gives marketing an opportunity to measure and manage itself in new ways. In the past, marketing measured success by sticking to budgets and winning creative awards. Today, the ability to measure data and adjust strategies in real-time enables marketing to prove its value to the business in entirely new ways.

Cisco has created a real-time, online dashboard where the entire marketing organization can look at performance. The leadership team conducts a weekly evaluation to assess, “Is what we’re doing working?” This analysis can be done across different digital initiatives, geographies, channels, or even individual pieces of content. The result is an ability to quickly adjust and reallocate resources. Cisco’s goal is to enable, not control. They make the process as transparent and easy as possible with the intention of driving business value.5 This intent should be the marker when any business attempts to measure the value of their processes or decisions.

Think like a startup

In the past, marketers needed to be effective managers, setting goals well in advance and then working within budget to achieve those goals. Today, creative marketers need to operate more like entrepreneurs, continuously adjusting to sustain “product/market fit.” Marketers are adopting the business practices of entrepreneurs such as lean startup and agile development.1 For its background check solution, Checkr wasn’t getting the results it wanted from traditional sales and marketing tactics as it expanded into new market segments. They realized they had to think beyond marketing as promoting an existing product. Adopting an agile method of customer testing and rapid iteration, they worked with engineering to rethink the product and bring a “minimum viable product” to market for these new buyers. As a result of this integrated, agile approach, the company easily hit some early 2017 revenue targets with conversion rates that are four times what is traditionally seen in the industry.6

The changes happening in consumer behavior, technology, and media are redefining the nature of creativity in marketing. The measure of marketing success isn’t the input, whether that’s the quality of a piece of content or a campaign, but rather the value of the output, whether that’s revenue, loyalty, or advocacy. Marketers of the past thought like artists, managers, and promoters. Today’s marketers need to push themselves to think more like innovators and entrepreneurs—creating enterprise value by engaging the whole organization, looking out for the entire customer experience, using data to make decisions, and measuring effectiveness based on business results. And that takes plenty of creativity!


1. Anthony SD, Johnson MW, Sinfield JV, Altman EJ. The Innovator’s Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work. Harvard Business School Press; 2008.

2. Pasquarilli A. Macy’s pins hopes on new marketing. Ad Age Online. August 2017.

3. How to identify and build disruptive new businesses. MIT Sloan Management Review. Spring 2002.

4. Todd A, Sudhoff C. 3 ways employers can engage millennials at work. June 2, 2015.

5. Digital marketing. Blog.

6. Leslie M., Rosenthal S. Entrepreneurship. Stanford Business School Press; 2017.

Jean Darling, PT, DPT, is a PPS member and co-owner of Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine in Wisconsin. She can be reached at

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