AKQA’s Geoff Northcott, Jury President of the 2021 Creative Business Transformation Lions, explores how brands can embrace a transformational culture and unlock progress through creativity. 

The world never stops evolving but neither do leading companies. A mindset of envisioning a better future and working tirelessly to realise it is required more than ever today, as digital technologies, design thinking and a global pandemic drive disruption in every industry.

However, with the Fortune 500 turning over faster than ever, and 70% of leaders describing their transformations as failing to achieve their goals, there’s a need to celebrate and share the stories of those that succeed to distill the common learnings from their journeys.

This year at the 2021 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the Creative Business Transformation Lions are being introduced to recognise organisations that harness the power of creativity to ensure better futures for people, their companies and the world.

Here are five principles that many of these organisations have in common.

1. Creativity as the key

Today’s leaders understand that in a world of increasing data-driven optimisation and efficiency, the power of imagination and the boldness to explore new territories can unlock quantum leaps of progress. Rather than just thinking incrementally outwards from where we are, creativity can allow us to leapfrog to envisioning a future that expresses the purpose of the business and solves for the needs of the customer in a whole new way.

2. Connecting purpose to your customers and employees

Transformative companies have a way of continuously evolving without losing their way, creating their future by grounding everything in purpose. They continuously expand and hone an ecosystem of products, services and experiences around this reason for being, with everything inspired and shaped by a deep understanding and empathy with people.

A visionary since the 1920’s, Disney has never strayed from its purpose to be the most magical place on earth, even as that experience has evolved from films to parks to merchandise, and ultimately a digital service.

Disney understands that people have always wanted to dream and be inspired, and that they will never stop being enthralled with the power of a good story. And Disney has relentlessly invested to find, craft and acquire the best stories on earth (and even in galaxies far, far away).

3. Thinking beyond products to relationship platforms

Next-generation leaders understand the power of platforms, creating direct relationships with their customers based around ongoing value, and investing in services that gain value over time.

Nike launched Nike+ Running Club and Nike+ Training Club more than a decade ago to deepen its ability to expand human potential by inspiring more moments of activity. Over the first 10 months of 2020 these two apps streamed 375m workouts, providing billions of minutes of valuable engagement with customers and driving sales to record levels. In the words of Nike’s CEO John Donahoe, “Someone may only buy footwear and apparel a few times a year, but engaging with us through the Nike Training App brings Nike into their lives every day.”

Brands like Nike have made the shift from a transactional mindset that optimises just for conversion, to a mindset that recognises both conversion and long-term loyalty are cultivated through long-term holistic relationships based in real value.

4. Rethinking your operations and value chain

Whether it’s Lego building deeper and more expansive relationships by crowdsourcing product ideas, Apple building stores to immerse people in its brand experience, or Delta supporting you through every step of your travel journey, today’s experience leaders apply creativity up and down the value chain. By doing so they create new ways to directly engage their customers and ultimately form a deeper connection between their purpose and customers’ desire and aspiration.

In order to make such investments, new ways of measuring long-term value creation with the customer, such as CSAT and CLV, are required. This allows a company to begin shifting not only where it invests but also how it’s structured and operates, breaking down silos that serve as barriers to great experiences. Airbnb is a good example of how a company has restructured its teams around the customer journey, focusing everyone on integrated solutions to people’s needs.

5. Embracing rapid evolution

Many organisations come up with a transformative vision for the future but fail to cross the chasm of execution – getting stuck in old habits and old ways of engaging consumers. Indeed, after the hard work of aligning vision, strategy and organisation, the most formidable barrier to transformation is taking action.

Leaders apply creativity to rapidly test and learn with customers – from launching in beta, to launching a single-store format, to limited run inventory. By piloting before they scale, it’s possible to measure the reaction, amplify the success and rapidly learn from what doesn’t work. They actively instil new ways of working, collaborate across silos and gain the hard yards of driving change throughout the organisation.

Becoming Transformational

Just as Jeff Bezos says that it is always “Day One” at Amazon, leaders should never lose sight of the power of creativity to continually rethink assumptions, and they should never be stifled by supposed barriers blocking the way forward. Leading companies look beyond completing a one-off transformation, and instead embrace a transformational culture and mindset, unleashing their ability to create a better future every day.

This June we look forward to judging and celebrating the pioneers who are blazing the trails of transformation through the power of creativity as we award the inaugural Creative Business Transformation Lions. Entries are currently being accepted and you can find out more here.