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Scaling Creativity with Technology is not as Counterintuitive as you may Think

Maryland-based consulting firm Cella recently issued their 2022 In-House Creative Industry Report which boasts 65 pages of jam-packed insights into the creative industry (link below). See how software pioneer Thomas Kragelund  (Pixelz, Creative Force) contributed to the report with his insights into leveraging technology to boost creatives - and not the other way around.

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Everyone in creative operations is begging for more time to actually be creative, but leveraging technology to scale creativity itself might seem counterintuitive, even antithetical to its pursuit. After all, how can machines supersede the potential of the human mind?

But in my own experience in scaling creative at Pixelz, one of the world’s largest post-production service providers—where we grew from 200 to over 1,000 retouching specialists in less than 3 years—I found that when deployed properly, technology-facilitated additional capacity for creativity more than anything else.

The challenges we faced as we sought to scale are ubiquitous amongst creative departments and surely will sound familiar to you: too many repetitive manual tasks, significant administrative burden, and ultimately, too much time spent on things not contributing to creativity.

Fast forward to today and the future of creative work within the retail industry is being defined by a few overarching trends but the underlying challenges remain the same. Understanding these trends and the drivers behind them is essential for creative leaders when evaluating new technology. Some may think that the driver of change is the technology itself, but I think we need to take a broader view.

At Creative Force we spend a lot of time with our managers and customer-facing teams discussing emerging trends we need to keep an eye on. In this article, I’ll go over some of the trends we’re analyzing and their potential impacts on retailers’ ability to scale creative output in order to meet the increasing consumer demand for content.

Significant Shifts in Consumer Behavior

The global pandemic has had a huge impact on consumer behavior. Even before the pandemic, e-commerce had grown steadily at 15% per year and exploded by 32% in 2020, due to consumer habits and behavior that seemingly changed overnight. No doubt this shift will have a significant long-term impact on retail as these pandemic-era consumer behaviors have become deeply rooted habits. We will not go back to the old normal, rather we will continue to see a new normal emerging.

In the new normal, product purchase decisions often start (and end) online. The first stage of the consumer purchase journey, product awareness, has moved to social media platforms like Facebook/Instagram, Tiktok, and YouTube. For retailers, this means that marketing exists in near real-time.

Campaigns must be executed at lightning speed with deliverables needing to be created in many formats, for multiple channels. As if this weren’t a big enough challenge, we also see more complexity in these campaigns—with considerations for localization, personalization, inclusive sizing, and diversity.

For retailers, the ability to differentiate is limited completely by their ability to create new branded content. Creative leaders will be looking for technology that drives these complex processes, enables them to create content deliverables at scale, and reduces the time it takes to get those deliverables in front of consumers.

Collaboration Is Not What It Used to Be

When picturing creativity in action we often think of a crowded room with people shouting, ideas flying, and palpable excitement. But given what’s happened over the past couple of years, remote work is the new normal for most of us. So how do we foster that creativity and collaboration, getting everybody on the same page, without getting everybody into the same room?

Not only are people no longer collaborating in the same room—they’re not even working at the same time. With so many creative teams working asynchronously, tools to manage workflows and file routing so that staff has the right information at the right time, regardless of their schedules, have become critically important.

Recently there has also been an added emphasis on improved user interfaces (UIs) for enterprise tech. They now look much more like consumer tech, making the systems much more intuitive to use. This trend has further enhanced remote collaboration and the ability to scale by allowing teams to leverage and quickly onboard freelance talent.

For all the challenges forced remote work has presented to creative teams, it has spurred some new opportunities. Teams can now be globally distributed and seamlessly work across time zones, or simply according to the schedule that best suits their creative inspiration.

With remote collaboration no longer a hindrance (thanks to technologies that facilitate it), teams can draw on creative talent from around the world, adding talent with region-specific knowledge and ensuring coverage to meet the “always-on” content demands of consumers.

The Need for Better Insights

As complexity grows so does the need for better reporting and insights into creative operations. A lot of organizations struggle to get even basic throughput and turnaround time data.

As creative leaders look for new ways to structure work, they are often inspired by Agile software development and lean manufacturing. These methodologies will drive the need for more advanced reporting and the ability to identify bottlenecks as or before they appear.

This is especially true in larger operations where the need for planning can be reduced by implementing and managing flow production. Continuous improvement initiatives are only achievable when everybody on the team has access to actionable insights.

Another big issue we’ve heard about for years but still haven’t solved is the problem of data silos. In retail, we see more and more attention focused on integrating data from different departments and making it accessible to other parts of the organization. This can be beneficial for both pre-production and planning of campaigns while performance data from website conversions and other marketing campaigns can inform additional creative projects.

Changes Driven by Technology

In recent years we have seen significant innovations in automation technology. With the promise of high returns on investment and the ability to scale operations, automation seems like an attractive way to go for most organizations. Companies such as UiPath, which provides software that helps enterprises automate repetitive digital tasks, have seen explosive growth recently.

Another area receiving a lot of attention is artificial intelligence (AI). Advanced technology made accessible by cloud platforms, such as those by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and IBM, are enabling many startups to provide new and innovative products. AI will be interesting for the creative industry, especially with the advances in computer vision.

As creative operations are becoming more aware of the standardization of work and processes, we will see great opportunities for implementing technology.

While these technologies hold great potential, I learned from my scale-up at Pixelz that their success within your own organization will still ultimately depend on a critical element: A team that understands the value and limitations of these tools. The human element.

The Full Cella Report

Get all the goodies from Cellas report by downloading it here.