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Trapped Thinking "Outside" the Box?

May 10, 2011 | By Erin Provey

Remember when we were kids and, after announcing to our parents that we were bored because there was “nothing to do,” we were told to “be creative.” How we hated this response, instead wishing lazily for the magical appearance of a new toy or neighborhood playmate to amuse us. 

Remember when we were kids and, after announcing to our parents that we were bored because there was “nothing to do,” we were told to “be creative.” How we hated this response, instead wishing lazily for the magical appearance of a new toy or neighborhood playmate to amuse us. 

After a good deal of melodramatic sighing, followed by loudly plopping down on the couch, we might eventually have found something like a big old appliance box and some paint, which would help us drift into that land of creativity — designing a make-believe home, dreaming up its inhabitants (their names, even their foibles!) and its locale, and forgetting our boredom in the cardboard confines of our self-constructed world. Call it parent-enforced creativity — thinking within the box, if you will.

The marketing profession was once a haven for creative types who sought to avoid starving artist status — writers, designers, lexicographers and anthropologists fascinated by the power of art, words and philosophy to create meaning, evoke emotion, and influence behavior. As a result of technological change — the onset of social media, marketing automation, and a bevy of metrics and measurement tools — the day-to-day activities of today’s marketing professional have veered away from the (traditionally) creative and toward the quantifiable. What impact has this had on creativity within the marketing field?

On a positive note, marketers have been able to justify their own existence (along with salaries and budgets). But the flip side is that these same metrics and tools have generated fear and skepticism toward anything (or anyone) whose ROI cannot be determined and clearly communicated to management. We outsource our most important creative work to agencies — design studios, brand strategy consultants, social media strategists, etc. Why?

Fear. Reliance on tally marks and ROI to justify our salaries. Creative muscles weakened by under-use. Complacency. Discomfort with new technology. Exhaustion. Inability to communicate the literal (monetary) value of creative thinking. Ease of delegation (and convenience of a scapegoat). Did I mention fear?

I believe we are at an important inflection point — a plateau for the steep learning curve of new tools and technologies is in sight, and the economy is on an (albeit slow) incline. What is your B2B marketing group doing to move beyond metrics, operations and execution to reinvigorate its creative soul?

Erin Provey

Erin Provey is a Senior Research Director of Corporate and Executive Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions. She has more than 10 years of experience in brand strategy, including positioning, identity, public relations, digital strategy, copywriting and account management. Follow Erin on Twitter @erinprovey.
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