Is your CMO considering shifting investments in marketing technology toward the services of creative agencies, as Forrester recommends? You should find out — because one of two possible scenarios will play out.

The winning scenario: If you 1) boost your internal design team and better integrate brand; 2) contract with firms that apply human-centric design; and 3) apply design thinking effectively — the real thing, not the shallow variety — then your company will differentiate effectively and win.

The losing scenario: Without these three ingredients, increasing your agency spending will deliver the wrong kind of differentiation: experiences that look different but are hard for customers to use and one-off media stunts masquerading as brand work.

What can CX professionals do to help steer their companies toward the winning scenario?

First, help colleagues get the facts straight about “digital sameness.” The lack of creative or innovative thinking in many organizations is real. It’s why Forrester’s CX NYC 2019 Forum was titled “Change The Game — Leading Radical CX Innovation.”

But many marketers and technologists think the similarities between the interfaces of many companies’ apps and websites reflect a failure of creative innovation. That’s like complaining that auto manufacturers all give their cars round steering wheels and put the accelerator to the right of the brake pedal. If your firm doesn’t recognize and build on what customers already know and expect, it will fail. This is true of B2C digital experiences — like airline apps — just as much as B2B ones — like CRM systems. Ignoring design patterns that are proven would be a costly mistake.

Differentiating requires designing innovations, not deviations. Think about how Uber revolutionized how we get a ride; how Apple redefined the phone; how Netflix gained dominance by pivoting from DVDs to streaming; how Amazon Prime leapt ahead of competing retailers’ nickel-and-diming terms; and how Pixar’s profits have dwarfed those of competing animation studios by getting the storytelling right, not just the technology. All of these successes arose from creativity applied to products, services, and other experiences that recognize and address real human needs — not mere creation through deviation.

Next, get the ingredients of business creativity right. Those three ingredients for winning are hard to get right, but the path is clear:

1) Boost your internal design team and bring it closer to brand.

Companies such as USAA, Netflix, Atlassian, Google, and Nationwide have all dramatically increased the size of their design teams in the last few years — many by 5x or 6x. They’re also adding DesignOps and ResearchOps teams to increase efficiency and tools to support the design process. The best firms also now bring their brand to life by rethinking critical customer journeys. To learn how you can do the same, see Forrester’s research about how to scale your design organization and about how to bring brands to life through customer journeys.

2) Contract with firms that apply human-centric design.

How can you tell which do it right and avoid those that merely talk the talk but don’t walk the walk? The right ones are experts at in-depth qual and quant research — not just focus groups and shallow surveys. They run workshops that spark highly productive ideation, iteration, and visualization — not just feel-good brainstorming — and much more. For guidance, see Forrester’s research about how to select an experience design provider.

3) Apply design thinking effectively.

The numbers show that design thinking done right can deliver an ROI of 85% or greater based on factors such as speed, likelihood of product-market fit, increased sales, and decreased post-launch costs. To learn more about the benefits, see Forrester’s research about the ROI of design thinking.

The Sweet Spot Is At The Intersection Of Customer And Creativity 

Companies delivering creative experiences that don’t fulfill customers’ needs or desires draw momentary attention but become forgotten distractions, just as companies delivering customer experiences that lack creative innovation stay afloat at best but don’t achieve sustained growth. Winning companies know where the sweet spot is — where real customer wants and needs intersect with creative innovation.