Quantifying Creative Output in the Middle of a Creativity Crisis

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Chances are good that your brand partners are not 100% happy with your creative work. A recent study of 500 brand marketers in Europe and the US found that 67% of marketers think, “digital growth in advertising has come at the expense of the quality of creative.”

While technology and metrics are not the enemies of creativity, I think a case can be made that the plethora of tactics and platforms we use today has diminished our industry’s appetite for the big idea.  In short, it’s becoming more difficult to separate ideas from tactics and to articulate what makes an idea powerful.

And that’s a big problem because creativity is still the most valuable thing we offer our clients. A large-scale creative decline in our industry would be a fatal blow.

Everyone wants to do “great work,” but a client’s great work is sometimes the agency’s idea of obvious and expected.  And clients often see the agency’s great work as too frivolous or not direct enough. Even within agencies, the account and media teams speak about creativity and ideas in a language that’s different from the planning and creative folks.

So here are a few questions we set out to answer:

How can we quantify creativity?  How can we help our integrated teams know what level of work they’re shooting for on a given project?  How can we create a common language and set of standards so we can better discuss what constitutes good, bad or better creative work?

We know that the creativity of an individual, much like their I.Q., can be tested. A University of Oregon professor attempts to quantify creativity in children by starting a story and then asking them make up the ending. And IDEO uses 6 basic vectors to measure innovation. But until somebody establishes a universal measurement tool evaluating great ideas, each agency needs to come up with their own language around creativity so that everybody can agree when an idea has nailed it and why. At our agency we’ve developed a process called The Standard, which is our methodology for talking about and agreeing on work.

The Standard is a scale broken into multiple levels.  Each level has a name and particular set of characteristics that we’ve identified.  At the bottom is work that is client-centered with messaging that is often a one-way communication. At the top is work that people can’t wait to share, ideas that are so much more than messages.

When we evaluate work now, the Standard helps us figure out what we need to do to move our work up the scale.  And it facilitates discussions with clients. It’s our belief that clients often favor work that is safely within the norms of their category because they can sell it within their organizations with more ease.  They often don’t have the language to sell work that makes them uncomfortable.  So that Standard makes it easier for clients to embrace work that breaks those norms.

Our Standard also rewards work that delivers value, not just messages. Whether it be high emotional value or high utility for the consumer. Our strongest work delivers a combination of both. Ideas and solutions that share these values are often the work that is talked about within the industry, but more importantly by consumers and the media at large. This is the work that captures the consumers’ interest and delivers meaningful value. Both for the consumer and for the brand in return. This is the work that can lead to loyalty. This is the work that can drive business forward. And maybe even become part of pop culture itself.

Easier client approvals aren’t the only benefit to an in-house language to quantify creative success. A universal language will allow your team to communicate better, which means they can better evaluate their ideas, identify potential weaknesses, and pinpoint where an idea can be refined. A measurement system centralizes the goals of your department and allows you to communicate better in the moments you are trying to sell a client on the benefits of your idea. It allows you to get on the same page when discussing whether your creative idea will work in the real world. Once you establish the language around ‘good work’ and ‘great work’ and how to speak about creative work when critiquing it, it will become part of your daily conversations and a ritual for how work is critiqued and selected or discarded.

As our clients urge us to return our focus to creativity and the power of a strong idea, we need to grow our creative pool and tool kit. Part of that toolkit must be the ability to not just make “great” work, but to define why it’s “great.” If you spend some time building your own language around creative ideas, all parties will be able to agree that your work has hit its mark.

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