The difference between a small-to-medium business thriving or not surviving its first 5 to 10 years could lie in one area of focus: Creative Marketing. It means understanding customers vs. targeting them. It means cultivating fans vs. returning customers. It means generating revenue vs. promoting a sale.

By adopting Creative Marketing, business owners can innovate and respond to challenges along the way. Without it, they risk what economists refer to as “creative destruction,” when something new destroys what came before it.

A wake-up call

According to Stats Canada, one-third of small-to-medium businesses (SME’s) fail within their first 5 years. This rises to more than half within 10 years. Between 2001 and 2015, there were 95,000 businesses created each year vs. 85,000 that disappeared, on average. The net result is “creative destruction,” with both winners and losers.

Creative marketing goes beyond a clever advertising campaign

Today’s changes in consumers, technology and the digital media landscape have disrupted the way messages are sent, received and acted upon. For those reasons, we need a different approach to marketing.

Here are 5 ways you can embrace Creative Marketing.

1. Begin with insights

Having a deep understanding of your target customers is key. PwC Canada reports that 28% of Canadian consumers expect retailers to have up-to-date information on how they like to interact with them. This expectation rises to 38% among those ages 25 to 34 years old.

When upselling or cross-selling, whether directly to consumers or business-to-business, it’s essential to track what brands or products people are searching for, what they are buying and when they are buying.

2. Perform like an athlete

It used to be that marketers would set objectives for a one-to-three year marketing plan, supported by a budget, and then execute. Today, marketers are problem-solvers who test and learn, then adjust and pivot. It often feels more like a basketball game. You approach the layup, leap up, and take the shot with one hand, while your competitor blocks you with everything they’ve got. One sure way to stay in the game is to be flexible and fast, and to take more risks. Just be sure that you learn from them!

Today, businesses need to look at the entire customer buying process and create end-to-end solutions.

3. Size up your competitors

Knowing who your competitors are is one thing. Keeping tabs on them is another. Just what are they up to today? Tomorrow? What about next week? Competitive intelligence helps a business find a less crowded space to occupy and “zig” when their competitors “zag.”

4. Cultivate fans

Reaching your customers through paid media and public relations is only doing half the job. After all, we trust the recommendations of friends and family more than advertisers. In our always-on society, people share information through social media and are more easily influenced by word-of-mouth. Content creators are everyone and everywhere.

As word-of-mouth moves from one person to another, it takes time to grow and catch on. Owners of small-to-medium sized businesses don’t have the luxury of time, and so paid advertising needs to be part of the media mix. The right combination of owned, earned and paid media is often the most effective marketing strategy.

5. Measure real-time results

Optimization improves results and return on investment. Digital tools help us to identify what’s working and not working while an ad campaign is underway, rather than waiting for a post-mortem report. The downside is that it takes time and expertise for marketers to dig into the data, analyze it and respond quickly. Outsourcing to a capable partner can be an effective solution, especially for companies with limited in-house marketing capabilities.

If you are a small-to-medium business (SME’s) owner, congratulate yourself. But be prepared. On average, 85,000 will fall victim to creative destruction this year. Please don’t be one of them. Make the investment in Creative Marketing and reap the rewards of innovative thinking and problem-solving.