If mobile is the answer you are asking the wrong question

Creativity is timeless and transformative. So why are we neglecting it when it comes to mobile?

Three years ago, a keynote address at Mobile World Congress described mobile as the marketing industry’s "greatest opportunity".

There’s just one problem: it isn’t. 

Now before you swipe left in disagreement, I’m by no means questioning a medium that’s redesigning our modern world. The thousands of marketers converging on Barcelona for MWC 2019 next week do so with an unshakeable belief in mobile that is fuelled by its great potential to connect and transform.

I don’t disagree. But as our lives are reshaped by mobile disruption, marketers should fight the temptation to think mobile-first. 

The true DNA of behaviour change isn’t in the channel, it’s in our ability to understand people well enough to design useful solutions to their problems.  That means thinking customer-first not channel-first. And it’s why – in a world of pocket-sized innovation – marketing’s greatest opportunity isn’t mobility, it’s creativity. It’s time we put it back on the map.

The power of creativity, and how it can help us reimagine the way we live our lives, is in danger of being overlooked or undervalued in the rush to maximise cutting-edge technologies. We cannot allow that to happen; the two go hand-in-hand. 

Big business says it still values creativity. According to IBM, chief executives think it’s the most crucial ingredient for success, while Facebook cites "creative amplification" as a key differentiator in online campaigns.

So why do we still read analyses that describe "creativity under threat"? And why do we still see brand teams focusing disproportionately on channels of communication ­only to overlook tailoring their content to suit the ones they choose? Creativity is timeless and transformative. So why are we neglecting it?

Perhaps we need a rethink. Steve Jobs said that creativity is "just connecting things", arguing that good creatives "connect experiences they’ve had to synthesise new things". Well he should know; the iPhone is the ship that launched a million mobile apps.

It’s easy to view Jobs’ definition of creativity through the lens of mobile connectivity. But its application goes much deeper. The great disruptors of our time – Netflix, Amazon, Airbnb etc – didn’t change our behaviours because they knew how to engineer software. They got there because they understood the flaws in traditional experiences and had the creative ingenuity to connect things differently. They’ve shown how creativity can change the world if we build on our experiences. 

The next generation of mobile innovation will shine bright at MWC 2019 – and it will no doubt inspire marketers to consider how it translates into their markets. In my own sector – health – mobile adoption falls well short of consumer expectations. The slow rate of progress sparks understandable questions: if mobile tech can change the way we bank, shop or watch TV, why can’t we use it to transform more important behaviours around health? The truth is we can. Innovations like Babylon are reimagining healthcare experiences.

But to go deeper, marketers must – like every industry – push for creative transformation. This means bringing an end to channel-first thinking or silo working. We need to think and behave collaboratively – speaking with different people, groups and organisations to connect our experiences and find new solutions to real-life challenges.

In a world where mobile devices now outnumber people, mobile presents a huge opportunity to connect and help people in ways we never thought possible. But our greatest opportunity is creativity. When we marry the two – creativity powered by technology –  well that’s when the magic happens.

Claire Gillis is international chief executive at WPP Health

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