Creative Leadership in the Post-digital World

By Andy Payne

“Cool factor.” “Must-have.” “Innovative.” “Wow.” These kinds of consumer comments about brands are no accident. They are the product, among other things, of brilliant creative thinking and execution. The leading brands have always had it, driving behavior change by remaking their offering, eclipsing their competition, and reinventing categories.

That’s the very definition of leadership in the market and the crucial role that creativity and design play in this world-changing process cannot be overstated. The true creative leader sees an expanded definition of possibility in every piece of research, knows that data is only as big as the impact it has in people’s lives, and finds new needs where others do not.

The imperative for leaders to take this approach in order to grow the value of their brand has never been more profound than it is today. The social, mobile, and digital reality has remade all the rules in short order. In just a few years, everything brands knew to be successful in the marketplace has changed.

These are indeed wild new times, and there’s no going back. Fortunately, we’ve found that, far from being the province of a savant or a mystic, the type of leadership that grows brand value today can be attained through the exercise of six basic principles.

1. Anticipate

If there is one overarching principle leaders need to learn, it is anticipation. Today’s barely visible blip of demand on the trends radar is tomorrow’s frenzied desire. When BMW relaunched the 
MINI in 2000 there was no such category as compact luxury. So the automaker created it by reading the stars of the market in a creative way and pushing ahead. Leaders aren’t afraid to define markets, not by following trends but by innovating what we need next, and then delivering it.

2. Experience

In order to deliver on the big ideas needed to anticipate the next, leaders must be ever ready to create meaningful experiences that seamlessly cross platforms and touchpoints, navigating the swaths of technology woven into 
the fabric of people’s daily lives. Digital has become fully integrated into our movements from one place to another, in our interactions from work to social
 to downtime. There is no line, nor starting point and ending, between our digital selves and the rest of our lives. That’s what we mean when we refer to 
a post-digital world. Thomson Reuters led by moving from listing and searching through repositories of information—an old dotcom way of being digital—to Intelligent Information, a fully integrated and intuitive offering that becomes part of the user’s life. Not coincidentally, the company also employs a state-of-the-art brand governance model with nearly real-time tracking of the effectiveness of its brand.

3. Share

The experiences brands create in this post-digital environment cannot be one-way broadcasts or empty spectacles; people increasingly empowered by the democratizing effects of social and mobile need to feel a sense of ownership of the brands they make part of their lives. Crowdsourcing, participatory activities, pop-up retail, and events all speak to brands needing to share in order to lead. Lego’s open-source design has connected with existing communities of interest and brought fans closer to the brand, while Nike’s customizable, interactive shoe design sites have made co-creation part of the way audiences experience Nike. For savvy brands, the experiences that truly lead the way are ones where the company finds ways to share control.

4. Good

Smart, dedicated Corporate Citizenship is the secret to shining brighter in the post-digital age. We have studied the reaction to various approaches to Corporate Citizenship and found conclusively that audiences respond very positively to companies crafting citizenship campaigns as part of their core identity, not an add-on; hence, IBM making smarter buildings, more efficient grids, and cleaner energy becomes simultaneously a badge of their engagement in the world and a brand identity to bolster their place in the market. Likewise, when Western Union stood up for immigration rights, and even sent their CEO to the UN to testify, it made an impact, since so much of their business is in wire transfer remittance payments across national borders. They identified an issue where they had credibility and heart, and proceeded to do good—for their perception in the market and their bottom line.

5. Truth

The co-requisite of the shared control model is the transparency that comes with it—and so our fifth principle is truth. Tell it. Live it. Because if you don’t, everyone will know. It’s a global commons and your every move is live, 24/7. Let the litany of brands that were less than honest in recent years be a cautionary tale: Silence and spin are not your friends now, and they are unlikely to be again. From BP all the way down to any once-trendy restaurant that got bad reviews on Yelp, brands that are not truthful are failing to lead.

6. Living

This leads us to the ultimate principle
of creative leadership for brands, one, which in many ways is the sum total of the other five: Living. Interbrand has always advocated that brands are living assets, contributing tangibly, measurably, to the market health of an organization. Now post-digital, interconnected circumstances have made this maxim truer than ever. Old corporate identity is simply not enough; monolithic design that relied on rote consistency to drive home a commanding market presence has outlived its usefulness. Brands now need to move nimbly through our lives and through rapidly changing technological and cultural developments. Most, if not all, of the top 100 Best Global Brands understand the ROI that accrues to brands that live and breathe, evolving across time and audience experiences, while staying true to their essence.

Andy Payne ( is Global Creative Director, Interbrand

Best Global Brands: The 2013 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity Grand Prix Winners

Apple (#1), iPad mini magazine demo

The campaign for the iPad mini stayed true to Apple’s identity with a simple, yet effective approach. Life-size mockups of the tablet were placed on the back of magazines such as TIME and The New Yorker, showing the front cover of the same issue to mimic the experience of reading it on the mini.

Heineken (#92), “The Date”

For the second ad in the brand’s “Open Your World” global campaign, a debonair gent takes an attractive young woman on an epic date, showing off his magic and culinary skills. A related interactive element, which invited consumers to enter for a chance to win their own legendary date, also proved to be a huge success.

IBM (#4), “Smart Ideas for Smarter Cities”

This innovative outdoor campaign put IBM’s advertisements to work—literally. The billboards doubled as street furniture such as ramps, benches and overhead shelters. Debuting in Paris and London, each location utilized bold colors and text encouraging users to interact online.

Intel (#9) & Toshiba, “The Beauty Inside”

This series of short films—featuring the main character’s laptop and the role it plays in his life—was the “surprise hit” of this year’s festival, according to Ad Age, adding that the co-branded content stood out because it “was ‘born out of a beautiful brand trust that it’s the inside that counts,’ just like Intel, powering the Toshiba computer.”