Knowledge @ ESCP Europe

Innovation & Creativity

Who's creative, who's not

Creativity matters in business! But what is business creativity about? There are two common shortcuts I think people make when judging companies or brand creativity, which I would like to discuss in this post.


Dr Benjamin G. Voyer is MEB Coordinator at ESCP Europe London campus and Professor of Marketing. He teaches Marketing Management, Marketing & Communication, and Understanding the Marketplace.


The last time I asked my students from the Master of European Business (MEB) what companies or brands they find creative, one name, by far, came top of the list: Apple! The other names that were mentioned were Google, Samsung and the likes. Interestingly, nearly all companies or brands mentioned belong to the technology industry. Most people seem to make judgments about creativity based on the industry companies or brands belong to. Quite often, technological innovation is seen as a shortcut for creativity.

One of the problems with this kind of reasoning is that it treats creativity in absolute terms, rather than in relative ones. Being creative in business, and especially in marketing – the discipline I teach at ESCP Europe – is about being better at coming up with original solutions for the market and consumers than the industry average.

With this proposed definition in mind, one can see that not all creative brands come from creative industries, by far. For instance, Innocent can be seen as a very creative brand, although its core industry - fruit juices & smoothies - is not necessarily the most creative and technological one. Even banks can be creative, by introducing to the market new financial or insurance products. And so on. In sum, creative inspirations can be found in any industry, not just the innovative or so called ‘creative’ ones. Assimilating creativity to technology or certain industries only can lead to a “glass ceiling”, where managers fail to see opportunities to disrupt a market. Interestingly, some MEB students rightly noted that Apple has always been better at adopting and simplifying relatively mature technologies, rather than incorporating the very latest trends right away.

Equally important, when making judgments about creativity, is to understand that ‘me-too’ strategies are not a sign of creativity. Brands that have for instance mimicked Innocent's humorous packaging style are not creative brands - although they may appear as creative to a non-educated audience. Innocent was the first to disrupt marketing communication in the fruit juice / smoothie industry, by adopting its signature packaging. Followers of Innocent’s disruptive communication style will not fool consumers. Salvador Dali once said: "The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot". Creativity marketing is about being the first one doing something, not the second one.

Another important point is that, while creativity marketing usually leads to profitability, copycat marketing doesn't necessarily. And this is because those who copy miss critical aspects of the marketing strategy that came up during the creative process. A creative product or service is only the emerged tip of the (creative) iceberg!

As a marketing Professor at ESCP Europe Business School, and academic coordinator of the MEB on the London Campus, I teach our students, executives and companies to come up with their own creative strategies, new and original models, and not just copy what worked 10 years ago.

The next time you think about whether a company or brand is a creative one or not, ask yourself the two following questions: is this brand significantly more creative than the industry standard? Is this brand an innovator or a follower in terms of creativity marketing? This could well lead to surprising judgments!