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Creeative Discipline in Marketing

Sometimes it’s important to look beyond data and research and think about how your organization strategizes and how it creates its marketing campaigns.  To that end we’ve been thinking a lot about the nexus between creativity and disciple, having worked with organizations that excel (or fail) on one or both fronts.  We think that understanding where you are and where you want to be with respect to these two concepts is a key to pushing your organization forward.

It is an interesting exercise to consider where your organization’s marketing falls on a simple creativity/discipline quadrant and then consider where your competitors fall.  It’s an easy way to start to identify hurdles that may be holding your organization back.  Are you too unfocused when it comes to the markets, segments, or personas you are targeting?  Are you unwilling to take risks to make your brand memorable (especially when your competitors are)?  Is your messaging and strategy driven by competing for the lowest price-point with limited differentiation from your competitors? Does your business live and die by search marketing? These are the types of questions that may be answered by understanding where you are and where you should be with respect to creativity and discipline.

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While some of the highest performing organizations we have worked for are highly creative and very disciplined in their marketing, it isn’t always the case that successful organizations must be in that upper right quadrant. 

High Creativity and High Discipline:

These are organizations who know who they are and stick to it, but with energy and imagination.  It’s a quadrant where almost any organization can find itself.  The key is being willing to take some risks with the brand to make it stand out and then sticking to those risks.  In addition, brands need the discipline to focus on markets and media channels with enough money and consistency to have their uniqueness shine through in a memorable way.  Brands like KFC have done this recently – delivering price point messaging, but with the persona of “The Colonel” being played by celebrities.  Lighthearted and goofy, the marketing stands out for its creativity.  It is also not just goofy brand marketing to get people talking: the ads actively promote KFC’s products, prices, and specials.  The marketing is highly creative but stays disciplined enough to deliver results to the bottom line.  Lastly, the brand isn’t afraid of tactical messaging but does it in a way that gets attention and results.

Organizations that market with great creativity and a great amount of discipline make the most of limited resources by making it easier for a consumer to understand and access the brand.  When there aren’t a million products, messages, and audiences, the brand’s voice and be heard and understood – and when that voice is creative and unique it is likely to be remembered.

Industries well served: Almost all can benefit from being more creative and more disciplined.  Industries where inspiration is key (like travel) and where name brand recognition is key are likely to benefit the most from marketing which is highly creative and highly disciplined.


High Creativity and Low Discipline

Marketing with high creativity and low discipline is one that has lots of elements, chases lots of trends, but often appears lost or disappointed with the results.  It’s not hard to think of marketers who are trying to do too much, to be in too many places, and have too many messages to be successful.  A brand with lots of different messages on lots of different platforms to lots of different audiences or a marketing department with high turnover is one that is likely to be highly creative, but with low discipline. Another tell-tale sign of high creativity and low discipline is that while any individual message on its own is fine there is rarely a strong overall brand message to which it connects.

Industries well served: A startup trying to break through by going viral.  If throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall is your strategy, then more creativity in more places with less discipline may work.


High Discipline and Low Creativity

Many ecommerce companies and logistics companies fit this description nicely and do so with great success. Following people around the internet with re-targeted ads from an abandoned shopping cart isn’t necessarily creative, but it can be effective when done with discipline and strategy.  These organizations may not have strong brand advertising and may not be considered to be the sexiest of brands, but their discipline helps them be effective.  An organization that has high discipline and low creativity is often one that lets tactical marketing lead with a greater portion of the budget or one that dominates in search marketing.  It isn’t sexy, but it works.  The largest risks organizations which low creativity face is over the long term – are they doing enough to keep their brand marketing relevant as the competitive landscape changes?

Industries well served: E-commerce companies, price-point driven industries (like hotels), logistics companies, companies whose business model is based on search engine marketing, and some companies where trust and respect are pillars of the brand


 Low Discipline and Low Creativity

If you aren’t creative and you aren’t disciplined, then you are trying lots of tactics with poorly crafted marketing, spreading your budget too thinly to be noticed and so scattered you have no brand.  There is no reason to be here and successful are unlikely to be found in this quadrant.

Industries well served: None


Being Disciplined Requires Knowledge and Planning

How does this tie into Driftline’s work? Being focused and disciplined requires research and data.  To be strategic and disciplined you need to know what markets to target, what personas are the most relevant, what media channels perform best, and what signals you are going to pay attention to.  And then you need to build a focused strategy and stick to it.  We often find that it is easier to take bigger creative risks when you know you have research and data backing your strategy and the organizational discipline to stick to that strategy.

Scott Warren