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034: Creativity, Efficacy and Results
[During - Session 11] The business of ideas is a balancing act
My six year old is fascinated with how machines function, especially cell phone towers and airport warning lights. He likes to watch explainer videos, and if they have weird sounds in them that’s better. I’m just as fascinated with how things function. But my obsession is the business of ideas—i.e. the process, infrastructure, politics, machinations, rules, roles, capabilities, culture, history—which affect how an idea comes to fruition.
Fortunately, I found my way into advertising, which needs and loves ideas. And I’ve come to broadly describe the business of (advertising/marketing) ideas as two sides of the same coin.
On one side you get to have ideas (preferably you’re even paid to get the ideas). This can be fun, and a career. You are creating the new. You are helping cause the reaction, “I hadn’t thought of it that way before.” You might even be impacting and changing culture, or civilization, but probably just some aspect of business. This work has its challenges, to be sure. There’s a reason so few ideas actually change the world.
Also, you get to work in the future if you want. That’s the gist of this particular course we’re covering at the moment. If you work in the business of ideas and your sector is advertising you can have ideas built in the Metaverse, or with artificial intelligence.
And from the outside, it might appear fun and games. Until we begin to ask the ideas to be specific, to help achieve measurable goals; until someone who appears to be a non-ideas person asks, “how do we know this idea is working?” (Worth noting, there are zero non-ideas people, just varying degrees of focus and practice area.)
If the majority of your focus seems to be on one side of the coin, the “fun” side, then the arrival of The Acronyms—KPI, ROI, ROAS, ROMI, CPA, et al—can make the business of ideas and Creativity seem Not Creative.
The secret to balancing the coin is professionalism.
“Our biggest challenge today is delivering tailored messages to our consumers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year across an increasingly complex communications landscape… Our messages need to be effective across all channels.”
Swap the word “messages” with ideas.
It’s not enough for Ms. Riley-Grant to have ideas. Tailored ideas! 24 hours a day ideas! Ideas specific to channels! She also needs to explain how and why $1.1 Billion invested in ideas equals more in return. So she and her team can have permission to generate even more ideas moving forward. And she’s just one marketer.
The business of ideas is only half told until we figure out—did it work?
Today’s CMO is overwhelmed with potential ways of answering the question. Then if you dive beyond the surface, you soon realize each method has limits. No singular approach tells a complete story. You need a mix, but of which tools and approaches?
And often, the rationale for one versus another is political, or cultural. This isn’t wrong, it’s just worth noting. In other words, how does the tribe want to evaluate itself and its ideas?
The point for ideas people is to recognize this conundrum exists—the opportunity for the conversation exists, and to bring their perspective to resolving the issue. To show a professional interest in their outcome.
In my experience, there are basically two methods to figure out “did [the idea] work?” Either you ask people, or you observe/measure behavior. Everything else seems rooted in one approach or other.
Understanding how ideas will be evaluated—qualitatively vs quantitatively—can benefit ideas people as they build business cases, refine strategies, hone audience insights and comms plans and organize reporting dashboards.
You can’t avoid the evaluation of ideas.
You can bake reality into your process, the better to ensure each idea is evaluated the way you think it should be. We talked about Julian Cole’s R.I.C.K. James model for de-risking ideas back in session 3.
It’s a bit like studying for the test.
Or packing for the journey.
The professional ideas person wants to understand the entire ideas pipeline: from its inspirational source all the way to the dashboard which often decides more than just “what worked.”
🤔 Did we acknowledge the Efficacy Industry (Nielsen, Kantar/Millward Brown, IPSOS, Morning Consult, comScore, WARC, the Effies, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Advertising Research Foundation)?
Yes, we did.
I really appreciated her perspective on the role of consensus—i.e. How the CEO defines success might be different than the CFO. Best to gain consensus before ideas are generated and conflict arrives. Getting those who will be evaluating efficacy on the same page is critical.
Holly also shared a wonderfully useful construct for distinguishing efficacy of an idea from the idea itself—it’s important to discern the difference between:
OUTPUT vs OUTCOME
Output = “What you made (the idea)”
Outcome = “What happened as a result (of the idea)”
Last but not least
Two other notions complement today’s theme.
1️⃣ I don’t mind uncertainty. I’ve found idea people, creatives, tend to enjoy the unknown, because then they get to make things known! But the unknown and uncertainty scare a lot of people, especially business people, especially when there’s $1.1 billion to be accounted for. Can we please know this will work, before we hit “publish?”
Certainty has a lot going for it. And I’m not speaking of confidence or bravado. But in a related sense, certainty can be performative theater. And that’s where ideas people need to tread carefully. Too many people toss around metrics and dashboards to convey “we know what we’re doing.” And when we find out the measures are meager, at best, it poisons all. I encourage my students to recognize the jeopardy of false certainty. Because the downside, the poorly constructed evaluation—only hurts ideas and reputations. Better to thrash early and confirm why our approach to efficacy makes the sense it does.
2️⃣ What makes one idea better than another—despite how much we want to dissect and evaluate it—is most often in the eye or ear or the taste of the beholder. You like what you like. I like what I like. Art and ideas are rarely binary. And so often it’s confidence or relationships or timing that make the difference in an idea thriving… or not.
That may be why one team prefers ROAS vs ROI. The point is to recognize the subjectivity. That it’s everywhere. But that the presence of subjectivity doesn’t dismiss evaluation. Subjectivity doesn’t mute the desire or the need to measure efficacy of your idea. The trick is to make the evaluation as UN-subjective, as clear, as fair, as useful and actionable, as possible.
And that’s a role an ideas person can help perform.
Next week we begin the final portion of the Future of Advertising course at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. We’ve got three assignments brewing—one per week. The first will be to “sell something new.” The students will receive a brief in class on 4/17, pair into teams, then start work. They’ll present a < 10 slide pitch the following Monday 4/24, then receive the second assignment. You know, just like in real life.
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