Brands of today need to group their efforts on delivering the best ‘return on creativity’ to fuel their performance. It’s impossible for a brand to rise above the noise without creative strategies to help them shine. The current renaissance of technology has created huge challenges for brands, but they have also created a playground for creativity. In a Middle East-first, the berries interviewed Howard Belk, Co-CEO and Chief Creative Officer at Siegel+Gale, to discuss his thoughts on the current state of global creativity and how can brands leverage it.

BB: Siegel+Gale has been nurturing global brands with creativity for more than 45 years now. In your opinion, what defines “Creativity”?

HB: Actually, 2018 is the 50th year that Siegel+Gale has been helping brands leverage creativity, and the power of simplicity, to grow their businesses. It’s been a remarkable span because the entire world of brands, and business for that matter, have changed profoundly over those years. What has remained constant is the value of thinking differently about how to exploit opportunities. And that’s what creativity looks like to me. I recognize it when some young designer or strategist challenges a brief by saying “Hey. If we look at this problem from a completely different vantage point, we’ll see an enormous opportunity for our client to disrupt the status quo and win interest and earn loyalty from their own customers.”

BB: In the era we live in, everything is moving with the speed of light, brands are constantly in a battle to find and unlock creative potential. How should brands view “creativity”? When can creativity be a real brand differentiator?’

HB: Great question! The need for speed is one of the big changes that has rocked the brand building world. The speed at which we have developed and implemented comprehensive new branding programs for enormous enterprises is shocking.  We worked with our clients at Hewlett Packard to stand up a new $50+bn enterprise with well over a hundred thousand employees in a matter of months. Same for our clients at CVS Health. It’s incumbent on our firm now to work in lockstep with our clients. And guess what – they move fast.

Unlocking creativity for our clients means doing a great job of enabling their own people to innovate. Many companies struggle with this, and the main culprit is overly complex bureaucracies. Our Global Brand Simplicity Index proved that the simplest organizations are most effective at innovating and bringing game changing new products and services to market fast. That leads to meaningful differentiation.

BB: Pairing creativity with data will lead to unique and unforgettable brand experiences. In the information age we are living in, how can brands connect the dots between data and creativity?

HB: You’re talking about finding the Holy Grail now. Identifying, finding and organizing the right data is the first challenge. That has to be behavioral data. What are your consumers actually doing when exposed to specific choices, options, messaging and experiences? How can the brand play a valuable role in those moments? Where and when do they happen? Answers to these questions and others become the parameters of the new creative brief.

BB: Does creativity, alone, sell? Do you believe in the correlation between outstanding creative success and commercial success?

HB: Creativity must be paired with innovation in order to achieve commercial success at scale. The surprising inspiration goes nowhere without executional ingenuity. Stunning ingenuity applied to a me-too idea yields a me-too product or brand. However, when paired together, those two ingredients have explosive results.

BB: The rise of the digital age has revamped how brands are leveraging creativity to drive brand growth, making the audience more intrigued. How can brands use such trends to drive sales?

HB: This new age isn’t changing how creativity is leveraged but rather where it’s pointed. And that of course, is right in the palm of our hands. In about two years, in 2020 mobile phones will be in nearly 3 billion pairs of hands, almost doubling since 2014. At Siegel+Gale we begin virtually every assignment now by asking how this mobile tsunami will impact this brand, its consumers and their lives. And equally importantly, what new moments are there for the brand to play a valuable, or entertaining, supportive role in the brand’s consumers’ lives?

BB: Creativity is a way of thinking not a department and every endeavor can be improved by creative thinking. Consequently, believing that creativity resides in the creative department of ad agencies and that media people, data people or CRM people can’t be creative, is questionable. Please comment

HB: There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’. Deep collaboration is an absolute must in order to conceive, test, prototype, measure and implement the new brand experiences we create for our clients. And every discipline that’s contributing to these endeavors is bringing creativity to the party. There is no time to waste on retreading old ideas.

BB: How do you see creativity in the Middle East?

HB: I see it everywhere. S+G has been serving clients in the Mideast since the ‘90s and a red thread throughout our time here has been the value executives in this region place on creativity. That’s why you see so many stunningly new and massive concepts coming to fruition here. People think big. The opportunity today is to honor the values, traditions, beliefs and prevailing social mores, while creating new experiences on the devices, platforms and communities so many people gravitate to.