Susie Walker is the Head of Awards at LIONS International Festival of Creativity. Here, she shares how creative transformation is necessary for business growth and resilience in a world faced with continued digital disruption and the ongoing effects of COVID-19.

When we think of business transformation today, we might not immediately associate it with creativity. While the marketing and advertising world has shifted towards adopting martech and adtech to gain new ground, increasingly we are seeing more evidence of the intrinsic link between creativity and business success.

In a Forrester study that examined the return on investment (ROI) of creativity compared to the adoption of martech and adtech, they found a shift of $19 billion from technology into creativity over six years would provide an increase in ROI as high as 18% — a potential return of $66 billion. Although the study was conducted in the US, we expect to see similar results elsewhere in the world.

Creativity is the biggest driver of non-incremental growth. When done well, its impact on a business is felt in several different ways: it improves long-term brand health, supports sales spikes, changes consumer behaviour or brand perception, and it can even endorse pricing power and elasticity over the long term.

Creativity and marketing effectiveness

A couple of years ago, McKinsey approached Cannes LIONS to research the link between creativity and business results. Together, we developed the ACS Index (Awards Creativity Score Index) as a way of understanding how award-winning businesses perform in different markets. In a nutshell, the team was able to give a score to a brand based on their creativity.

When McKinsey looked at the financial results of companies whose ACS scores were in the top quartile, it found these companies outperformed their peers in organic revenue growth and shareholder returns. This showed us that investing in high-quality creativity can directly impact the bottom line.

In The Effectiveness Code white paper on marketing effectiveness, co-authored with independent marketing experts, Peter Field and founding partner of Previously Unavailable, James Hurman, we found clear proof that high-quality creative work can lead to long-term sales growth and brand building.

But there is also another element that’s begun to emerge. Accelerated by recent events, creative business transformation is changing how businesses organise themselves and how they engage with their customers.

Reimagining the role of creativity

Creative business transformation is creativity that drives businesses forward — creative thinking that changes how businesses organise themselves, how people work, and how customers engage with them.

We’re seeing companies go through a comprehensive and creative rewiring of internal operations to create efficiency and improve productivity, as well as deepen loyalty and connections with consumers in ways we have not seen before.

Combined with this, brands are asking more of their creative and change partners to help them respond to the ongoing digital disruption. They are investing in new ways of working to future-proof their businesses — their customer service, employee experience, business models, and routes to market are being reimagined in response to new customer needs.

Back in 2018, WPP’s CEO, Mark Read, announced that they were “fundamentally repositioning WPP as a creative transformation company”, while Accenture Interactive stated that they are “reimagining business through experience”.

Awarding creativity that drives business results

Over the last few years, we’ve started to see work appearing at Cannes LIONS that demonstrates this drive for tangible business change. Work like Today at Apple, which received a Titanium Lion and the Brand Experience & Activation Grand Prix in 2018, and Volts by Volvo, are both wonderful examples of brands implementing long-lasting transformation of their core business functions.

To encourage this approach, this year Cannes LIONS will award its first Creative Business Transformation LIONS.

We’re judging two years’ worth of work in June 2021 and we’ve already received transformation-related work from four continents — a clear indication that transformation is not just a preoccupation of the west.

Worldwide searches for digital transformation have grown by 65% from 2018 to 2020.2

Among those searches, people were looking for “digital transformation best practices” and “digital transformation consulting services”.

Now that the pandemic has pushed many businesses to rethink how they operate, it will be really interesting to see the extent to which COVID-19 has affected and accelerated businesses and their strategies.

At LIONS Live, DDB’s Chief Creative Officer, Ari Weiss said, “I think chaos is the world’s way of keeping us honest and forcing us to use creativity to evolve. I think we’re on the precipice of seeing some of the most creative solutions the world has ever seen.”

We’re on the precipice of seeing some of the most creative solutions the world has ever seen.

In line with Ari’s comments, what we see time and again at LIONS is that creativity flourishes in times of constraint. In this unusual time — that has seen so many brands adapt and adopt at speed and reimaginine brand experiences — the 2021 Awards are set to be an inspiring spectacle of creativity driving progress. This will set the tone for the next decade of creativity.